Hodgkinson: Genie & Wade On Grass
Published June 12, 2014 12:12
Classic, traditional and "exactly what tennis should be about" - that's how Eugenie Bouchard, a former junior Wimbledon champion, describes the experience of competing on the lawns of the All England Club. Still, as Bouchard has acknowledged, there's no harder transition in the tennis calendar than going from red to green, from the clay court swing to the grass court season.
You can't just walk on to the sport's original surface and expect your game to start firing. For all the suggestions that modern grass courts are now playing like clay and hard, that's patently not true: competing on turf is still a different skill. Paris and London are just a Eurostar ride apart, but the two Grand Slam surfaces could not be more distinct; you're going from the slow, looping bounce of the Roland Garros clay to the low, skidding bounce of the Wimbledon grass. "The toughest transition in professional tennis is when you go from clay to grass, as they're opposite surfaces, so different, and Roland Garros and Wimbledon are the two Slams that are closest together, so that's tough," said the Canadian.
"Grass is such a different surface to hard or clay, and I think you need to get low so that you're prepared for your opponent's slices and for the balls that slide and shoot through. While I think my game is well suited to grass already, when I get on to the surface I always try to get lower - you can never be too low on grass. I also try to move forward and take the ball early and to get to net a bit more often."
To prepare for grass, Bouchard said she pays special attention to her glutes and quads. "Those are the muscles you need most to stay low, so you need to strengthen those and keep them active," said Bouchard, who made the third round of last year's senior Wimbledon.
Virginia Wade, whose 1977 triumph on Centre Court still makes her the last British woman to win a Wimbledon singles title, agreed with Bouchard that one of the most important things to remember when competing on grass was to hit the ball in front of you. "You can think that the ball is coming slowly towards you, then it bounces and shoots through. So it's best to try to hit the ball as early as you can," Wade said. One of the most effective shots on grass, Wade said, was the slice: "On a good grass court, you're going to get a nice high bounce, so topspin comes through pretty normally, but a slice can be very effective. That's especially true in the first few days of a tournament when the ball is going to shoot through a bit more."
Wade also advocated that the modern generation go easy with the kick serves - which can make the ball sit up in an opponent's hitting zone - and instead play more slice serves "to keep the ball down, as that's not going to be so easy for them to handle."
Wade has always advised players against repeatedly running around their backhands. "They should give that up. On clay, players are always trying to run around their backhands so they can hit forehands from the left side of the court. On grass, that's not going to be possible that often as you don't have the time, though of course some players are always looking for that opportunity. But I think players try that too much, and should be more careful, as that leaves them vulnerable."
For all the changes that are required to play on grass, Bouchard ensures that she is thinking about more than the turf beneath her feet: "It's still tennis, it's still a court. When you play a match, you can't only be thinking about the surface. You need to think about your opponent and the match. You maybe just make a few adjustments because of the surface, but you still need to play your game, to go out and do your thing."
Mark Hodgkinson is the author of 'Lendl: The Man Who Made Murray'. He is working on a new tennis book, which will be published by Bloomsbury in 2015.