This past week I had the opportunity to play a grass court tournament in the Scottsdale area at Desert Highlands. They have four neatly manicured grass courts and six very nice clay.
With over 200 entries involved, the courts got their biggest workout of the season with matches beginning on an early Tuesday morning and through late afternoon of the following Sunday.
My first singles match was real trial and error. Just trying to get a feel for what type of bounce was going to occur with a flat, top-spin and slice ball coming at you. Or a ball that was hard hit, off-pace or soft.
Let me tell you, there is no comparison with a grass surface to clay or hard courts, every bounce is different and fairly unpredictable, even when the courts are well maintained and in good shape.
You think you have a little time to reach a short softly hit ball, think again – you’ll find yourself looking silly lunging for it at the last second.
Lobs hit over your head you might easily run down on a hard court, good luck here – the bounce stays low and are much more improbable to reach.
Before the advent of hard courts in the ‘40s and ‘50s, almost all of the big tournaments were held on grass and, guess what, the players served and volleyed. It makes a lot of sense to me now because to stay in the best control, that’s what you need to do.
It takes some time to feel like you’re moving OK on the green stuff. It’s almost like running in sand. You’re a tad slower. Your foot sinks into the grass as you take off, which also throws off the timing of finding the sweet spot for volleys, let alone groundstrokes.
The saying, “Sometimes you just have to laugh,” fits the mindset for the grass court player.
The serve is about the most normal shot overall, and if you have a good slice/top-spin you can get some interesting bounces to the receiver.
Returning serves wasn’t too bad, after you come to terms with the level of the bounce coming toward you.
Half volleys were rather funny, much harder to pick up – you really couldn’t take any shots for granted.
It was difficult to call lines real close because they are less vibrant to see and, when you hit a shot, your mind and eyes are looking for markers to calibrate with.
Personally, I felt I had to play much safer, and even then I missed some shots that normally I wouldn’t have. By the fourth day of matches things were starting to come around a little more, but there was no comfort zone, only a heightened sense of not taking anything as a gimme.
My hat goes off to Roger Federer and Pete Sampras for all their grass court accolades over the years they have accomplished. It’s not a surprise that there haven’t been too many professional players to have big wins on clay and then quickly change to grass and do well.
But with all of that said, any tennis players who have not had this experience, should play the tournament at Desert Highlands next year – it’s definitely a very different and challenging situation to learn from and enjoy.
Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 40 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or firstname.lastname@example.org.