No change of surface is as incisive as the one between the clay and the grass in early June. The transition is one that poses a challenge for all players and although the timeframe between Paris and Wimbledon has widened, it remains a quick turnaround. On the grounds in Halle, TTI asked some of the ATP’s big names and up-coming stars: What is that one shot that is key to succeed on the green stuff? Is it just one shot? Or is it something entirely different? René Denfeld reports.
The Gerry Weber Open is only the second ATP grass-court tournament of Alexander Zverev’s career. The 18 year-old is still finding his footing as well as the right game on the surface, but — as he has had to do with most things on the ATP Tour — is learning and adjusting.
“In Stuttgart [where he lost in the second round], I didn’t really know what I had to do on the surface, what the game is going to be like, cause I never played a match on pro-level on grass,” he said.
Some of the other players in Halle have years of experience when it comes to the short swing on the green stuff in summer and many of them retool their game for the now five-week stint on the grass. After his first round win, No. 2 seed Kei Nishikori put particular emphasis on the first serve percentage.
“I think the serve is more important [on grass] than on other courts,” he said. “I was feeling good with my serve. You know, I wanted to come in a little more like last point, it was good to give him a little pressure, to come in to the net. Sometimes the bounce is really low here, so it’s important to stay short points here.”
For German veteran Florian Mayer, the grass has yielded some of his best results of his career. The two-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist recently returned after a long injury lay off — and the 31-year-old found that clay wasn’t the easiest of comeback roads.
“It just suits my game because the bounce is low,” he said. “I had some more problems on the clay, in comparison — when someone hits with a lot of top spin and I was stuck behind the baseline. In these situations, I also notice that within the year I’ve been off the tour the guys are hitting faster, harder and with more spin.”
Returning to the lawns, however, has already been fruitful. After making his first ATP quarterfinals of the year, Mayer felt his chances of success are much better here in Halle.
“On grass, it doesn’t work that way, luckily for me,” he said. “That’s where I benefit from my variety of shots, move into the court, particularly with my slice…It remains a great surface for me and it will always remain that way.”
For Tomas Berdych, the focus is on an entirely different aspect of the game. The tall Czech has the power and big serve to do well on the grass but it’s the movement that he is looking to improve on.
“I think what’s very particular about this surface,” he said. “It’s not gonna be really much about the shot; it’s gonna be about the movement, which is very different. I think that’s my main goal [and what I] need to focus on and just work extremely hard. Once I’m able to move well, then all the shots are set up and they click together.”
Gael Monfils joined in on Berdych’s emphasis on the movement and footwork on the slippery surface. Last week, the Frenchman said the grass court season is the only time when tennis playing is a job for him.
“For me it’s all about the movement, I think,” Monfils said. “When I hit the ball, I feel right but when I feel the movement I’m a different player, you know, on grass. So far here it’s getting a bit better, so hopefully this year I can show a different Gael Monfils on grass.”
In contrast to Berdych and Monfils, movement on grass has always come fairly naturally to seven-time Halle and Wimbledon champion Roger Federer. He started off by giving some insight regarding the more technical aspects that come with the surface.
“I think you have to adjust your swing and because you don’t really have the time do a full loop, right?” he said. “It’s all a little more straight forward. Also, you need to drop the racket a little more ahead of the swing.”
When it came to a particular shot, the World No. 2 trusts on a more frequent use of the slice on both serve and groundstrokes in order to keep the ball low, having it skid through the court.
“You hit far less topspin because you know it just doesn’t translate that well on the grass and you’ll probably also want to go for more slice during the service motion,” he said. “…On clay the kick serve is the classic but on grass the slice serve is more important. And obviously the slice from the baseline — it’s just more effective.”
What do you think are the keys to success on grass? Sound off in the comments!