FEDEX RELIABILITY ZONE
FedEx Reliability Zone: Kings Of Lawn Tennis
Career Grass-Court Records
by James Buddell|
Using the FedEx ATP Reliability Index and exclusive insights from Wimbledon favourites, we explore the secrets of success on grass courts and why serve and volley exponents are rare among the current generation of stars.
Crushed brick has been replaced by mown lawns. Ribbed soles have been unlaced in favour of pimple-soled shoes. Baseline battles and lengthy rallies won't be commonplace as knee-bending, dinks and sliced shots are now essential for success during the five-week grass-court swing.
In ATP history, since 1973, Roger Federer leads the FedEx ATP Reliability Index for career grass-court matches with a 96-14 mark and 11 titles (.873 per cent).
After his Roland Garros final loss to Rafael Nadal, the Swiss superstar admitted it is a "huge priority, to win Wimbledon in a few weeks' time. That's always, for me, the sort of No. 1 goal in the season. This is where it all started for me back in 2003; or even with Sampras earlier in '01." Federer has clinched six of his record 16 Grand Slam championships at SW19.
John McEnroe is second overall in the all-time list with a 119-20 grass-court record and eight titles (.856), followed by Bjorn Borg, who won Roland Garros and Wimbledon back-to-back for three straight years (1978-80). The Swede, who was the first to wear pimpled grass-court soles, compiled a 61-11 mark, including six Wimbledon titles (.847). Pete Sampras, who won 10 titles and ended his career with a 101-20 tally (.835), is fourth overall.
So what attributes are needed to succeed? Seven-time Wimbledon champion Sampras believes it is "a person who moves well on grass and is a good athlete. When I played folks said that the serve was the key, but I always felt the return of serve was the key."
Australian John Newcombe, a three-time titlist at the All England Club, says, "A classical grass-court player must have a very good offensive and defensive volley, which has to be backed up by a solid serve that features a variety of pace and spin."
Neither Sampras nor Newcombe found the transition from clay to grass-court play difficult. It was entirely natural to them. "It was more of a mind set and making minor adjustments to your strokes," says Sampras, who won 10 titles on the surface. "At the end of the day by the time you get to Wimbledon you should have had plenty of time on the grass to make those adjustments."
Over the past 10 years, serve and volley play has dwindled. The 2002 Wimbledon final featured, for the first time, two players, Lleyton Hewitt and David Nalbandian, who played solely from the baseline.
Indian Vijay Amritraj, a long-time favourite among British galleries, says, "Grass-court technique and play was different 30 years ago, when I played. It was a tremendous attacking game and you cut off shots with volleys. Today, there is pretty much no serve and volley. The game does not warrant it. The serve and volleying games of Stefan Edberg, Patrick Rafter and Tim Henman are long gone."
Newcombe agrees. "Most players today can put away a volley at net height or above but hardly any can volley effectively below net height such as Edberg and Rafter could. The problem is not so much in the court speed but the players' lack of ability to play difficult volleys. Subsequently there is a natural reluctance to come to the net.
"Players today hit the ball as hard as they can and run to the net, then look surprised when the ball comes back to their feet around the service line. Learning the art of net play has to happen between the age of 10 and 15."
Sampras can't see the current generation starting to net-rush again. "I don't see it changing anytime soon. Players are having success staying back so I don't see a massive influx of serve and volley play anytime soon."
Among active players, Rafael Nadal, the defending champion at Wimbledon, is second behind Federer at No. 7 in the all-time grass-court matches list with a 40-8 record and three titles (.833). Andy Roddick is No. 9 overall. He has a 73-17 record and four grass-court trophies, followed by No. 10 Hewitt, with a 101-27 mark and seven pieces of silverware (.808).
Only Roddick, the four-time Wimbledon runner-up, attacks the net immediately after hitting his serve. "I think you have to have a weapon to be successful," said the American. "Sampras was able to serve himself through bad days on grass. The reason I feel I am good on grass is that everything I do naturally translates well to grass, whereas on clay I always feel like I am battling myself a bit."
So have the rye-seeded courts really slowed down since former World No. 1s Sampras, Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg ruled the All England Club? Could that explain the lack of serve-volleyers on the ATP World Tour? Sampras doesn't think so.
"I don't believe the courts are any faster from the time I played," said the Californian. "When I went to see Roger and Andy play in the 2009 Wimbledon final, the court seemed to play just as fast. What had changed, though, is how players play on the court and how the technology in racquets and strings has allowed players to stay back and compete."
For that reason, Sampras, Amritraj and Newcombe cannot see Prince Edward, Duke of Kent presenting the Wimbledon trophy to a player outside of the Top 4 on 3 July.
"The art of winning a Grand Slam comes down to experience," explains Amritraj. "The quality of men's play is so close right now, but the titlist will come from a select handful." Newcombe adds, "The draw will be open for someone to reach the semis or final, but the winner will be Nadal, Djokovic or Federer."