Why does Grass tennis lead to total domination so often?

Discussion in 'Former Pro Player Talk' started by Laurie, Jul 26, 2012.

  1. Laurie

    Laurie Guest

    Since I've been watching tennis, Sampras has won 7 times, Federer won 7 times and played in 8 finals (and counting). Becker played in 7 finals. Serena has won 5 times and played in 7 finals, Venus has won 5 times and played in 8 finals. Navratilova won 9 times and played in how many finals? Graf won 7 times and played in 8 finals?

    So many great players haven't got a look in on grass as a result - Rafter, Roddick, Sanchez Vicario, Henin, Clijsters, Henman, Lendl and others.

    But why does grass lead to such domination? What is the difference compared to other surfaces?

    Before my time but I shouldn't forget Borg and McEnroe as well.
  2. kabob

    kabob Hall of Fame

    Nov 30, 2004
    Because, more than any other surface, grass rewards footwork, movement, and aggressive tactics and ball striking. Look who's won in the past 20 years (Hewitt, personality aside, the only exception with the aggression category) and you have your answer. All the players you mentioned that dominated shared those characteristics and having a combination of all those attributes is unique.
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2012
  3. Xavier G

    Xavier G Professional

    Feb 13, 2012
    The very best win and dominate on grass. The best servers have always had the biggest advantages on grass, so the power game has generally worked well, even more so in the past. First strike weapon. Serve and volley historically. Grass favours the players who can play with pace AND control, have better footwork, speed around the court. Grass favours the aggressive player on the whole.
  4. ollinger

    ollinger Legend

    Nov 24, 2004
    New Jersey
    Practice, simply stated, is an equalizer. Practice anything enough and lots of people will become good at it. Grass is the surface least practiced on, so innate ability and giftedness will be more likely to prevail.
  5. fed_rulz

    fed_rulz Hall of Fame

    Dec 26, 2007
    not sure this is unique to grass. consider clay:

    Borg (6 titles), Nadal (7 & counting), evert (7 titles), graf (6 titles), Federer (1 title, 4 finals), Lendl (3 titles, 2 finals), henin (4 titles)
  6. pc1

    pc1 G.O.A.T.

    Jul 18, 2008
    Space/Time continuum alternative reality
    Good point. I remember they often said on television that clay allows you to bring out a variety of strokes and touch.
  7. Laurie

    Laurie Guest

    You mentioned Federer with just one title but not Wilander who won 3 times and played in 4 or 5 finals? Hmmm.....

    Anyway, clay has actually produced a lot more one slam wonders than grass in the same time period, let's say 1980 onwards:

    Yannick Noah - 1983
    Michael Chang - 1989
    Sergei Brugera - 1993-94 (twice but only won on clay)
    Thomas Muster - 1995
    Carlos Moya - 1998
    Albert Costa - 2002
    Juan Carlos Ferrero - 2003
    Gaston Gaudio - 2004

    In between that was Gustavo Kuerten who won in 1997, 2000 and 2001 but also did not win on any other surface at a major.

    On grass during the same period:

    Pat Cash - 1987
    Michael Stich - 1991
    Richard Krajicek - 1996
    Goran Ivanisevic - 2001

    That is quite a big difference. Also, players like Edberg who won Wimbledon twice won 3 out of 4 majors in contrast to Brugera.

    Also at the French we had finalists like:

    Henri Leconte
    Alberto Berasetegui
    Alex Corretja
    Martin Verkerk
    Guillermo Coria
    Mariano Puerta

    These are guys who didn't play at any other major final.

    I like clay but clay allows for deliberation, not quick wittedness. Also, in the last few years, the French Open has changed conditions, the balls play a lot lighter compared to decades past, which is really interesting. Having said that, clay is a different game and Nadal is the only player since Borg to dominate. Whereas on grass there have been quite a few guys since Borg to dominate.
  8. pc1

    pc1 G.O.A.T.

    Jul 18, 2008
    Space/Time continuum alternative reality
    But you cannot just look at majors. Michael Chang won the French but he was excellent on all surfaces but grass. He was at his best on hard court.

    Ilie Nastase was thought of as mainly a clay player but he was great on all surfaces and he won the US Open in 1972.

    Borg was all know about but Rosewall was thought of as mainly a clay player who was a baseliner but he adapted and became one of the great grass court players ever and one of the great clay court players ever.

    Santana won the French but also won two grass majors in the US Championships and Wimbledon. He was thought of as a clay court player.
  9. fed_rulz

    fed_rulz Hall of Fame

    Dec 26, 2007
    Not sure why not mentioning Wilander is important (never claimed the list was exhaustive; just reeled off names that I could recollect from the top of my head)..

    btw, you left out Hewitt from the one-time wimby winners. Wimbledon did have one-time finalists such as Malivai Washington.

    Clay changed balls just in 2011 to lighter balls that flew, but quickly order was restored in 2012. I don't recall clay having used different balls from the previous decades otherwise.

    based on the data you provide, it is apparent that there is a high correlation b/n success on grass and success on other surfaces (barring clay). I'd read it as clay is the only surface that requires "speciality" -- a special set of skills; the other surfaces probably only require mild tuning of existing skills, if you've developed them for surfaces other than clay.
  10. Laurie

    Laurie Guest

    I hope you dont mind but I am just looking at the majors.
  11. Laurie

    Laurie Guest

    Yes I forgot about Malavai Washington. I didn't mention Hewitt because he won the US open as well. I also didn't mention Kafelnikov at the French because he also won the Australian Open.

    I hope anyone else can confirm that the Dunlop balls used in mid to late 2000s were extremely light. When I went to Roland Garros in 2006, I purchased a few packs from the official shop on the site, when I got back to London and played with them, I was quite shocked, to this day I have never played with balls that were so light they were flying everywhere. I was playing on hardcourts, perhaps on slow clay it made sense to speed the game up with lighter balls. I haven't played on red clay myself by the way, I have played on green clay and absolutely loved it.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 27, 2012
  12. bluetrain4

    bluetrain4 Legend

    Feb 2, 2007
    Navratilova and other commentators talk about how grass rewards not only aggression, but pure athleticism. I know, most tennis players are at least decent athletes, but we're talking about the "elite" athletes when it comes to grass. And not just the obvious forms of athleticism like endurance and speed, etc, but all of the more nuanced forms of athleticism whose need gets magnified on grass - obviously footwork, but dig a little deeper into what that entails on grass - very quick adjustments, the ability to stretch and get down very low and hit from those always slightly off positions, the ability to stay light on one's feet to deal with changing directions on a dime. Beyond footwork and all that entails, obviously great hands and instincts for dealing with spotty bounces, and the ability to take the ball at different heights without much notice. And, of course, players need all of the traditional athletic qualities.

    I once started a thread asking "was Seles really that bad on grass?" The answer was a resounding "no". Sure, she was upset a few times, but in 9 appearances, she made a final and 4 other QFs, plus she won non-Wimbledon grass court titles. But, many posters pointed out that her shortcomings on grass (beyond her losses to better grass players like Graf) were simply because of her lack of natural athleticism, which was magnified on grass. Prime Seles was obviously aggressive enough for grass, but she just couldn't consistently deal with all the "little" things as well as the true athletes - the constant getting low and reaching, changing directions when there's no solid footing to push off, etc.

    For the most part, I agree with the "best athletes" win analysis ("jocks win Wimbledon as Navratliova likes to say). That, of course, doesn't mean that lesser athletes never take home the trophy - Davenport, for example, Martinez, for example. Draws do open up, and players do have weapons beyond their athleticism (like Davenport's ball striking), which, if things fall into place, can result in a Wimbledon crown.

    But, generally, I think the "elite" athleticism theory holds. You only have so many very elite athletes, and then the field gets even narrower because the number of those elite athletes with the elite tennis skills (or more specifically, especially in the past, elite grass court tennis skills) to potentially win is very small.

    All I think of when I think of Fed is nuanced elite athleiticsm, all of the things beyond in-your-face speed, strength, endurance. He has those as well. Rafa, I view in reverse. The in-your-face speed, strength, and endurance is the first thing I see. But, clearly he has the more nuanced aspects of being an athlete as well.
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2012
  13. BrooklynNY

    BrooklynNY Hall of Fame

    Sep 9, 2010
    I think grass does reward pure ball striking and athleticism.

    Even Sampras in his book stated that in order to play great on grass you need to be a great athlete.

    Sampras and Federer are two of the best ball strikers and tennis athletes the game has seen.

    Aside from the conditions changing so much in order to favor baseline play, this could also be why Nadal has made 5 finals, and won twice.

Share This Page