The tennis calendar is almost year-round, with tournaments held on every continent of the globe for nearly the full 12 months of the year. This continual cycle is highlighted by four events, the Majors – or as they are better known, the Grand Slams.
The Grand Slam tournaments are the pinnacle of a player’s career. Each tournament consists of two weeks of play, culminating on the final weekend with the ladies final on the Saturday and the men’s on the Sunday. The Slams are the focus for all professional tennis players, both for the prestige of winning one and earning the right to be listed among the greats, and for the substantial prize money on offer.
As mentioned, there are four Grand Slams tournaments for men and women in the professional tennis game. The first in the calendar year takes place in January; the Australian Open, which is played on hard court. The second occurs around May (and usually leaks in to June); the French Open, which is played on red clay. The third and arguably the most prestigious, Wimbledon, takes place in June / July and is played on grass courts. The final Grand Slam of the calendar year takes place in September; the United States Open (often abbreviated to US Open, or just USO), and is played on hard courts.
In terms of points for the world rankings, Grand Slam victory is worth 2,000 – only these four events carry such high tariffs. Even the Olympics (to win, 1800 points) does not compare, firmly cementing the Grand Slams as the highest points in the tennis calendar.
Professional tennis is played on a variety of different surfaces, which these articles examine in detail. This first article looks at the surface tennis is most commonly associated with: grass.
Grass is the fastest of the tennis surfaces, meaning the ball bounces low and fast. This therefore naturally makes it a surface where big servers, such Andy Roddick, excel, as their opponents struggle to return serve due to the speed of the surface. It is also a surface that lends itself to playing on the baseline, as the ball slows by the time it reaches the back of the court.
The most famous grass court tournament is Wimbledon in London, England. The tournament, which usually takes place in June and sometimes July of every year, is one of the four Grand Slam Majors on the current professional tennis calendar. It is considered by many players and analysts to be the most prestigious of all the tennis tournaments. The event is played by both the Association of Tennis Professionals (the men’s game) and the Women’s Tennis Association (ladies game) players, who share equal prize money. Like all Grand Slams, the men play best of five sets throughout the tournament.
Outside of Wimbledon, grass court tennis is surprisingly rare. The grass court season, for top players, tends to consist of only three weeks: a one-week tournament prior to Wimbledon, and then Wimbledon itself. There are two traditional grass court tournaments that serve as Wimbledon warm ups: the Aegon Championship’s at Queens Club in London, and a similar tournament in Halle, Germany.
‘Battle of the Surfaces’ was a tennis exhibition match that took place in the summer of 2007. It featured the top two players in the world, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, and was played in Nadal’s home country of Mallorca (an island just off the Spanish coast). The main attraction at the match was the court; half of which was grass, half of which was clay.
In their careers and during their rivalry, both Federer and Nadal had established supremacy on one surface. Federer, the king of Wimbledon, was considered the best grass court player of all time. Nadal, his rival, had earned the nickname the ‘king of clay’. The match was billed as the final reckoning with the two-surfaced court deciding once and for all who the king of the overall game of tennis was.
The players alternated between the grass and clay sides of the court during the match. Across the match, Federer won roughly as many points while playing on the grass side as he did on the clay side. However, the deciding factor was to be Nadal’s superior clay court game, where he won more points on Federer’s serve. This, along with a high ability on the grass side, handed Nadal the overall victory in the match.
The match lead pundits to surmise that while Federer was superior on grass and Nadal was superior on clay, Nadal was the stronger of the two on his weaker surface (in this case, grass) than Federer was on the clay.