Grass Class feature: Federer, Murray, and Hewitt lead the green party
Marianne Bevis take a look at who have serve and volleyed, touched and sliced, skipped and jumped their way to grass titles in recent years
With a quarter-final run on the clay of Roland Garros in his rear-view mirror, Roger Federer summed up on Twitter his pleasure at what lay ahead.
“Back on the grass, smiling the whole way through practice #Feelinggrassy #GotGreen”.
For if there is one surface where Federer feels more at home than any other, that suits his style of play like a glove, that shows off his variety, touch and movement to their greatest advantage, it is grass.
His first Grand Slam title came at Wimbledon in 2003, age 21. His only match against the seven-time Wimbledon champion Pete Sampras was to beat him in a five-set thriller in 2001. And the Swiss would go on to match the American’s record seven titles on the sleek, green stage at the heart of the sport’s most famous venue, the All England Club.
And for a surface that claims just a month in the tennis calendar, only one Major and no Masters, and until this year, no 500s either, the Federer win-rate has been nothing short of remarkable: 131 to 19 losses, and 14 titles. Indeed his grass winning percentage outdoes many of Wimbledon’s most famous sons: Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Rod Laver, Boris Becker… and Sampras.
Yes, Federer loves to get back to tennis’s grass roots, and has made no secret of his desire to try and get his hands on the golden trophy once more this year.
Not that it has been a bad season for the Swiss, with or without grass. He has won three titles and reached the finals of Indian Wells and Rome. But there have been a few disappointments along the way, too: a third-round loss at the Australian Open and just one match-win from Monte-Carlo and Madrid combined. So while the grass is always welcomed with open arms, it is more so than ever this year, as he made clear before leaving Paris.
“I’m already thinking what I’m going to do the next few days, because Wimbledon is going to be a big goal for the season. That’s where I want to play my best. I’m looking forward to what’s coming ahead now.
“Looking forward to Halle and then clearly Wimbledon: Big goal for me. I want to win it, and I feel like my game is good. It’s been solid, it’s been positive, and I have just got to keep it up now.”
Such a focus is Wimbledon that Federer has yet to look beyond it in his schedule—only his home tournament of Basel in October is agreed. But before Wimbledon comes the tournament that has yielded the other seven grass titles in Federer’s resume, Halle, always his tournament of choice in fine-tuning his grass feet.
But while Wimbledon may be the Holy Grail for Federer, it has a similar status for the only other active player in the top 30 on the ATP Performance Index, Andy Murray.
The Briton has an 83 percent success rate on grass, 78 to 16, and that has earned him five titles, including Wimbledon 2013 (and finalist in 2012), Olympic gold in 2012, and three wins at Queen’s Club, where he will next week attempt to translate his all-court skill, speed and newly-aggressive game into a fourth title before heading to his ‘home’ Major.
But while Murray is second to Federer when it comes to match-winning performance, it is a man born the same year as Federer, the 34-year-old Lleyton Hewitt, who comes second on the list of grass titles—eight—and match-wins—128—among active players.
Hewitt’s third career title, while still a teenager, was on the Queen’s grass in 2000, and he would go on to win there three more times. He also won the Wimbledon title a year before Federer, in 2002, and his most recent title, last summer, came in Newport. But he and his fans are on borrowed time. The Aussie who has bustled and battled with more fire than most through an injury-packed career is calling it a day.
He has already lost this week in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, where he played for the first time since 2002, while ranked No1. He next takes a wild card at Queen’s, in what is sure to be an emotional departure.
Another injury-stricken career, that of Tommy Haas, has also found success on grass among many ups and downs. He won Halle twice and reached the semis at Wimbledon in 2009. This week, age 37 and after a year away from the tour for more surgery, he opened his campaign on Stuttgart’s newly greened courts by winning his opening match.
But where else has grass class shone through in the current crop of players? Well a scan down Wimbledon’s champions since Hewitt’s 2002 victory shows that clay great Rafael Nadal and hard-court great Novak Djokovic have also been able to translate their brilliance to the green stuff: Both have won The Championships twice.
And there are other current players who seem, quite simply, to come alive on the grass. Here are some who have serve and volleyed, touched and sliced, skipped and jumped their way to grass titles since that first grass trophy for Hewitt at the very start of the century.
• Richard Gasquet won Nottingham in 2005 an 2006, reached final of Eastbourne 2014
• John Isner won Newport in 2011 and 2012
• Ivo Karlovic won Nottingham 2007 and 2008, reached final of Newport 2014, final of Queen’s 2005
• Michael Llodra won Eastbourne 2010, won ‘s-Hertogenbosch 2004, reached final of ‘s-Hertogenbosch 2005
• Sam Querrey won Queen’s 2010, final Newport 2009