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With Wimbledon fast approaching, and the grass court season well and truly in full swing, the ATP and WTA tour will swiftly move on towards the final Slam of the year, the US Open.
Following the conclusion of Wimbledon, there will have been 7 other grass court tournaments staged for the WTA, and 6 for the ATP. Oh, and then of course there’s the Newport ATP tournament, which always seems oddly placed as the sole grass court tournament in North America, after Wimbledon has wrapped up.
July often seems an odd month on the tennis calendar. For the ATP, as mentioned, we have the Newport grass tournament, a handful of clay court events, and the commencement of the hard court season. On the WTA side of things, it’s predominantly back to the clay, with one hardcourt event at the end of the month as the first lead in to the US Open.
The remainder of the ATP/WTA tour will then be played purely on hardcourt through to the end of the season in November (save for a smattering of smaller WTA events on clay). Following a short 6-8 week hiatus, it will all start again on hardcourt for the opening months of the new year.
There is constant discussion surrounding the length of the tennis season, the toll it takes on the players bodies, and what can be done to assist them. Certainly 7 months of the season toiling on hardcourts is too many. Which other sport in the world is played on a surface so unforgiving on the body, and for so long?
In recent years, the players lobbied for an extension to the grass court season, and the ATP listened, with the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart transitioning from clay to grass. But is it enough? Surely it’s time there was a Masters 1000 tournament on the grass. We have only 4 major tournaments, and one of them (25%) is played on the lawn surface.
There are 9 ATP Masters 1000 tournaments, with six of them on hard court, and three on clay. On the women’s side, there are 8 WTA1000 events, with 6 on hard, and 2 on clay. Wouldn’t it make sense to have at least one of these on the grass, either before, or after Wimbledon? To allow the players two extra weeks on grass, and two extra weeks off the hard court, might be a smart way to improve the physical well-being of the athletes.
Nick Kyrgios surely agrees. Just this week he was quoted as saying, “There needs to be more grass events for sure. I’ve been talking about it for ages. If we had 6 grass court tournaments in Australia, I’d never leave the country.”
Grass court tennis is unique, and has a propensity to throw up weird and wonderful results. Take last week’s result, with Dutch wildcard Tim van Rijthoven storming through the field to take his maiden title. We all want some point of difference during the season, and while there hasn’t been a lot of change toward the pointy end of Wimbledon, anyone watching the first week at the All England Club, knows how unpredictable it can be.
It is even more important to create a grass court tournament which is a traditional grass surface. Fast, slick, low bouncing, to ensure we don’t just have another baseline slugfest, which Wimbledon has started to become.
If there are opportunities to play on the grass at Wimbledon, a Masters 1000, plus the 7 other smaller tournaments on the grass, surely we would see more players put time and effort into mastering the art of serve and volleys, slices, and angles. This can only be a positive for the sport can’t it?
The difficulty as always, is where to place the tournament in the calendar? Perhaps it can be played in the week after the Hall of Fame grass court tournament in Newport. During that week, we have a couple of clay court tournaments in Europe. It seems like there might be a little window there, although obviously there would need to be some tweaking, and it will without doubt, upset certain factions of the tennis world.
Holding it beforehand is ideal in theory as a lead in event, and the week of Queens/Halle has been thrown up, but is a week between the French Open, and a grass court Masters, enough time to practice? Doubtful.
The second big question is where we could stage it? There is not an abundance of quality grass court venues in the world, which would be large enough to hold a premier event. Andrea Gaudenzi has spoken about this in the past.
He stated, "For me it can only be organized in England or Germany. In England because there is Wimbledon. In Germany because it is a big market for tennis. First we have to choose the city. Then we find a structure, which means building a stadium or having one that is suitable. "
For now, neither Queens, nor Halle seem to have the space, so it may require some sort of expansion. Or, perhaps Stuttgart could be an option? Clearly wherever it is held, some work will need to be done to allow the site to accommodate a larger men’s and women’s field.
The next dilemma is, do we have an extra Masters 1000 Tournament, or keep the current number, thereby getting rid of one of the hard court Masters? In my opinion, we don’t need back to back Masters Tournaments leading in to the US Open.
We currently have one in Canada (Toronto/Montreal), and then Cincinnati. They are both great tournaments, and asking the ATP to finish one up would undoubtedly cause some uproar. Would it be too much of a radical change to alternate the tournaments every second year, or reduce one to a 500 event? Probably. But if we desire a grass court Masters 1000 tournament, the tennis federations might just have to think outside the box.
Some may argue that pure grass court tennis is only for big servers, and we don’t need to add more of it to the calendar. But for me, the history of tennis is entwined on the grass, with three of the four Slams played on the surface at one stage in their history. We will never go back to that, but surely there’s enough room in the calendar for one more big title to be decided on the lawn.