Tennis: Switch to grass adds surface tension

Chris Bowers looks forward to the change from clay to grasscourts
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The Independent Online
THE lush green of the grasscourt makes a comforting change for the eye after the harsh orangey red of the clay, but there's nothing easy about the transition from clay to grass that most of tennis's elite are undertaking this weekend. After eight weeks on clay in America and Europe, the five-week grasscourt season starts tomorrow with men's events in London and Halle, and the women in Birmingham.

"It's the toughest change to make," says Lindsay Davenport, beaten semi- finalist in Paris. "It's not just going from the slowest to the fastest, the ball keeps so low on grass and you get bad bounces."

The grasscourt season is so short that few players can be adequately prepared for Wimbledon, which is still the most prestigious tournament on the circuit. There are tour events this week and next, two weeks of Wimbledon, and a men's event in Newport, Rhode Island, a week later.

Davenport is one of those who choose not to play grasscourt tour events, preferring to come to England about five days before Wimbledon. Yet the prevailing wisdom is that to play well on grass you need to, well, play on grass.

As such, the men who'll be at London's Queen's Club and Halle this week, and in Nottingham and Rosmalen next week, are likely to be the more serious challengers for Wimbledon. The same goes for the women in Edgbaston this week and the following events at Eastbourne and Rosmalen.

The entry lists for Queen's and Edgbaston read like a catalogue of those who failed at Roland Garros. None of the top five seeds at the Stella Artois Championships survived the second round in Paris, and only Dominique van Roost of the seeds at the DFS Classic made it to the third round of the French.

Pete Sampras and Greg Rusedski head the seeding list at the Stella, both looking to re- establish their confidence after it was once again dented on clay. As big servers the fast grass helps them; Sampras won in 1995, Rusedski a semi-finalist last year.

Patrick Rafter and Goran Ivanisevic, two players whose rankings have been in freefall over recent weeks, will also enjoy the feel of the grass underfoot and could see this time of year as the turning point in their fortunes.

In Birmingham, the all-court games of the top seed Irina Spirlea and No 4 Lisa Raymond should produce the dividends on grass that they didn't on clay - both went out on the opening day of Roland Garros. And age should be no barrier to the 30-year-old Nathalie Tauziat, last year's DFS champion, whose ability to volley will count for more than the scurrying of many of her younger opponents.

Of the players who did well at Roland Garros, a few ought also to do well on the grass. Magui Serna, the 19-year-old Spaniard who put out Mary Pierce in Paris and is in Birmingham this week, reached the third round at Wimbledon last year and should do well again.

Cedric Pioline and Hicham Arazi, who played a glorious five-set quarter- final in Paris last Wednesday, are two others who play well on both clay and grass. Both players were down to play at Queen's this week though both were reported to be doubtful starters.

It will also be interesting to see whether, after reaching the final in Paris, Monica Seles can finally win Wimbledon this year, the one Grand Slam title she has never won, nor even looked comfortable at.