Because modern players spend less time on grass than on hard or clay courts, it is the surface which gives most their greatest challenge. It takes time to get used to the different bounce and to the feel of grass under your feet.
Rallies are shorter. Although serve-and-volley is rare these days, being confident enough to play at the net is a huge asset.
Andy Murray, who adapts better than most, thinks a major reason why he played some of the best grass-court tennis of his life last year was because he had had such a long period playing on the surface. Because of the Olympics, last summer’s grass-court season lasted eight weeks, twice as long as normal.
In the past, some players chose to miss the French Open in order to spend more time on grass and improve their chances at Wimbledon. In 1990, Ivan Lendl opted out of Roland Garros and won the title at Queen’s Club – but then lost in the semi-finals at Wimbledon. He avoided Paris again the following year but made early exits at both Queen’s and Wimbledon. Stan Smith and John Newcombe, who both won Wimbledon, rarely played at Roland Garros.
Today, however, almost nobody takes that option. Missing a Grand Slam tournament has implications for ranking points and there is also huge prize-money at stake: first-round losers at the French Open last month won €21,000 each (nearly £18,000). In addition, most players today are all-rounders. Different court surfaces have become increasingly similar in speed, while improvements in racket and string technology mean that most players play the same way – from the back of the court – on all surfaces.
Some modern-day players do take the opportunity to play in grass-court tournaments in both weeks between the French Open and Wimbledon. For those knocked out early in Paris there is the additional option to play in a minor grass-court event in the second week of Roland Garros. Benjamin Becker, who competed in Nottingham last week, played his ninth grass-court match of the season against Murray yesterday.
1 Play one tournament in the week after Roland Garros
Most of the leading men choose to play in just one grass-court tournament in the week immediately after the French Open. The advantage is that they get some competitive grass-court experience but still have time to work on specific aspects of their game the following week. Nevertheless, it can make for a hectic schedule. Rafael Nadal once took the Eurostar to London the morning after winning the French Open, arrived at Queen’s Club early in the evening and went out to practise in the pouring rain.
Roger Federer traditionally plays the Halle tournament in Germany this week, while Murray competes at Queen’s Club. Nadal has played at both in the past but withdrew from Halle this year in order to assess his fitness after a gruelling clay-court season.
Often all a player is looking for is to get two or three grass-court matches under their belt. Nadal in particular never seems too distressed to lose in the quarter-finals this week, as he did in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Being knocked out on the Friday enables the Spaniard to return home to Majorca for a few days of fishing and golf before heading for Wimbledon at the end of the following week.
A number of the top women play in a tournament two weeks before the Australian, French and US Opens and then practise the following week. However, Eastbourne’s place in the schedule means that many play in the week immediately before Wimbledon.
2 Get some friendly competition at an exhibition event
For the third year in succession, Novak Djokovic is choosing to go into Wimbledon without playing in any grass-court tournaments in the build-up. It worked well for him in 2011: after suffering his first defeat of the year in the semi-finals of the French Open he went on to win Wimbledon.
Djokovic prefers instead to go home after Paris and arrive in Britain a few days before Wimbledon to play in an exhibition tournament. This year he is playing again at the Boodles, which is staged at Stoke Park in Buckinghamshire. Richard Gasquet is choosing the same option, while Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin del Potro are among those who played at Queen’s this week and will also play at Stoke Park next week.
There are a number of other exhibition options for players next week. Murray is planning to make an appearance at Hurlingham alongside Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Tommy Haas and Kei Nishikori.
3 Don’t worry about grass until you arrive at Wimbledon
Serena Williams played at Eastbourne two years ago, when she was returning after nearly a year out of the game, but the world No 1 usually has her first grass-court practice session at Wimbledon just a few days before the tournament starts. Williams went home to the United States on Monday this week following her French Open triumph and was planning to play on hard courts before turning up at the All England Club towards the end of next week.
The preparation seems to have suited the American well enough – she has won Wimbledon five times – but it is not an option that many of her rivals will choose. Eight of the top 15 women in the world will be playing in next week’s Aegon International at Eastbourne.
In the men’s game, Federer is another who has won Wimbledon without having played any grass-court matches in tournaments or at exhibitions. But it helps if you are the best player of all time.
4 And how it will all change from 2015 onwards...
From 2015 Wimbledon will move back a week in the calendar, creating a three-week gap following the French Open. Current tournaments played between the two Grand Slam events are likely to follow suit, which should make Halle and Queen’s even more attractive propositions for players as they know they will have a week’s rest following Roland Garros.
The extra week in the grass-court season will be inserted immediately after the French Open, with new tournaments added to the calendar. For some players it will mean the chance to play three main-tour events in a row on grass in the build-up to Wimbledon.