Future is green for top tennis players

Grass-court game set for boost as tournaments consider surface switch after Wimbledon moved back a week

After years of fighting a rearguard battle, grass-court tennis is on the attack. Several clay-court tournaments in Europe are looking to convert to grass in a significant shift in the game's balance of power.

Impetus for the change has come from Wimbledon's decision to start a week later from 2015. Players have long complained that the two-week break between the French Open and Wimbledon gives them insufficient time to hone their grass-court game.

The All England Club's move will create a three-week gap for grass-court tournaments after Roland Garros. Events across Europe, including the men's competitions at Hamburg, Stuttgart and Gstaad, have shown interest in filling it. Meanwhile, the Women's Tennis Association wants to double to six the number of grass-court competitions in the build-up to Wimbledon.

Although the French Open is the highlight of the European clay-court season, it is not the end of it. Next year, for example, there will be six European clay-court events on the men's tour in the weeks after Wimbledon.

However, the investment in hard-court tournaments across the Atlantic in the build-up to the US Open has made it increasingly difficult for European clay-court events in the same weeks to attract top players. With one week fewer between Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows from 2015, some tournaments are now seeking to move into the grass-court period after the French Open.

This would reverse the recent decline in the number of events on grass. Until 1975, three of the four Grand Slam tournaments were played on grass – today Wimbledon is the only one – and there were strong grass-court circuits in the United States and Australia. Today, the post-Wimbledon men's tournament at Newport, Rhode Island is the only main-tour grass-court event played outside western Europe.

Wimbledon and the Lawn Tennis Association have been happy to help those tournaments thinking of going green. Roger Draper, chief executive of the LTA, said: "We have a very good relationship with the tennis federations in countries like Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands and we're working together on this. It's in everybody's interests to see more of the top players playing more grass-court tennis."

The main women's tour currently has three pre-Wimbledon grass-court events, a "Premier" tournament at Eastbourne and two "International" events at Edgbaston and 's-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands. From 2015, the WTA would like the three-week period to feature two "Premier" events and four "International" tournaments. No decisions have been taken yet, but the new structure would allow both for an upgrading of existing British tournaments and for events in other countries to switch dates and change surfaces to grass.

The men's tournaments currently staged in the fortnight after Roland Garros are all likely to follow Wimbledon and move back a week. This should help the events at Queen's Club in London and at Halle in Germany, which have sometimes been hit by late withdrawals of players exhausted after Paris.

From 2015, some of the top men might prefer to rest in the week after the French Open, but many others will welcome the chance of an extra week's grass-court competition.

An attraction for clay-court tournaments wanting to switch to grass is the prospect of attracting better and more varied fields. Edwin Weindorfer, the tournament director at Stuttgart, which wants to convert five of its 27 courts – including its main stadium – to grass, said: "At the moment we never attract American players, for example, because they all want to go home after Wimbledon. However, if we were part of the build-up to Wimbledon we believe we might draw players like John Isner or Mardy Fish who want to prepare on grass for the most important tournament of the year."

He added: "A lot of the players I talk to, including the top players, feel it's more comfortable for their knees and their bodies to play on grass, especially when compared with hard courts."

Until 2008, Hamburg staged a men's Masters Series tournament on clay, but it was downgraded to a "500" tournament with a new post-Wimbledon date. Now the German tennis federation wants to move to a June slot at an even lower level as a "250" tournament. However, it is facing opposition from its own tournament director, Michael Stich, whose company run the event and want to stay on clay.

Attendances at Hamburg have halved since the switch to July, when many locals are on holiday. Jens-Peter Hecht, a spokesman for the German tennis federation, believes a tournament on grass in June would draw better fields and crowds.

"We may not attract the players who reach the semi-finals or final at Roland Garros, but you have a good chance of getting players maybe ranked No 5, 6 or 7 in the world," he said.

Hecht believes that putting Wimbledon back a week would make it more difficult than ever to attract players in Hamburg's present clay-court slot. "There will be one week less for players to prepare for the US Open, so they will be more keen than ever to move on to hard courts," he said.

Having a tournament of Hamburg's stature join the circuit would boost the profile of the grass-court game, while the expansion of the season should also improve the quality of the play. Chris Kermode, the tournament director of the Aegon Championships at Queen's Club, said: "Expanding the circuit can only improve standards."

Suggested Topics
Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
Arts and Entertainment
tv

Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of Jane Austen classic - with a twist

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes hobby look 'dysfunctional'
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week