By Wendy M. Grossman
(June 13, 2014) LONDON – The most spectacular day of tennis every year is the first day of Queen’s Club. The day before is the French Open final, the culmination of months of looking at crushed-brick courts and players knocking the burnt-orangey dust out of the treads on their shoes. The next morning the courts are bright emerald-green and everything old is new again. It’s grass season.
The difficulty of the shift is underlined by the abrupt change in cast. All of a sudden, the tour is awash in tall, skinny beanpoles whopping down serves from the height of a basketball hoop. Physically, even the best-adapted grass-court player pays a price for the change.
“My back,” said Kevin Anderson, when asked what body part hurts the most. He explains: the ball stays definitely lower. At 6 foot 8, Anderson has to bend a lot anyway – but the need is more pronounced on grass, and he has to reach more and farther because of the way grass can skid a ball away from you. “I feel it more on grass.” Apparently he’s happy to help dish out the pain, naming the backhand slice, which notoriously stays low and skids off the grass, as the shot he most needs to get in gear for the grass season.
Andy Murray, coming off his third-round loss to Radek Stepanek, noted the “little pains” because of the change of surface (while not blaming them for the loss). You use different muscles, and you use them differently, he said, than on clay, where he finds that the sliding makes his quads hurt most. On grass, he says his lower back, butt, and hamstrings “can get a bit stiff”.
Stanislas Wawrinka said, “You have to be lower on your feet, and sometimes the knee or the back can be difficult. But this year was OK. I had time to adapt myself.”
Grigor Dimitrov, because of his early loss at the French Open, has also had more time to adjust than some of the others. He said he spent last week running 25 miles, which, he says, has added up: “the quads, the glutes”. In general, he says, “I think the part that really hurts the most on grass is the lower back, the glutes, and the adductors. I think those are the parts that always, even if you play the shortest two sets, the next day you’re gonna come back and feel a little funky.”
What seems to definitely help is experience. Radek Stepanek, who beat Murray in the third round and followed up by downing Anderson in the quarters, said “I know exactly which muscles are going to hurt me after the first two days on grass. I’m protecting them already before coming here with the prevention exercises.” The issue for him, he said, is glutes and lower back. Despite the preventive work he does, though, he said wryly, “It always comes anyway, but you know, I’m trying to adjust the level of pain, you know, as low as I can.”
Leave it to Dimitrov to put the whole thing in perspective: “[I] don’t really care any more, because with or without pain, it doesn’t really matter.”