Top tips for grass court tennis by one of the best tennis coaches in Exeter, James Temple.
The grass court tennis season may only last for four weeks in a crowded tennis calendar but it always serves up some breathtaking tennis and the tennis at Exeter Golf and Country Club is no exception. The rapid transition from the clay courts of Roland Garros to the pristine lawns of Queen’s Club and Wimbledon provides a great transformation in style and perhaps the biggest test in the professional game.
Grass tennis courts in Exeter
The artificial grass courts at Exeter Golf and Country Club have similar playing characteristics to the fast lawns of Wimbledon so it is useful to know how to exploit them. It is certainly a home advantage for our team players who learn to utilise the fast pace.
From the exhausting rallies on the slow European red clay, which favour players with endurance, patience and heavy topspin, to the explosive aggression used to great effect on grass courts, the shift in surfaces represents the greatest contrast in tennis.
During and after the Wimbledon fortnight, the courts at many tennis clubs are full of activity as people become inspired by the greatest tournament in the world. Exeter Golf and Country Club is just the same as one of the best tennis clubs in Exeter. Over thirty adult and junior members took part in a Wimbledon tournament on men’s singles final day and stayed to watch the thrilling match.
Play tennis in Exeter
Grass court tennis has changed significantly in the last thirty years. Changes to the type of grass and the advancement of technology means that players are now able to hit the ball harder and with more topspin. This has resulted in a change of style and approach on faster courts.
The images below comparing the wear on the courts between the 1980 Wimbledon final between John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg and this year’s final between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic illustrate the trend towards more baseline-dominated matches.
Federer’s run to this year’s final, eleven years after his first, was characterised by a renewed enthusiasm for approaching the net combined with the rediscovery of some of his best serving form. This eagerness to reach the net has been widely attributed to his new coach, former Wimbledon champion Stefan Edberg. Renowned as one of the greatest serve-and-volley players of all time, Edberg made great use of kick and slice serves which he would follow to the net to make use of his exquisite volleying skills.
This video shows the conclusion of the 1990 Wimbledon final between Edberg and Boris Becker (who now coaches Novak Djokovic) – click here to watch.
Despite recent changes in tennis, the fundamental tactics required to succeed on fast courts have remained largely unchanged. Many of these are evident in the points played out between Edberg and Becker and can be used to great success on all fast courts, including the artificial grass tennis courts at Exeter Golf and Country Club.
Both players looked to dictate the tempo of the match by dominating the opponent. In order to achieve this, the serve is crucial. A fast and accurately placed first serve will often illicit a weak reply which puts the server in control of the rally. Aiming to the backhand of your opponent is an effective tactic as it is typically the weakest side. It is also helpful to have the ability to hit an effective slice serve. This can be used to force your opponent out wide and open the rest of the court or to serve into the body, restrict the receiver and limit the angles available to them.
Due to the speed of the court, it is crucial that a successful fast court player has quick reactions and good anticipation. This is especially vital when it comes to returning the serve. In order to remain aggressive on faster courts, it is best to stand close to the baseline to retain a good position on the court.
Tips for the perfect serve
As with groundstrokes on fast courts, it is helpful to be able to load quickly and hit short, compact strokes. When returning a first serve you are often looking to neutralize the serve and block the ball back. The best returners have little preparation and look to re-direct the pace from the serve. A great example of this is Djokovic’s sensational return at match point against Tsonga in the fourth round of this year’s Wimbledon – click here to watch.
Once the point has started, players should be looking to stay close to the baseline and exploit any short or weaker shots. When such a chance occurs an approach shot is often the best way of becoming the aggressor. Approach shots should predominantly be hit down the line as this reduces the angles available to your opponent. Whichever direction you approach, it is integral that you follow the path of the shot (head to the same side of the court as your shot). This will put you in the best position to make a volley. Pacey, flat shots will take time away from your opponent. A good alternative is to play a low, penetrating backhand slice. With the ball skidding through the court your opponent is forced to lift the ball, ideally giving you an easy put away volley.
Perfect your volley
When coming in behind the approach it is helpful to perform a split step or adjustment steps before attempting to play a volley. These small steps slow you down and prepare you for the shot. With the first volley, you are often looking to keep it deep and towards the corners, perhaps aiming for your opponent’s weaker shot or hitting back behind them. You should then be in a position to close the net further before playing a winning second volley, possibly angling short into the other side of the court.
So, if you’ve got a serve like Sampras, a slice backhand akin to Steffi Graf and the volleys of Martina Navratilova then you’re all set for success on fast courts. If not, then head onto the tennis courts at Exeter Golf and Country Club and keep practising!