The grass is never greener on the other side in tennis

As summer fast approaches, it will be no time before the luscious green grass of Wimbledon will be splayed over TV screens across the country. It is a staple of the British sporting diet; it always has been, it always will be.

But as the popularity and coverage of tennis seems to increase, so does the interest in other tournaments, particularly the Queen’s Club Championship. Always seen as the warm up or precursor to Wimbledon, this tournament has been graced by some of the sport’s greatest, but has never been given the credit it deserves.

Queen’s is an ATP 500 event, and prior to 2015, a 250 event. This is the fourth tier of professional tennis, whereby winners gain 500 ranking points. Queen’s is one of two grass tournaments, alongside Halle, to be part of the ATP 500 series, with none in the Masters series.

There are currently six hard court events and three clay court events in the Masters series. There are eight hard court events in the 500 series, three clay tournaments, and just the measly two grass.

However, since become a 500 event, Queen’s has won the ATP World Tour 500 Tournament of the Year award two of the three years it has been a part of the series. It is obviously highly regarded by fans and professionals, so why is it not promoted in status to a Masters event?

This is an argument that has fleetingly been suggested, with no real momentum or backing. Queen’s should be promoted not only because it has been honoured as such a fantastic tournament, but to balance out the disproportionate weighting towards other surfaces.

Feliciano Lopez won last year’s Fever-Tree Championship at Queen’s Club.  Credit: Queen’s Club

Hard court should have more of a presence in professional tennis, it is the most commonly played and accessible surface. But it seems strange, outside of Wimbledon,  that grass court tennis has an almost negligible status.

This gives a greater advantage to clay court specialists when it comes to rising up the ranking system, and conversely punishes grass court specialists. This is no clearer when comparing the careers of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Nadal holds the record for most ATP Masters 1000 titles won, with 31. This is clearly a sensational record. But 23 of those 31 were clay court tournaments, which, for the undisputed greatest clay court player of all time, makes it a lot easier. Likewise, 10 of his 15 Grand Slams have come at Roland-Garros. So roughly 66% of his major (not Majors) tournament wins are on clay.

Nadal has won a staggering 10 French Open titles at Roland-Garros. Credit: ATP World Tour

Jimmy Connors once said: “[In the modern game], you’re either a clay court specialist, a grass court specialist or a hard court specialist … or you’re Roger Federer.” Whilst there is a lot of truth in that statement, few would argue that grass is not Federer’s best surface.

The ‘King of the Grass’ has never had the fortune of competing at a Masters event on his beloved surface, but one would think that his record or 27 titles would be even greater. He averages just two grass court tournaments as year. Halle, which he has won nine times, has only been a 500 series event for three years, like Queen’s, let alone a Masters.

Not only would Federer probably have a greater haul of Masters titles, but his head-to-head record against Nadal would probably be in favour of the Swiss. Of their 38 meetings, 15 have been on clay, whilst only three have been on grass.

Instead, he has had to settle for grass taking a backwards seat on the limelight of world tennis his whole career. Aside from Wimbledon, he has feed on the scraps of lesser tournaments on the surface which he feels most accustomed to, whilst Nadal can rampage through the myriad of clay court tournaments on offer to him.

[In the modern game], you’re either a clay court specialist, a grass court specialist or a hard court specialist … or you’re Roger Federer.

Does the clay court season really deserve to be so much longer than the grass, with so three Masters tournaments to its name? I would say no, but players can only play the hand they have been dealt, and players like Nadal have reaped the rewards. Had there been more high-profile grass court tournaments on the tennis calendar, Federer may have had a vice-like grip on the rankings and world number one spot.

Grass is certainly harder to maintain, and it is a surface that deteriorates during the course of a tournament, which is a valid reason why there could not be a sudden influx of grass court tournaments, as there may not be the money or infrastructure to maintain them. But Queen’s, or Halle, are both established tournaments, nothing would change if they became Masters events.  

It has also been noted that a Masters hosts more players, which would be a strain on resources at a smaller venue such as Queen’s. However, Queen’s Club has only one fewer courts than Indian Wells, with an additional eight indoor courts. They would not be able to withhold as much playing time as the hard courts would, but it is still unfair to say that Queen’s Club would be too small to accommodate a Masters tournament.

Wimbledon remains tennis’ flagship grass court tournament. Credit: ATP World Tour

Sadly, there does not seem to be enough time to fit in Queen’s as a Masters tournament. Despite the possibility of axing one of the other tournaments on the calendar, there is only a small window between Roland-Garros and Wimbledon, in which fitting in a tough tournament would be tantamount to torture to the players. That being said, it is not beyond the realms of possibility to wrangle the tennis calendar to squeeze the tournament in.

The reality is, grass court tennis seems to be growing increasingly insignificant. As time has passed, tournaments that were once green have changed to the economically viable hard courts, and Wimbledon remains the vestige to tennis’ original surface. Whether you are a fan of Federer or Nadal, there is surely a sentimental side to every tennis fan, but this may be a war that cannot be won.

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