Tennis Returns to Its Grass Roots: Fun in the Green, the Sun, and Rain

antiMatterSenior Analyst IJune 11, 2010

Gary M. Prior/Getty Images

It was I who wanted it this way. I wanted to do her job. I asked for it. And I wanted her to do what she considered mine. But she did not so much do the job as redefine it completely. Here is one of the most pleasurable reads about grass court tennis of all time.

Hmm...she has taken up the "tennis" part. Well, so I am left here to talk about..."grass," maybe? Marianne would have known better. Anyway here goes...

The colour was red. And in the blink of an eye it has turned green. Yes, from the fiery aggression of red to the tender freshness of green turf. And yet, it is on the latter that aggression manifests itself, while the former needs you to be a picture of patience, or a motion picture of patience, if you will have it that way.

This is the quickest and most abrupt transition in the sport. What with all the grunting and grinding and heavy running on the red dusty clay that almost flies out of the TV and lodges itself into every facial orifice (oh bugger!), it cannot come sooner, too.

Not that clay court tennis is bad. But we have had enough of that. Oh dear!

And it is picture perfect with the season in which it is played.

In the summer.

Most of it happens in Britain and a teeny weeny bit in Germany. But that teeny weeny bit in Germany has a roof over it "which can be closed in 88 seconds," I am told (Wiki).

Now, one should not get too excited about a British summer. Of course they project it as sunny with skies that define the colour blue, with delightful drizzles to cool the air just the right amount like turning the knob on the accurately calibrated air-conditioner, and an ideal time for sports.

This ideal picture of weather doesn't pan out that way all the time, or maybe it is more accurate to say that it rarely does. In reality, it rains. Run-for-your-bunkers-or-you-will-be-washed-away kind of rains.

But that all just adds to the drama. One moment it is the hushed sound of the ball hitting the racquet and the most well-ordered and well-timed claps, and the next it is people scrambling for cover, and those who are used to it, stoically looking for their mackintosh.

You could use the time to catch a quick cup of coffee while finishing the Hound of the Baskerville's or play a rather long game of Scotland Yard. Not talking about Wimbledon here, since they put a lid over it last year.

In Germany...well the season is pretty short in Germany, I repeat. Just when you think that the grass court season is short, look to Germany and think of how long the grass court season is in Germany.

The Gerry Weber Open is held in the Gerry Weber Stadion in Halle, North-Rhine Westphalia in Germany. Well, it seems most of their names do spell like "Kohlschreiber" towards the end, though the first part might sound deceptively simple like "Philip."

Gerry Weber, the tournament is conducted by Gerry Weber, the company that manufactures women's apparel. Gerry Weber, the stadium is surrounded by trees with a good number of pitched and pyramid-roofed buildings thrown around for good measure.

The tournament has the disadvantage of not being in the same country in which Wimbledon is held. Because of this, most top players choose the AEGON Championships in Queen's Club, London.

But the tournament has the advantage of hosting the best GOAT of this era who is best at home on grass—the famous Roger Federer (the "famous" was a way of trying a hand at the greatest understatement of all time) who just happened to sign a life-time deal with the tournament.

Both stadium and tournament were opened in the early '90s, and have a look of the modern about them despite all the pitched roofs. The centre court of the Stadion is quite big, able to seat over 12 thousand spectators (Wimbledon has a capacity of 15 thousand, for comparison).

The AEGON Championship is held in Queen's club, London. Queen's is " the first multipurpose sports complex ever to be built, anywhere in the world," whatever that means. It was opened in 1886 with Queen Victoria as patron. Think of all that tradition bearing down on you, or the players, or the chair umpire, or the ball boys.

Unlike Gerry Weber, in which case you get the feeling one of the main aims is advertisement, the Queen's is a tennis and racket club to its core, dating back to almost the medieval period.

The club doesn't live for this tournament alone.

It is owned by the members to whom the Lawn Tennis Association sold it for 35 million pounds in 2006. The club also holds the British Open and tournaments in other racket sports like squash.

The logo of the club has the letters "QC" with a crown on top of it. That and parts of the construction (a clock that looks like the Big Ben is seen among the photos in the website) reveal the deep chronological roots of the club.

Now we make the trip to the Sistine Chapel of tennis, only that Michelangelo could not have frescoed its roof since it did not have a roof until last year, though the club could have been in existence when Michaelangelo was still around (which is rumoured to be the conspiracy theory in Dan Brown's next book, "The Holy GOAT." It seems some Templar is the real GOAT).

You can read the words,  "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same," from Rudyard Kipling's "If," on the wall above the players' entrance to the Centre Court at Wimbledon.

How much more fitting can it be? To have these words, which epitomize the perfect attitude of a champion, on the entrance to the biggest stage of tennis, seems just about perfect.

But in reality one can only wonder how many of the players who would step onto the court would give a second thought to that piece of advice. No, it's not because they couldn't have seen it since it is above their heads and not a prominent enough place (of course Karlovic could read it even if that were the case, if not, he would have banged his head on it).

They could read it alright (Nadal may complain that the grammar is not quite to his liking, or that it is written very "fast"), since they approach the entrance climbing down a staircase. It is because when you are stepping on Centre Court, the moment is so momentous that you are just not in a mood to think of anything else, especially pieces of advice about losing the biggest match of your life.

The feel you get about Centre Court is unlike any other, if you are a fan of, is it aesthetics? One cannot very handily put one's hand on what it is exactly that causes it. Maybe it is just that people have been telling you this from the first time you see and you are prejudiced.

Maybe it is the crowd's applause that sounds measured like clock-work, starting to build intensity in unison reaching the crescendo with coherence and then falling simultaneously.

The equivocal sounding univocal.

Almost like a performance.

Maybe it is the colours around, the colours daubed by man only white and black (if anyone dares to point out that black is not a colour, or white for that matter, the author reserves his right to call him a hopeless pedant. Note the gender here).

The players, the lines on court and the let-chord in white strike a triune rhythm. The eaves over the spectators. the divider between the rows of seats, and the men and women sitting, clad in suits—at least those sitting close to the playing arena—all in black.

The monochrome of the black and white reveal the splendour of nature's favourite green, accentuating the shade so much that it stands out more than the fieriest red.

Maybe it is the age of the event, and the reflexive reverence that comes forth in our minds for the old. The grass changes its shade from lush green near the net and lightens up to almost white at the baseline, appearing quite old, probably reinforcing the sensation of being in the midst of something ancient and auspicious.

(It used to be the other way round, with the lush green near the baseline. Then some people decided that two people playing close to the net looked more like ball-badminton than tennis and decided to change things around—a very controversial decision mostly because it insulted ball-badminton).

Or maybe it's just the strawberry with cream, the fruit picked up fresh in the morning for each day's delicacy. Or the elegance that grass-court tennis brings with it.

Human nature always considers that modus operandi  superior, which is able to achieve a certain effect with as little application of physical force as possible, since in its screwed up mind, such talents are what set us apart from animals (it is really the opposable thumbs), and there is no other place in tennis that showcases "touch tennis" as this does.

The thing that we will miss in Wimbledon like we did last year is the rain. Once it drizzles, and if official has forgotten his umbrella and is in no mood to be soaked, the roof will be closed for the rest of the day over Centre Court (not so on other courts though, which is a good news).

If not for the rain, how good would the 2008 finals have looked? (To know that you can try to take the video of the actual finals, strip it of the sequences with the rain and then show the resulting video to someone who has not watched the particular final.)

Wimbledon roughly has the outer courts all clubbed together with the show courts separated from them, a member's area, and a TV area sitting where the commentators indulge in all the British accent that the match time will allow them.

"The British fans will be chuffed-to-bits if Murray wins Wimbledon, I daresay."

But winning and losing is not even the point as the entrance to Centre Court teaches us. It's to have fun—pure, unadulterated, sanctified fun in this rain and the sun, in this season of the most delicious fruits and the most palatable tennis.

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