Why the ATP’s move to an expanded grass-court swing matters?

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February 12, 2014 by Parveer Mann

After finalizing its 2015 schedule earlier this week, we know one thing is certain on the ATP: Grass is making a comeback and it couldn’t be more welcome.

It wasn’t too long ago that three of the four Grand Slams were being played on grass but due to costs and changing attitudes toward the surface, we barely had that many tournaments anymore. However, starting next year, the ATP will have five grass court tournaments before Wimbledon and one (Newport) remaining after Wimbledon. The biggest change comes with Stuttgart changing surfaces (clay to grass) starting next year. Additional changes will also mean that more points will be available throughout the stretch with Queen’s and Halle becoming ATP 500 events.

Overall, I believe this trend toward further grass-court expansion comes at an important time for the ATP and modern tennis. For the last few years, writers and players have begrudged the homogenization of courts and surfaces that feel and play the same way. They argued that we were losing a style of play that had helped make the sport popular in the 1970’s and 80’s.

Not only bounce but ball speed also varies surface to surface. (Image available on news.bbc.co.uk)

Not only bounce but ball speed also varies surface to surface. (Image available on news.bbc.co.uk)

I feel those critics will be happy with the ATP’s decision because more grass-court events will necessitate more styles of play. Even if modern grass-courts tend to have a higher ball bounce than say 15 to 20 years ago, it is still significantly more challenging than current hard or clay courts. So inevitably, you should see more aggressive players being successful at these events (and benefitting in the rankings with more points) as they traditionally have done in the past.

Better for Wimbledon

The movement towards more grass courts only really gained traction in 2012 after the All England Club announced it would be moving the Championships back one week come 2015. This extra week would allow players extra rest before the Championships and give them more time to adjust to grass courts. Something that is not easy for every player especially those who are younger or less experienced on the surface.

The benefit of more tournaments and extra time should see the quality of Wimbledon play return to previous heights. I’m sure everyone remembers the wackiness of last year’s tournament but some of that could be contributed to a significant portion of players who were uncomfortable with their footwork on the slippery grass. I think I’m not alone in thinking that footwork can only get better if players spend more time on the surface.

Is there an ATP 1000 event in the near future?

The ideal next step in grass-court expansion will be the introduction of an exclusive ATP 1000 event played on the surface. Currently, the major stumbling block is that current grass-court facilities do not have the infrastructure or TV courts available to hold an event of that size. I feel Halle is the closest to being ready and it would amazing if Germany can welcome back an ATP 1000 after losing one to Shanghai earlier this century.

Halle's main stadium is already impressive but is it ready to host an ATP 1000 in the future? (Image available on nytimes.com)

Halle’s main stadium is already impressive but is it ready to host an ATP 1000 in the future? (Image available on nytimes.com)

However long the wait, the ATP finally seems to have realized that a sport that began as lawn tennis needs to re-invest in the surface that is so intrinsically linked to the history of the game.

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