Playing on Grass

Today, Bob Wilkie and i had the pleasure (and challenge) of playing a doubles match on a beautiful grass court in

Bob, Chuck, me
Vermont. The court is on an incredible country estate, which is owned by a friend of former Dartmouth tennis coach, Chuck Kinyon (who helped install the court).

On this rolling hills estate, along with the grass court, is an indoor HarTru court (that Chuck also helped install) in a converted horse show arena, a trout pond, a herd of Llamas, and the Main House. P.S. It is now on the market, if you are interested!

But, back to the tennis. Here are Chuck’s tips for playing on grass:

* Don’t let the ball bounce – this is the number one and most important tip. Since the ball stays so low and tends to skid on the grass, best to try to take everything you can in the air.

* Make the ball bounce – If you are on the hitting side of the ball, you want to try to keep your shots low and make your opponents take the ball on the bounce.

* Lift your feet – While the first step on hard and soft courts can easily slide to the side, on grass, you have to lift your foot, otherwise you will catch it on the grass.

* Use a lot of poaching – To help save your serving partner from making a tough half volley on the return, poach a lot to either pick it off or draw the fire.

* Watch the ball – A given in any circumstance; but critical on grass with its funny bounces. And also, shorten your swing.

* Serve smart – Avoid the topspin serve, which tends to sit up on the grass; but use the flat and slice serves, which will be more difficult to return. And vary your speeds and placement; so the returners can’t get a consistent bounce.

It was a totally enjoyable June day of quality tennis … on a quality court.

You have any other grass court experiences or tips?

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8 thoughts on “Playing on Grass

  1. It was a terrific morning of tennis on the grass! Hope to do it again soon…

  2. Thanks George for this great post. Looks like a beautiful summer day in the North East. I have not played on real grass, but rather a “faux” grass court that had sand underneath and was meant for Hawaii so the rain could drain quickly. The bounce was not like you described on a real grass court. I hope to play on all surfaces, so when I get to play on grass, you can bet I’ll be using these tips!

  3. playing singles on grass is much easier mentally than playing singles on a clay or hard court. on grass, you have one thought continually, get to the net, dont let the ball bounce, you’re always moving forward, win or lose.. now,on clay or hard court, those thoughts of “should i be aggressive and take the net, or should i stay back, and just rally” are with you every point of the match. that can be torture.

  4. My experience playing singles matches at Seabright LT was you can’t hit with topspin because the ball does not bounce up to you knees. Most shots are flat and slice down the line, and the strategy becomes serve and volley, drop volley, and drop shot. Also, because of the low bounce, you will feel it more in the hamstrings from stretching and sliding.

  5. George, how wonderful that you got to play on that court! When I am next in Vermont maybe you can finagle a repeat match and invite your close personal friend from Pennsylvania, huh?

    Anyway, I have played a fair amount on grass courts over the years. (Living most of my life in the northeast, and most recently near Philadelphia, means proximity to a lot of the country’s best known grass court clubs.) You are absolutely spot on with the advice you give on how to play on grass.

    I will add only one more tip that I have found works for me; it may not work for everybody, especially those who have two handed backhands. The tip is this: I revert to a continental grip on ALL shots on grass.

    That’s right, I don’t switch my grip at all for anything. It is all continental for all strokes. It is actually not as radical a change as you might think. On serves and volleys this is no change from my normal grip anyway. On backhands it is a slight change because I normally use an eastern grip for most of my shots anyway (especially if I want to hit slice, I adjust to a semi-western for topspin backhands); switching to a continental feels only slightly different on my one hander. It is more of a change on forehands where my normal grip is somewhere between a classic eastern and a semi-western grip. But I have found that I quickly adjust.

    That is, it always feels a bit awkward on forehands for, say, the warmup and maybe the first few games. But then I really get into the match play and I simply forget that I am using only one grip for all my strokes.

    What advantages does the single grip allow? Basically, there are two. First, grass court tennis is, as others have pointed out, a very fast moving game where your only thought is to move foreword as often and as quickly as you can and to try to not let the ball touch the court, ever. You have much less time for all strokes, and much less time to think. You just react. So, freeing your mind from having to think about grip changes makes it that much easier to focus on what you need to be focusing on with grass court play, which are basically all of the tips that you have included in your post. Second, you are going to be hitting a LOT of balls very low to the ground on a grass court. If you don’t manage to catch them in the air, you are at least going to be hitting them off the turf as half volleys. So, in addition to having to bend your knees to get down low to all of these balls, having a continental grip on all strokes facilitates being able to get your strings on all of these low balls. It also extends your reach a bit on shots that pull you left or right, as it allows you to slice those balls back.

    Good luck playing on the grass! It is my favorite surface.

  6. Very timely hints because the Friendship Cup is being played this weekend on grass in Essex, Ma. but it is looking more like an indoor event with Andrea chugging its way up the coast.

  7. Will never forget my one experience.
    1982 Westchester Country Club. Rye NY.
    It was awesome and i felt like i was playing wimbledon.

    George, my crazy “spooning forehand outside to inside slice” came from there.

    Good court for Mr. Wilkies game :-).


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