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Monday, 12 June, 2000, 02:17 GMT 03:17 UK
Is the grass always greener?
Manuel Santana
Manuel Santana hated grass despite success in 1966
One of the most familiar refrains at Wimbledon comes when a European or South American player complains, usually after they have lost, about how they hate grass courts.

"Grass is for cows" was coined in the 1960s by Manuel Santana and it has been echoed down the years by the likes of Ivan Lendl and Marcelo Rios among many others bamboozled by the lush lawns of SW19.

The chasm between the clay court players and the rest is growing ever-wider.

Many clay court specialists, including 1994 French Open runner-up Alberto Berasategui, have never even bothered to turn up at Wimbledon.

And after his first-round defeat in the French Open, Greg Rusedski said: "Maybe it would be better for my career for me to prepare for grass, hard and indoor courts rather than wasting my time on the clay."

Former British Davis Cup captain Paul Hutchins explained to Sport Online why the two surfaces are so different.

Hutchins said that on clay the bounce is high, slow and players can slide as they hit the ball. On grass the bounce is low, fast and sliding is impossible.

"These conditions mean play on clay is slow, so rallies are long. Players need stamina, plenty of patience and good groundstrokes. You do not need a big serve."

"On grass the rallies are very short - three or four shots at most. Because the ball comes off so fast, serve and volley dominates."

The grass court season is a short one - just the two weeks before Wimbledon and the fortnight itself.

Hutchins added: "This means players are not used to grass because they hardly ever play on it. There are one or two exceptional players who can adapt. Bjorn Borg won the French Open six times and Wimbledon five. At Wimbledon, he did it virtually without hitting a volley.

"Of the current players, only Andre Agassi has shown he can play on both. Pete Sampras and Boris Becker, to name just two, have not been able to make the adjustment.

"Even if a grass court expert can play well on clay, to win a Grand Slam you have to win seven five-set matches in two weeks. It is a lot to ask.

Marat Safin
Marat Safin: a future winner on grass?
"It is interesting to think about baseliners whose game could work on grass. Of the current generation, Gustavo Kuerten, Magnus Norman and Marat Safin are about the only ones who have the game that could work on both surfaces. Indeed Safin must be a threat to win Wimbledon.

"Another factor is the short time between the French Open and Wimbledon. If you have done well in Paris you do not feel like rushing off to Queen's to get ready for grass. Mentally and physically, making the change is very tough.

"And when you realise the whole atmosphere and feel of Wimbledon is unique, it is hardly surprising that clay courters find it so tough."

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See also:

11 Jun 00 | Fans Guide
The traditions of Wimbledon
11 Jun 00 | Fans Guide
The quest for Wimbledon tickets
09 Jun 00 | Wimbledon2000
New balls please
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