It’s little wonder professional tennis players often complain about the demanding tournament schedule. They’ve barely had time to knock the clay out of their shoes following the French Open before they’re onto the grass, just two weeks out from Wimbledon.
But this rapid transition from dirt to lawn has been a signature of the tennis calendar for many years, and the players who adapt the quickest are the ones with the best shot of success at the All England Club.
In 2012, many players seem to have found this switch challenging. Recent French Open champion Nadal, a Wimbledon winner in 2008 and 2010, discussed this prior to his first round match at the Gerry Weber Open in Halle.
“You're always a little bit tired after the French Open … You try to adapt to the speed of the court, try to remember a little bit how to hit the ball on a grass court. The movement for sure is totally different on grass than clay. That makes it difficult,” he explained.
“But this is nothing new … the transition was never easy. You must be very careful because the first round will be very dangerous against every player.”
Although he struggled early, Nadal eventually won his opener against Slovakian Lukas Lacko 7-5 6-1, in his first appearance in Halle in seven years. The Spaniard is probably thankful he eschewed his traditional Wimbledon lead-up at the Queens Club event, with the big names dropping like flies over in London.
Fourth-ranked Andy Murray, the reigning Queens champion, fell in three sets in his first match to Frenchman Nicolas Mahut. A day later, Murray’s 2011 final victim, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, badly injured his finger after a fall during his three-set loss to Ivan Dodig, the world No.5 now in doubt for Wimbledon.
Fellow seeds Gilles Simon (No.4), Feliciano Lopez (No.5), Andy Roddick (No.7), Julian Benneteau (No.8) and Marcos Baghdatis (No.11) were also eliminated, while four-time Queens winner Lleyton Hewitt was knocked out in straight sets in the first round by Ivo Karlovic. The Australian will now head to Wimbledon lacking match practice on the 10th anniversary of his 2002 triumph.
Hewitt’s compatriot Bernard Tomic – a dark horse for the Wimbledon title after his run to the quarterfinals in 2011 – also had his preparation disrupted, a virus forcing his withdrawal from his first match at the Halle event against eventual winner Tommy Haas.
It’s results like these that have thrown the normally stable men’s tour into comparative chaos.
And assessing the form guide ahead of the Championships has been made even more tricky by the fact that just one member of the top 10 – No.6 David Ferrer – is scheduled to play in a tune-up event next week, the final week of play before Wimbledon commences on 25 June. World No.1 Novak Djokovic will not have contested any lead-in tournaments in preparation for the defence of his Wimbledon crown.
Having had limited opportunities to track the progress of the world’s best on grass, one can only assume that they will find their groove when they take to the slick lawns at SW19.
It’s happened the last two years – three of the world’s top four have reached the semifinal stage, while the fourth, Roger Federer, fell in the quarterfinals on both occasions. It’s remarkable consistency from the Big Four, and shows no sign of abating any time soon.
And world No.3 Federer, a six-time Wimbledon champion, is doing his bit to restore some order to proceedings during this unusually awry week. The Swiss won his first match in Halle in straight sets to move into the quarterfinals, but was stopped from winning his sixth Gerry Weber Open title by 34-year-old Haas.
“For him (Federer), the transition (to grass) is easier than for me. He needs less time than me,” Nadal said earlier in the week.
In a little over three weeks, we’ll find out just who made the best fist of that transition when they hoist the trophy on the final Sunday at Wimbledon.