One of the two practice grass courts for the Indian Davis Cup team is being rolled regularly at the Delhi Gymkhana Club to assess how much bounce off the surface would be ideal for the home players, who are gearing up for the Denmark challenge.
The ball stays low on the grass court and after rolling it gets better. Tackling the low bounce on grass is a challenge. It is a key factor that the Indian team wants to exploit considering that not many Denmark players are comfortable playing on grass courts. The legend of Leander Paes grew in Davis Cup because he literally toyed with the European players with his incredible skill-set on grass courts during home ties.
In the current generation, Yuki Bhambri and Ramkumar Ramanathan's game is well-equipped to make life tough for rivals on grass. The Indian team would look to exploit the home advantage and emerge victorious in the World Group I Play-off tie on March 4-5.
Why playing on grass is different
One of the main differences of playing on grass court is that it is a low bounce surface. There's no true bounce like on a hard court or clay court. On hard or clay court, you know where the ball would be after it bounces but on grass court it's unpredictable. "It's very fast, very slick, so you have to be ready to shorten your back swing because the ball could die on grass court quickly. "It's so fast that you don't get time to take a big swing or play from two-three feet behind the baseline, which you can do on a hard court or clay court," Yuki told PTI on the sidelines of a practice session, explaining what one needs to do in such a situation.
Does small swing means power gets compromised?
You have to stay low on your toes, and prepare early because the ball moves very fast. It's not that power gets compromised because you are using the speed of the ball hit by the opponent. You are just preparing early. "It's not that only the big swing generates power," said the 29-year-old Yuki, who will be playing his first Davis Cup tie since the September 2017 away contest against Canada.
Can you slide on grass like you do on hard or clay court?
"Usually most players play with grass court shoes since you need to move quick and for that you need grip. But I guess, some players are so used to sliding on court that they even prefer those flat sole shoes even on grass," said Yuki.
Grass court effects on limbs and importance of staying low
Playing on hard courts causes much wear and tear to knees, hip region and back. The game becomes more physical on clay courts. Even the great Rafael Nadal went on record saying that the hard court is a more aggressive surface "in all aspects". Yuki said, on grass courts, "You need to stay balanced because there is no grip. Ball can turn and go anywhere because of the grass."
"You need to stay low even after hitting the ball. Even when you are moving side to side, you stay low. It's in muscle memory but on grass courts, you need to emphasise on it more so that it becomes your muscle memory again and that's why these practice sessions. "There is more pressure on legs and back but that's the correct way to play. The more you stick to ground, the better power you generate. You need more strength in your legs. "You need shorter back swings, lower gravity on your shots, and stay a bit more patient when you are hitting the ball because you have bad bounces."
Service on grass courts
Rohan Bopanna will be the most experienced player in the Indian squad. The former world number three and only the fourth Indian with a Grand Slam trophy, is one of the best servers in the game today. He explained which style of serve is best suited for the grass court. "The only difference is that there are more slice serves used instead of kick serves. The kick serves are more effective on hard courts and clay courts. Everything else remains same.
"Slice serve adds slice and stays low and goes through," said Bopanna. The last time India hosted a tie on grass courts was in July 2016, when it beat Korea 4-1 in Chandigarh but when it travelled to Italy in February 2019, the Indian team lost 1-3 on the same surface, against better grass court players.