« The day when we will play on only one surface, we will be robots! », said Wally Masur in 1988, saddened of seeing tennis authorities cutting the grass under the feet of the attackers. We’re not there yet, this grass-courts season will even last a week longer than usual. Which doesn’t prevent us to miss a few disappeared grass-courts tournaments!
1/ Manchester and its finals faster than lightning
Manchester, the city of Citizens and Reds, used to be a tournament preparing for Wimbledon until 1994. Like a symbol, the winner of the very last edition was the great Australian pirate Pat Rafter. A tournament where grass courts were faster than everywhere else. In 1991, even Pete Sampras couldn’t touch a ball against Goran Ivanisevic. The Croat won in final 6/4 6/4 only losing 4 points after his first set service, including three on double faults! Nobody moved, the termination only lasted 44 minutes…
2/ Bristol and its artists
Bristol, one of the greenest cities in Europe (almost 500 parks and gardens!), disappeared from the calendar in 1990 with the introduction of the ATP Tour. The big boys had always preferred the Queen’s anyway, except maybe Henri Leconte, who had played and lost and a memorable fencing match in 1986 (8/6 in the third) against the most understated player of his time, Vijay Amritraj, who later went to Hollywood to play in a James Bond Movie (Octopussy, 1983).
3/ Sydney, the very last Australian tournament on grass courts
It was for the folklore. When cement started to pour all over Australia, Aussies tried to keep (only) one tournament on grass courts, one of the oldest, played at Sidney’s White City Stadium. The last edition (January 1988) brought together many nostalgic of shadows, serve-and-volley and second ball lovers: Danie Visser, Peter Doohan, Darren Cahill, John Fitzgerald, wonderful second fiddles, or the absolute purist Christo Van Rensburg, the only Top 20 in history to have never played the French Open in Singles! Strangest thing, it’s an allergic to grass, Andrei Chesnokov (no victories in 7 participations at Wimbledon) who reached the final of the jubilee tournament.
4/ Surbiton, its adjoining courts and its legendary 1975 match
Near the Thames, the lovely old-school adjoining courts of Surbiton were only used on the big tour for two years, in 1979 and 1980. Today, this classic British club is only hosting an average Challenger tournament… What a shame! It was there that in 1975, two unknowns, Anthony Fawcett and Keith Glass played an incredible 80 points game (37 all in 31 minutes according to the American journalist Bud Collins). Has anyone ever thought of making memorial stone in their honour?
5/ All the Majors on grass courts!
It might surprise you, but all major tournaments indeed had their own lawn mower at some point in history! The first edition of the French interclub Championships, which is not other than the father of the French Championships, the Grandfather of the French International Championships and the grandfather of the French Open was played… on grass courts! The France Racing Club, where the tournament was hosted didn’t keep this historic court. Fortunately, the only journalist on site that 21st of June 1891 had the good idea to mention the surface in his article… For the Australia Internationals and the US, the story is the same, except that grass courts were only replaced by hard courts in 1974 (New York) and 1987 (Melbourne).
By Julien Pichené