Marat Safin column on championat.ru 28 June 2011, post Nr. 5
“I learned to play on grass too late”
No doubt, Wimbledon is a cool tournament. It’s very prestigious, but quite unusual. It’s difficult to play on grass, and one has to get accustomed to it. On this surface one should use a completely different tactic and court movement, which brings a lot of trouble to many class players. I had difficulties with playing on grass and for few years I couldn’t get accustomed to the local courts, hence I couldn't perform well.
In the recent years the tennis players became faster and quickly accustom to the grass surface, since it gets slower with every season. The difference between the current grass and the one that was on Wimbledon 5-10 years ago is huge. Back then the courts were faster and more slippery. They do this intentionally, because due to the technical progress the tennis speed keeps rising. The spectators would not be interested in seeing a battle of serve-and-volley. That is why, in order to make the game more diverse, the organizers make the surface slower.
In the past there were many tennis players, who right after the serve were attacking on the net. Basically now there are not such specialist left, which is big advantage for other guys. It was hard with Ivanisevic, Kraycek, Rafter or Henman. if you are not in good shape, they could easily kick you out of the tournament, since you are constantly under pressure, they used to press the opponent throughout teh whole match. On this surface such an aggressive and fast tennis is most effective. I cannot say, would it be easier for me to play on Wimbledon, since the grass in my time was slower. nevertheless I think that I’d feel more comfortable.
As I mentioned, one has to start preparing for grass early. That’s why after Roland Garros most of the players go to London, where they try to train as long as possible and get accustomed to the surface. Not everyone did this, since before Wimbledon there are few big tournaments, where one could add good points to their rating. On such competitions always gathered many good players, especially on the men tour. Federer, Hewitt, Roddick and others always play before Wimbledon.
My first good performance in London I consider the one in 2001, when I lost in QF to the future winner Goran Ivanisevic. That was the first time I more or less felt that I could play on grass. My best performance would be in 2008, when I reached SF and lost to Roger Federer. All in all, I remember Wimbledon with good memories, despite I am a bit sad that I learned to play on grass too late. I could have achieved more on this tournament, but unfortunately it didn’t happen.
This year I couldn’t fly to London, since I had many organizational issues to solve in Moscow. But I do follow the score. In the men draw I was surprised by Andy Roddick’s quick exit, since this is his favorite surface and suits his game style. I think he has to reach higher. I was also surprised by Robin Soderling’s loss. I thought that on grass he’ll have better results.
Mish Youzhniy is great. He is successful player, one can say, a veteran and very experienced and proven.The guys consider him, when planning their walk on the draw, since for the last 10 years he is playing at high level. I wasn’t surprised by his good performance on Wimbledon. It’s pity he lost to Federer, but any opponent has tough time against him. regarding the main favorites for the title, besides Roger there are Novak Djokovic, Andy Murrey and Rafael Nadal. The same four, as in the previous big tournaments.
In contrast to the men tennis, it’s impossible to predict anything in the women tennis. I personally think that the winner would be either Masha Sharapova, either Vika Azarenko. I like their aggressive tennis. That’s what’s needed to play on grass. We’ll cheer for our girls!
One cannot go without mentioning the WIlliams sisters. Their return will be beneficial for the WTA-tour. They started competing again, as they think they can still win. It’s hard to forecast their long-term perspectives, as it’s not correct to make conclusions based on one tournament. No one, except for themselves, knows what they want and would they play many tournaments or would perform selectively. In any case, if Serena or Venus are decisive, the younger girls would have hard time, as the Americans are very experienced and athletic players. On the big tournaments the experience is needed more than anything. For the two competition weeks everyone has to go through few difficult matches, where you hang on a hair from the failure. In order to get out from such moments experience is necessary. Serena and Venus have more of it than any other playing girl.