By Jane Voigt
Newport, RI, July 11, 2014 — The last time I saw a grass court was in Wimbledon. Not the Wimbledon of a week ago, but of a couple decades past. I was in London for a year of college abroad. I had to visit The All England Club, home of The Championships. I was awed.
The grass courts at The Tennis Hall of Fame Championships are not Wimbledon courts, though.
“It’s such a low bouncing court,” Lleyton Hewitt said this afternoon, after dismissing American Steve Johnson in their quarterfinal, 64 64. “Totally different than Wimbledon. You don’t get that many bad bounces there. Whereas out here you’re kind of second guessing yourself. Even if someone hits a kick serve you’re not sure whether it’s going to kick or slice sometimes. Footwork at the best of times is important, but on these courts even more so.”
I was happy to hear Hewitt’s take on these courts because when I stepped on one to play doubles today alongside Owen Davidson, I had an excuse. It’s the bounce.
Davidson arrived in Newport last night for weekend celebrations. He is a V.I.P. in tennis. The Australian was inducted into The International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2010. His resume is highlighted with a calendar year Grand Slam in Mixed Doubles from 1967. He won Roland Garros, Wimbledon, and The U. S. Open alongside Billy Jean King. He won The Australian Open with Leslie Turner Bowrey.
How could I fill Billie Jean’s shoes today? Simply put, I couldn’t. So I didn’t try. I just relied on his game, composure, and delightful attitude. He always complimented good shots and points, and kept his mouth shut when I messed up. He only missed one serve return.
We thumped our opponents in a few games of no-add tennis, which felt good given this was my first outing on grass.
The grass was soft and the baseline not nearly as chewed up as Wmbledon’s after a few days. The ball seemed to touch the court rather than hit it. The color eased my tension, too. Perhaps they should be termed ‘lawns,’ and not grass courts. It’d bring more dignity to the setting and refresh our memories of times gone by.
I constantly had to adjust my steps as I tried to anticipate where a ball would land. I did what any smart grass-court player would do when faced with hustling around in the backcourt … I came to the net. Why expend so much energy?
Jill Craybas was also on hand for this round-robin event staged for the VIPs in town for tomorrow’s induction ceremonies. Craybas retired from tennis last year at 39. She is fit as she was, during her final matches. Jill is a NCAA champion from the University of Florida, won 1 WTA career singles’ title and 5 WTA career doubles titles.
I was excited to hear she was thrown off by the grass. “It’s my first time on grass this year. It bounces so low. Want to hit?”
Of course I’d hit with Jill Craybas on the grass courts of The International Tennis Hall of Fame, during the run-up to one of the years most festive weekend and men’s ATP tournament. I tried nonchalance, yet inside I was all a tither. This was about as close to tennis celebrity, like on-court tennis celebrity, that I’d ever gotten or might get.
We got a rhythm going, which helped both of us but I still wasn’t moving well. Lots of bad bounces, which I’d never experienced since most of my tennis has been played on a hard court or green clay. As soon as Jill got her serve grooved, though, I was out contested.