It is that wonderful moment when a Spanish player called Adrian Menendez-Maceiras surprises a giant German Daniel Brands by sneaking in behind a first serve and nipping away the volley. He does it on the next point, and one after the one after that.
If he had tried that at his local club in Marbella, he’d probably have been sent to clean the locker room lavatories.
On grass – with a third of the audience alongside court No.2 at the Surbiton Tennis and Racket Club in Surrey, England watching his game and the two-thirds with their backs turned to him, lured by the noises from Britain’s Katie Swan and Australia’s Ariana Rodionova – one can afford to be adaptive. Adrian [who lost by the way] can just hope that when he tells the story of that particular game to his fellow Spaniards, they don’t think he’s kidding them.
The glories of the grass have returned and it can turn the most capable Spanish player into a gibbering wreck. The grass season is now extended by a week in the calendar, thanks to a little bit of arm-twisting and turf accountancy from the All England Club which has set its heart on preserving the status of the sport in its original ‘lawn’ tennis form.
The second grand slam of the season may be reaching its crescendo in Paris, but preparations for London SW19 are in earnest swing, starting in London KT5.
It is time to unfold the deckchairs, dust the wooden benches, pack six different kinds of clothing, the first required to protect you from a biting east wind in the morning and then, peeling off the layers, you’re down to the short sleeves and rummaging around the bottom of your rucksack for that tube of sunscreen. Welcome to England in June.
Then there are the bounces – an ugly, idiosyncratic collection of oddities, variables and weirdoes, drawing the curses [some beneath the breath, others extremely audible], the bemused looks and the shakes of the head. Happy to be back on grass? Not everyone.
It is supposed to be the surface on which the British thrive. After all, it is our surface, only that the Australians have grass courts in abundance as well and, because of the fact that they do camaraderie much better than the Brits, have won more titles on in that any nation.
Therefore, it is not that much of a surprise that, tucked into a corner of the public restaurant area of the club is the Australian Davis Cup captain, the 2002 Wimbledon champion Lleyton Hewitt, assessing his brood, which numbered Matthew Ebden, Jordan Thompson, Nick Kyrgios [doubles only] and Alex De Minaur among its talented number. Hewitt is playing the doubles himself, further extending the most extended retirement tour in the history of the sport.
Surbiton is a Challenger event on the ATP Tour, and, as far as the WTA Tour is concerned, it is regarded as an event marshalled by the ITF, as part of their overall edict to grow the game. The ATP matches have five lines-people, the WTA have three [hardly equal opportunity] to be designated by the chair umpire as to where they prefer they should call the lines.
It leaves the umpire, usually, calling both baselines, a thankless task.
I talk to one of my oldest buddies, a linesman of many years experience who bemoans the lack of new recruits to the profession, the unevenness of the court surfaces ‘the worst here for a long time’ and the fact that the lines seem to be increasingly difficult to pick out, especially in the evening shadows and especially guys bombing down 150 mph first serves with the lines-people having to peer through the net and cover an entire line, not just in their half of the court.
Dan Evans is picking up the pieces of his career after a 12-month ban imposed when he failed a doping test for cocaine in Barcelona in April, 2017, three months after he had reached the fourth round of the Australian Open in largely borrowed T-shirts. He is British tennis optimism, writ large.
I tend to agree with the former heads of men’s tennis in the UK, Mark Petchey, who is now one of the leading analysts in the game, most especially on Sky Sports.
“Dan’s a fantastic player,” he said. “He’s very talented and is one of those players who hits the ball out the middle of the racket incredibly easily, and if he’s as hungry as it would appear I think by this time next year it will be realistic target to see him potentially re-enter the top 100.
“I think it would take a minimum of a year for Dan to get back there depending on obviously which tournaments he can qualify for and get in. Some of its going to be determined by wild cards and things like that.”
“The time to stop judging him for what happened is long past and it’s time to start supporting a British tennis player and hoping he can get back up the rankings as swiftly as he can.”
Well, here at Surbiton, it is still the hard way for Evans, the support is only skin deep. No wild cards, a place in the qualifying event, the long slog into the main draw and in his first match there, a straight-set victory over Thomas Fabbiano, of Italy, ranked 115 to Evans’ current 858 [a falsehood if ever there was one].
The match was full of typical Evans’ opportunism, testy arguments with officials – I’m playing you [the umpire], the court, and an opponent and he’s bloody good,’ Evans said at one moment when a linesman’s quick call on a sideline and the umpire’s confirmation of an ‘out’ call, infuriated the British player.
There is no such thing as home advantage in tennis.
The sidelines at these courts are filled with the usual strong-willed, hardy perennials of the British game, hearty souls who love their tennis, coaches who desperately crave domestic success, willing and very talented players seeking that edge and those from abroad hoping they might find that British hospitality is extended beyond the lunch chit that pays for their single digestible meal on any given day. Long live Surbiton.