Tennis Briefing: Can Americans find Wimbledon success? Should grass season be longer?

Welcome back to the Monday Tennis Briefing, where The Athletic will explain the stories from the past week on-court.

This week, it’s the final grass-court warm-up tournaments for Wimbledon, as tennis players prepare to descend on SW19 in London for the third Grand Slam tournament of the year.

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Will American success on grass bring Wimbledon rewards?

It’s been a while since an American not named Williams did much of note in the significant grass-court tennis tournaments. The days of Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick were longer ago still.

And then Sunday rolled along and Americans walked away with two out of three trophies in the most significant Wimbledon warm-up events.

There was Tommy Paul in London, defeating Italian Lorenzo Musetti in straight sets, 6-1, 7-6(8). And there was Jessica Pegula in Berlin, saving five championship points against Russian Anna Kalinskaya to win 6-7(0), 6-4, 7-6(3). Neither had won a grass-court title previously. Pegula actually won twice on Sunday, having had to finish off her rain-delayed semifinal with Coco Gauff.

Jessica Pegula and Coco Gauff faced each other on the grass in Berlin (Inaki Esnaola / Getty Images)

The trick now for Paul and Pegula will be translating the good form into wins at the All England Club next week. Both know that winning Grand Slam warm-up events or even being the “American No 1” doesn’t rate all that highly, with American sports fans spoiled by decades of success in the most significant tournaments. Neither of the duo has too many great memories at Wimbledon, especially recently.

Pegula was a handful of points away from the semifinals last year, before letting eventual champion Marketa Vondrousova climb out of a deep hole in the third set. Paul lost a third-round tangle to Jiri Lehecka in five sets, three of which went to tiebreaks.

How can grass better serve its purpose…?

After seven days of slip-and-slide across London, Birmingham, Berlin and Halle, many players found themselves uncertain of their place at the third Grand Slam tournament of the year. Dan Evans and Frances Tiafoe hope to recover from knee and hip injuries sustained at Queen’s, while reigning champion Vondrousova retired during her last-16 Berlin Open clash with Kalinskaya after falling heavily and injuring her right hip. An MRI scan suggested she may also make to Wimbledon.

While the cool conditions across the tournaments in the early part of the week made the courts slippery, the brevity of the grass-court season is also causing players bigger problems than it used to do. At the upper echelons of the game, tennis players have to move with incredible agility on every surface, but grass and clay are the two most distinct.

Dan Evans

Evans’ slip at Queen’s has thrown his Wimbledon participation into doubt (Zac Goodwin / PA Images via Getty Images)

The length of the clay-court season allows players to practice the steps, pivots, patterns — and slides — that define elite movement on the dirt, but the grass calendar is so short that there is next to no time to adjust to the equally distinct patterns required.

Factor in the growth in ball striking, athleticism and ability in the last two decades, and it’s no wonder that players are struggling to avoid slips and injuries on a surface that is currently caught between its traditional value and an increasing feeling of unhelpful novelty.

… And should everyone just copy Jannik Sinner?

The new world No 1 seems to have found his own singular solution to these problems. Sprint, dive, roll, repeat.

Against Tallon Griekspoor at the Halle Open, he stole a point with a lunge to his right…

But that wasn’t enough, so in the next round against Fabian Marozsan, he decided to dive, roll, and run all the way back across as well — although his Hungarian opponent will feel he should have done a little better with all the space and time in the world available.

Shot of the week (that is not from Sinner)

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Words to live by for Hubert Hurkacz, who turned the tables on Sinner with a stunning shot when they met in the Halle final.

Recommended reading:

🏆 The winners of the week

🎾 ATP: 

🏆 Tommy Paul def. Lorenzo Musetti 6-1, 7-6(8) to win the Cinch Championships (500) in London. It is Paul’s first ATP 500 title.
🏆 Jannik Sinner def. Hubert Hurkacz 7-6(8), 7-6(2) to win the Terra Wortmann Open (500) in Halle, Germany. It is Sinner’s first grass-court title.

🎾 WTA:

🏆 Jessica Pegula def. Anna Kalinskaya 6-7(0), 6-4, 7-6(3) to win the Ecotrans Open (500) in Berlin, Germany. It is Pegula’s first grass-court title.
🏆 Yulia Putintseva def. Ajla Tomljanovic 6-1, 7-6(8) to win the Rothesay Classic (250) in Birmingham, England. It is Putintseva’s third WTA title.

📈📉 On the rise / Down the line

📈 Zhang Zhizhen moves up nine places, from No 42 to No 33. It is his highest career ranking to date.
📈 Anna Kalinskaya ascends seven spots, from No 24 to No 17, after reaching the final in Berlin. It is her highest career ranking to date.
📈 Ajla Tomljanovic moves up 55 positions, from No 190 to No 135 after reaching the final in Nottingham. She has also secured a wildcard for Wimbledon.

📉 Petra Kvitova falls 71 places from No 55 to No 126, after dropping last year’s points for reaching the final in Berlin.
📉 Carlos Alcaraz descends one position from No 2 to No 3, after failing to defend his points from last year’s title at Queen’s.
📉 Cameron Norrie drops out of the top 40 from No 39 to No 44.

📅 Coming up

🎾 ATP: 

📍Mallorca, Spain, Mallorca Championships (250) featuring Ben Shelton, Gael Monfils, Dominic Thiem, Chris Eubanks
📍Eastbourne, England, Rothesay International (250) featuring Taylor Fritz, Cameron Norrie, Tommy Paul, Alexander Bublik

📺 UK: BBC (Eastbourne) U.S.: Tennis Channel 💻 Tennis TV

🎾 WTA:

📍Bad Homburg, Germany, Bad Homburg Open (500) featuring Maria Sakkari, Emma Navarro, Mirra Andreeva, Bianca Andreescu
📍Eastbourne, England, Rothesay International (500) featuring Elena Rybakina, Jessica Pegula, Jelena Ostapenko, Karolina Muchova

📺 UK: BBC (Eastbourne); U.S.: Tennis Channel

Tell us what you noticed this week in the comments below as the men’s and women’s tours continue.

(Top photo: Getty Images; Design: Eamonn Dalton)

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