Grass will be a welcome sight for Americans

Grass courts are better suited for Americans than the terre battue at Roland Garros. Greg Garber makes the case for which Americans have the best chance to succeed at Wimbledon because of the faster surface.

Updated: June 22, 2007, 2:56 PM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

For American tennis players, the emerald lawns of the All England Club beckon. After a spring of grinding on hostile clay courts in picturesque European cities -- the American men, you may remember, went a horrific 0-for-9 in the first round at Roland Garros -- they finally have arrived at Wimbledon's greener pastures.

Analyst Mary Carillo has always been a proponent of clay, the surface that reveals an athlete's every flaw.

"Clay teaches you how to manage a court, how to finish a point, not just whale away from the baseline and hope it ends at some point," said Carillo, laughing. "Grass is more shock and awe. It works better for American sensibilities. You know, 'Let me just hit something hard, and if it comes back, I'll hit it harder.'"

Indeed, the fastest serves on record for men and women belong to Americans Andy Roddick (155 mph) and Venus Williams (128 mph, at this year's French Open).

Venus Williams
Daniel Berehulak/Getty ImagesThree of Venus Williams' five Grand Slam titles have come at Wimbledon.
Five years ago, Serena Williams was the last American woman to win on the red clay at Roland Garros. It's been eight years since an American man, Andre Agassi, won the French Open title. Wimbledon is a far more American-friendly venue. Grass is, undeniably, good news for Americans.

Before Roger Federer won four straight Wimbledon titles, Pete Sampras and Agassi took eight of the previous 11. Now-retired Lindsay Davenport won at Wimbledon in 1999, so -- adding that to victories by Venus Williams (three titles) and sister Serena (two) -- American women have won six of the past eight.

"Playing on grass plays into American strengths," said Patrick McEnroe, the U.S. Davis Cup captain. "That means taking the ball relatively early, hitting relatively flat and playing a more aggressive style. What's interesting to me is that it's not working as well on hard courts. That's one concern I have. At some point, I think it will translate to other surfaces.

"[Fernando] Gonzalez and [David] Ferrer are now getting to the second week of Wimbledon; the best clay-court players are becoming the best players in the world. You're not getting Alberto Berasategui in the semifinals at the French. You're getting Djokovic and Davydenko."

Todd Martin, who is coaching Mardy Fish at Wimbledon, reached two semifinals and two quarterfinals at the All England Club in the 1990s. The Florida resident broke down grass versus clay this way:

"On clay, it's all about structure, all about understanding the dynamics of a point. There is much less structure to the way a point is played on grass over here. On grass, even though guys play more from the baseline, it's more about executing one shot at any given point in a point.

"We've never struggled to create players who can hit shots. We have struggled to create players who can structure points. That really helps here. The guys feel much more on even ground when they get [on grass]. Our strengths -- shot-making and competing -- are rewarded greater here. Competing, making the most of a moment, rather than getting into a war and losing that war of attrition."

Here are 10 competitive Americans, five men and five women, ranked in (highly) subjective order of how they might fare next week at the All England Club:

Serena Williams: Although this 25-year-old has a sturdy 64-20 career record on clay (.762), her power game thrives on the grass, where she has won 35 of 41 career matches (.854). Williams has won Wimbledon twice, in 2002 and 2003, but she lost in the third round in 2005 and did not play in 2006 because of a balky left knee. She reached the quarterfinals at Roland Garros earlier this month, losing to Justine Henin in straight sets. Williams and Henin could meet in the quarters again and that result could be reversed on the slippery grass at Wimbledon. Maria Sharapova and Jelena Jankovic, based on recent form, are the biggest threats to her attempt at a third title.

Andy Roddick: He has by far the best record of U.S. men on clay (59-26), but he is even better on grass, nearly unbeatable by anyone not named Roger. Roddick is 53-10 and is coming off his fourth title at The Queen's Club. His serve is particularly lethal at Wimbledon, where he has reached the semifinals three times -- all things considered, his best showing at a major. Factoring out his three losses to Federer, Roddick is a sporty 23-3 at Wimbledon. He could -- should? -- advance to face Federer or Nadal in this year's semifinals.

Venus Williams: She's a three-time champion at Wimbledon, best of all active Americans. Like her sister Serena, Venus is strong on clay (107-29, .787) but even better on grass (45-9, .833). Because of her low ranking, she met Jankovic in the third round at Roland Garros, losing in three sets. Venus is always a factor on this surface, but the same thing could happen at Wimbledon; she's seeded No. 23 and would face Sharapova in the round of 16 if both advance through the first three rounds.

James Blake: The ATP's No. 9-ranked player is a .500 player on clay (26-26) and a surprisingly mediocre 21-17 on grass. Surprising, because he has the weapons (serve and forehand) to dominate on the surface. Blake is only 4-4 in four Wimbledon tournaments, but he defeated Gael Monfils and Roddick at Queen's last year before losing to Lleyton Hewitt in the final. He reached the third round at Wimbledon in 2006 and won two matches last week at Halle. Being more consistent is the key for Blake.

Shenay Perry: The 22-year-old from Coral Springs, Fla., won three matches at Wimbledon last year, her best showing in a Grand Slam. That propelled her into the top 50 for the first time. Perry's power game doesn't translate to clay, on which she is 10-17, but she's an impressive 16-9 on grass. She has struggled so far in 2007 (6-11), but maybe the grass will restore health to her game.

Mardy Fish: His record on clay is an uninspiring 9-13; he didn't play at Roland Garros this year after he injured his ankle kicking a barefoot field goal. Fish, however, has a big game on grass. He's 22-15 on the surface and has reached the finals at Halle and Nottingham. Last year, he advanced to the third round at Wimbledon, then the quarters at Newport. He'd be higher on this list except for the fact that he will play Rafael Nadal in the first round.

Meilen Tu: At 29 and in her 14th season as a professional, Tu is on target to have her best year ever. She's ranked No. 41 -- fourth among U.S. women -- and she has won 18 of 32 matches coming into Wimbledon. Moreover, her grass record is an impressive 32-18.

Robby Ginepri: He's been ranked among the ATP's top 65 players for five years now, but his career clay record is a disastrous 2-17. On grass, however, Ginepri is a different player. He's 20-16 (.556), and he reached the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2004. However, Ginepri will face Australian Open finalist Fernando Gonzalez -- a 2005 Wimbledon quarterfinalist -- right out of the box.

Meghann Shaughnessy: The 28-year-old won her sixth title last week in a Tier IV event in Barcelona -- on clay. Her WTA ranking soared 13 spots, to No. 36, the highest she's been in two years. Shaughnessy's fortunes on clay (75-63) and grass (19-17) are quite similar, but she's riding more momentum than any other U.S. woman.

Sam Querrey: He has played only four matches on grass (losing three), but the 19-year-old Californian is attempting to master the surface. He lost in the first round of the Challenger at Surbiton, then to Blake in the first round at Halle. With a little luck of the draw, he could steal a match at Wimbledon.

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.