Back in the days when grass courts used to be fast, tennis had its grass-court specialists – serve-and-volleyers who looked forward to every June. Think Lori McNiel, Zina Garrison, Jana Novotna and Gigi Fernandez. These days, grass courts have slowed down and are not suited for serve-and-volley tennis as much as they used to be. Yet, there are some players who seem to come to life every English summer and then disappear into oblivion, only to re-surface once again next June. With Wimbledon just one week away, here’s a look at four players on the WTA Tour who seem to get high only on grass.
There are grass-court specialists and then there’s Birmingham grass-court specialists like the 23 year old American, Alison Riske, currently ranked no. 167 in the world. Riske has won 11 main draw matches on the WTA Tour and all of them have come at the WTA grass event in Birmingham, which is held the week after the French Open. In 2010, Riske came through the qualifying and went all the way to the semi-finals, before losing to Maria Sharapova in three sets. The following year, she won 3 matches, including a win over eighth seed Aravane Rezai to reach the quarter-finals. In 2012, she came through the qualifying draw but lost in the first round and this week, Riske came through the qualifying once again to reach the semi-finals. While Riske has managed to win matches on the ITF circuit and in qualifying draws for WTA events, she has yet to win a single main draw match at a WTA level event outside of Birmingham and Riske’s best possible explanation is, “I’m just really comfortable here, I’m at home. I think that’s just for England in general. It’s really low key here, the atmosphere is friendly, everything’s run well, you don’t have any anxiety about anything, everything’s taken care of. It’s the perfect position to play well and I really love it here.”