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Holding Court

Switching from clay is tough but I feel right at home on grass

In the lead-up to the Oct 21-30 BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, reigning champion Agnieszka Radwanska will pen columns exclusively for The Straits Times. This is the second contribution in the monthly series.

It's the grass season. Finally.

I'm not a powerful player. I don't have a big serve and you probably will not confuse my forehand for Serena Williams'.

There are no grass courts at home in Poland either, and I grew up playing on clay courts. But from the first time I stepped on a real grass court in England, I felt so comfortable.

Ever since then, I have always looked forward to the grass-court season, even if it only lasts for five weeks in the year. It is where I made my first Slam semi-final, my first Slam final, and it's the surface on which I think I play my best tennis.

So yes. I'm so happy to be back on the grass in England, fine-tuning my game before Wimbledon.

The grass-court game was not completely foreign to me growing up. When I was a child I was also practising on fake grass, so for me faster surfaces are good. That's why I love the hard courts also.

Agnieszka Radwanska on grass in Birmingham last week, where the top seed was shocked in the first round. She is enjoying a much better run this week in Eastbourne, where she has reached today's semi-finals.
Agnieszka Radwanska on grass in Birmingham last week, where the top seed was shocked in the first round. She is enjoying a much better run this week in Eastbourne, where she has reached today's semi-finals. PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

I played on real grass for the first time in 2005 at a junior tournament in Germany. I ended up making the final there and just a few weeks later, I won the Junior Wimbledon title. Not bad for my first two tournaments on grass, right? From the first match I played, I just liked the surface. I feel like I can do whatever I want there. It hasn't changed since then.

After the French Open, I went home and started my grass-court preparation. I practised on the fake grass, which is of course much faster than hard courts. Of course it's not the same as normal grass but it still has a lower bounce and it's a little bit faster. It was easy to pretend it's more like grass than the hard courts we normally play on.

The transition from clay to grass is tough on the body. For me, it's not that hard to feel the ball, it's more the body. You have some pain because of the surface, different movements, different style of running. You feel it in your feet, the hands, and the shoulders, and it can be unpredictable.

There's still a few months to go with the Olympics and two Slams, so you really need to think about the whole season. Right now, my body is not being held together with tape.

You think you feel good physically and then something feels wrong. But I don't really need much time to adjust to grass. It's more about the body than me.

To make sure that my body is fit for Wimbledon, I decided to limit my clay-court schedule this year. I can already feel the difference. At this point of the season, I already feel much better physically.

It's not always easy to make these decisions about your schedule. If you play less, then you have fewer opportunities to win ranking points, which means you have more pressure to perform well at the big tournaments. If you asked me a few years ago if this was a scary decision to make, I would have said absolutely.

But every year, you have a different experience and now when you're older, you really have to think twice about it. We still have half the season to go. There's still a few months to go with the Olympics and two Slams, so you really need to think about the whole season. Right now, my body is not being held together with tape. That has not always been the case.

My focus now is to get a few matches under my belt before Wimbledon starts. Last week, I took a wild card into the Aegon Classic in Birmingham, England and this week I am playing the Aegon International in Eastbourne, England, where I made the final last year and the quarters this year.

It's good to have a couple of matches before the Slams because practices are different from matches. But it's difficult to say what is the best preparation for Wimbledon.

Sometimes I lost in the first round at Eastbourne and then I made the final or semi-finals at Wimbledon, not once but three times. So even if I lose early, I am not too concerned about my chances later. But I want to take advantage of the fact that I really like grass.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2016, with the headline 'Switching from clay is tough but I feel right at home on grass'. Print Edition | Subscribe