Second Serve: All about that grass

Second Serve: All About That Grass
WATCH ABOVE: Mike Arsenault takes his talents to a grass court in the latest installment of Second Serve. He finds himself up against the 49th ranked player in Canada in his first grass court tournament.

If this series was solely about acquiring as many ranking points as possible, the thought of playing a grass court tournament would have never entered my mind. As I mention in the video above, I’ve never played on grass before and I play something like 98 per cent of my tennis on a hard court.

So, it would make sense to play every tournament on a hard court to give myself the best chance to climb the Tennis Canada leaderboard. But the goal of this blog is to experience everything open tournament play in Canada has to offer and the chance to play an actual tournament on grass was too good to pass up.

As I’ve mentioned in previous installments, everyone I’ve encountered through this blog has been tremendously supportive of what I’m trying to do. I sent an email to the tournament organizer and explained the blog. Not only did he invite me to the courts a few days early, he had two really good players meet me in Caledon to help teach me the finer points of grass court tennis.

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READ MORE: Second Serve: A tournament final (unofficially)

Although the clips of myself, Chris Corrao and Shourya Verma only total around 90 seconds in the video, I actually spent around an hour and a half with them on court picking their brains and asking for advice.

They took me from a guy who has only seen a grass court at Wimbledon to a guy who can play not terribly on the surface.

I peppered both Chris and Shouyra with questions about their careers and then I joined them on the court where they drilled me in proper grass court technique. I think they were somewhat impressed with my hitting ability (especially once they found out it’s only my sixth year of tennis) and I thoroughly enjoyed how easy playing on grass is on my joints.

READ MORE: Second Serve: Time for a montage

My biggest issue between tournaments is finding players who can serve consistently over 100 miles an hour. That really is the biggest difference between club players and aspiring pros. The serving prowess of open-level players almost makes it seem as though they are playing a different sport than club players.

The spin, kick and velocity of a really strong serve makes an effective return a rarity. Top players collect so many easy points if they have a big serve. And they collect even more against someone like me who rarely has an opportunity to face such a serve.

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Therefore, I had both Chris and Shouyra pepper serves at me (which were in excess of 110 miles per hour) to try to get a feel for how fast a serve would react on grass. The bounce obtained off a kick serve was incredible–there were multiple times that the ball just took off and cleared my head by feet.

READ MORE: Second Serve: Progress in tournament #2

How the hell am I supposed to return that?

I ended my session with the guys by playing a tiebreaker to 10 against Shourya. We had a number of good rallies, I even hit a winner or two, but he won the tiebreak 10-6 (Hey, I will take my six points as a victory).

Both Chris and Shourya were very gracious with their time and putting up with my questions. It almost felt as though we were tennis equals until I realized that I was in Grade 7 when Chris was born and Grade 12 when Shouyra was born. Then I just felt bad about myself.

READ MORE: Second Serve: A visit to Tennis Canada

On to the tournament.

I got to the facility 45 minutes before my match to get some time on the practice court and do some last-minute work on my serve. My parents came to watch me, so I took my Dad over to the practice court for a hit. We played for 15 minutes or so, an attempt to get rid of the nerves coursing through my body with the knowledge I had to play Jonathan Sorbo, the number-two seed in the tournament.

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It was a very cool experience to hit on grass with my Dad. It was like turning back the clock to us playing catch when I was a kid, although everyone at the tournament probably thought he was another player’s grandparent and I was some weird uncle.

The matches scheduled before mine went long, so I didn’t get on court with Jonathan until just after 6 p.m. It was hot and dry all day long and the court had a lot of foot traffic, so it was pretty much baked by the time we started playing.

READ MORE: Second Serve: Starting from the bottom

Rather than low bounces on fresh grass, we had to deal with high (and bad) bounces on hard-packed dirt. I had a difficult time adjusting to the surface and I’m pretty sure Jonathan noticed that and took advantage. He played most of his shots deep to the baseline where the grass was worn away and the bounces would be wildly inconsistent.

However, in my first service game I had two game points, but couldn’t capitalize. Jonathan won the first set 6-0 and raced out to a 3-0 lead in the second set. It may seem impossible since I lost nine games in a row, but I was actually playing really well (and he is the 49th ranked player in Canada!). I didn’t have a ton of unforced errors, my serve was better than it has been in the past and I was forcing Jonathan to hit winners. Which he did. A lot.

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But I finally broke through and won a game on my serve to close the gap to 3-1. I even had a break point after that, but he won the second set 6-1.

Unfortunately, I just had a bad draw. There were two other first-round matches where all four players were ranked below me, but I got stuck playing the second seed. The saving grace is that Jonathan made it all the way to the finals, so there’s no shame in losing to him.

I received 27.2 points for my effort, bringing my total to 102.4, good for 359th in Canada. But Denis Shapovalov has increased his lead—he is now 924,898 points ahead of me. Somehow I don’t think he’s concerned about my climb up the leaderboard.

I’m very happy with my game, I keep getting better, and I can’t for wait for my next tournament on July 20 in Thornhill.

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