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VIDEOS: 13 players who are unusually successful on grass

Jun 10, 2016
written by: Rob Cianfarani
written by: Rob Cianfarani
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For some tennis players, grass-court season can’t come soon enough.

The clay-court season gave us a storybook ending, with Novak Djokovic finally capturing his career Grand Slam. Crushed brick now turns to mown lawn as we make our way toward Wimbledon. Grueling baseline rallies, heavy topspin, and dirty shoes are replaced by big serves, net play, and sliced backhands.

The first of the grass-court titles of the season are still up for grabs and Roger Federer is finally back in action. The true road to glory is paved through Final Sunday at Wimbledon, when the champion captures the most prestigious tennis title in the world (and a pineapple trophy to boot).

As we make our way through the grass-court season, let’s take a look at who has been particularly successful on grass throughout their career.

Grass-court greats

Roger Federer: Career win percentage: 81.6%, Grass win percentage: 87.8%

Federer is the greatest male grass-court player of all-time. Period. He owns the highest winning percentage (in the Open Era), the most titles, and 144 total wins on grass. Not to mention SEVEN WIMBLEDON TITLES. Here is Roger doing Roger things at the Mercedes Cup this week.

Martina Navratilova: Career win percentage: 86.4%, Grass win percentage: 88.5%

Now we’re talking. Navratilova owns the highest winning percentage on grass of any gender, along with 120 more wins than the next closest player (Chris Evert). She has a record nine (!!!!) Wimbledon titles, winning her last at the ripe age of 33. I mean, she can still hit trick shots at 59 (at the French Open, but still).


John McEnroe: Career win percentage: 81.5%, Grass win percentage: 85.6%

Johnny Mac is most remembered for his otherworldly temper, but his grass-court mastery is nothing to scoff at. He holds the second-highest winning percentage of all-time among men in the Open Era, along with eight titles on the grass. That said, wild rage does make for pretty good TV.

Pete Sampras: Career win percentage: 77.4%, Grass win percentage: 83.5%

Before Federer, Sampras was considered to be the king of grass. Noting the difference between his career and grass win percentages, the mown lawns definitely bring out the best in his game. Sampras’ complete dominance on the surface was accentuated by his seven Wimbledon titles. He also popularized the “slam dunk” tennis shot on the courts of Wimbledon. Air Sampras?

Best of the rest

  • Andy Murray: Career win percentage: 77.2%, Grass win percentage: 84.1%
    Andy is a cool 90-17 on grass courts and has captured six titles (one Wimbledon, five others.) The other two players of the Big Four, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, actually perform worse on grass than other surfaces. Andy joins Federer in the top 10 best grass winning percentages of all-time among men (Open Era), ranked fourth.
  • Venus Williams: Career win percentage: 78.3%, Grass win percentage: 83.0%
    Venus is regarded as the best grass-court player of her generation and is widely considered one of the all-time greats in women’s tennis. This claim is backed up by her five Wimbledon titles, third most in the Open Era among women.
  • Andy Roddick: Career win percentage: 74.2%, Grass win percentage: 79.6%
  • Lleyton Hewitt: Career win percentage: 70.2%, Grass win percentage: 75.9%
  • Tim Henman: Career win percentage: 66.4%, Grass win percentage: 71.2%

Surprise guests

  • Sabine Lisicki: Career win percentage: 56.5%, Grass win percentage: 72.2%
  • Philipp Kohlschreiber: Career win percentage: 58.1%, Grass win percentage: 66.3%
  • Nicolas Mahut: Career win percentage: 57.3%, Grass win percentage: 67.3%

So what attributes are needed to succeed on grass? Australian John Newcombe, a three-time titlist at the All England Club, says, “A classical grass-court player must have a very good offensive and defensive volley, which has to be backed up by a solid serve that features a variety of pace and spin.”

Clearly, all of the players above know exactly what Newcombe is talking about.