The (Almost) Great Battle of the Surfaces

Grass or clay? A tale as old as time. Maybe even older than time itself. It is definitely as old as Spain’s Rafael Nadal ad Switzerland’s Roger Federer,  who are arguably two of the greatest tennis players to ever touch a racket. Generally speaking, there are two types of tennis courts: grass and clay. Each one has its own set of unique characteristics that encourage certain styles of play and impede others. It is no surprise then, that certain players gravitate towards one of the fields more than the other. It is, however, quite the spectacle when it is not just a random player, but the two best players in the world, who have opposing tastes in courts.

Rafael Nadal’s specialty is clay courts. He’s even nicknamed “The King of Clay”. Federer, however, thrives on grass. The result of the players’ matches against each other were often dictated by the type of court they played on. Nadal would consistently win on clay courts, while Federer would triumph on grass. This lead to an interesting sense of incompleteness, of unrest, amongst the fans, who could never actually gauge which one of the two players was truly better. Then, somebody had an intriguing idea: Why not have somebody devise a court made of both grass and clay?

Gettyimages / Jaime Reina / AFP

What resulted was nothing less than one of the greatest events in modern tennis. While most out-of-league events such as this were treated as friendly, uncompetitive events in which sportsmanship and entertainment are valued over actual results, The Battle of the Surfaces was a proper, high-intensity, competitive match between two of the greatest players in the world. And while the players came onto the court ready and willing to play the match of their lives, the same could not be said of the court; only a few days before the game, the grass side was infested with maggots. A desperate attempt was made to import foreign grass onto the court, but the rushed implementation made the grass-court practically unplayable, swaying the game heavily in Nadal’s favor. The match was never attempted again.

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