Upon my sole
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As you marvel at the footwork and recovery time of players on a surface as notorious as grass, don’t imagine you can think of replicating this on your club lawn. For starters, the very basic anchor of a professional tennis player on the surface—pimple-soled special grass-court shoes, manufactured by brands such as Nike and adidas—aren’t even available in India.
“Most people aren’t aware and we don’t really have any demand. Even we pros have to hunt abroad for the right shoes,” says Davis Cup player Vishnu Vardhan, who co-owns the online tennis goods retailer Tennishub.in. “In fact, I am playing some grass events with Sriram Balaji and he had trouble till he ordered online from Europe,” he adds.
According to International Tennis Federation rules, grass-court shoes can have pimples or studs with a maximum top diameter of 3mm; they can’t be higher than 2mm, or angled more than 10 degrees. Such is the advantage provided by the cluster of pimples that anything trickling over to the outside of the sole invites censure, as Novak Djokovic discovered at the 2013 Wimbledon.
Things are easier for sponsored players. Yuki Bhambri, for instance, is supported by ASICS, the sports apparel brand. “They send us shoes before the grass season begins. Yes, but I know from experience that getting them can be tough,” he says.
Veteran coach Akhtar Ali, who was the Belgian and Indian Davis Cup team coach in the heyday of grass-court tennis, believes that minus the right shoes, playing on grass can be akin to skating. “Without those pimples on the sole, recovery is extremely tough. Grass is also extremely difficult to grip if the courts are slightly wet on account of dew or light showers,” says Ali, who has played largely at the South Club grass in Kolkata.
Former India Davis Cup captain S.P. Misra, who has played at Wimbledon three times, says that sometimes there is too much fuss about specialized equipment. “When I first played at the highest level, I wore Rs12 Bata shoes. Just what pattern the sole was, is not even something that was a factor. You wore what you got,” says Misra.
In the meantime, those who want to be shod with the same stuff that Federer and Co. sport at Wimbledon, can order online from UK websites. All the best with customs.