There’s almost as many dangerous floaters in the draw at the Fever-Tree Championships in London this week as there are seeded players: Andy Murray, who’s planning to make his return to competition; Novak Djokovic; and Nick Kyrgios are just some of the accomplished grass-court stylists that can make a deep run on the surface.
Feliciano Lopez, the defending champion, can be counted among those ranks as well, and if he were to win the tournament once again, it shouldn’t be considered too much of a surprise. After all, Lopez has been the epitome of a grass-court specialist the past few seasons.
Last year, the Spaniard captured the first ATP World Tour 500 title of his career in impressive fashion, defeating four members of the world’s Top 15 on his way to victory, starting with world No. 3 Stan Wawrinka in the first round and finishing with seventh-ranked Marin Cilic in the final.
The week before that, Lopez reached the final in Stuttgart, falling to Lucas Pouille in three sets. In Stuttgart this year, Lopez’s run was halted by Kyrgios in three sets in the quarterfinals.
Since 2013, the veteran Spaniard has reached five finals on grass, winning three titles, among the tour’s active leaders. Lopez has also reached the quarterfinals of Wimbledon—the most prestigious tournament in tennis—on three occasions, first accomplishing the feat in 2005 and most recently in 2011.
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For longtime observers of the game, it might still come as a bit of a surprise to see someone from Spain scampering about on the grass as if they were raised on it. There once was a period when players from the country—who built their games on the slow red clay that requires patience and endurance—would bypass Wimbledon completely as their games didn’t translate across surfaces.
Changes in ability and attitude toward the grass was a gradual process. As Barcelona prepared to host the 1992 Summer Olympics, more hard courts were built across the country before then, and the juniors coming up started developing a more aggressive mind-set.
By the time the late-‘90s rolled around, Carlos Moya would become the first Spaniard in the Open Era to reach the final at the Australian Open in 1997. He also made the final of the ATP World Tour Championship in 1998 on an indoor hard court, falling to his compatriot Alex Corretja in a rematch of that year’s French Open, won by Moya.
So while dominance was still maintained on the clay, inroads were being made on other surfaces as well, signaling the arrival of the “Spanish Armada.”
Coming in at the tail end of the Moya/Corretja/Albert Costa generation, Lopez entered the game more attack-minded, which served him well in quicker conditions: His first three career finals came on hard courts and he won his maiden title indoors in Vienna.
While he’s also posted solid results on clay over the years, as evidenced by his first singles title on the surface last year and a French Open doubles crown in 2016, it’s the warm-up events leading up to Wimbledon where he’s really made his mark of late.
Lopez’s game is tailor-made for the turf, with a swinging left-hand serve he can use to pull his opponents off the court to set up his volleys. His backhand, which he slices the bulk of the time, can get him into trouble on other surfaces, but on grass, it becomes a weapon—either as an approach shot or to throw off his foe’s timing.
While he has yet to crack the singles Top 10 in his career, the 36-year-old is on the verge of a rather noteworthy achievement: This year’s Wimbledon will be his 66th consecutive Grand Slam event as he’ll break the tie he held with Roger Federer.
It’s only fitting that he’ll reach that milestone on the grass, a surface on which he’s stood out for years.
A LANDMARK DOCUMENTARY DURING THE MOST PRESTIGIOUS EVENT IN SPORTS, CELEBRATING THE UNPARALLELED FEDERER-RIVALRY AND 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE GREATEST MATCH EVER PLAYED.
In association with All England Lawn & Tennis Club, Rock Paper Scissors Entertainment and Amblin Television. Directed by Andrew Douglas.