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Sunday, June 19, 2005

Grass Clippings

©Colette Lewis 2005--
Grass Clippings--

Quiet Please

Grass court tennis is different, and the distinctions are not truly discernible when watching Wimbledon on TV. It took me a full day to adjust to the absence of sound when the ball hits the court, and in the wide-open meadow that constitutes the Philadelphia Cricket Club venue, even the ball hitting the racquet produced a less distinct thunk. PCCclubhouseWith no stadium walls or stands to hold noise, the first impression was overwhelming quiet, broken only occasionally by a player's shriek over a bad bounce or the clatter of silverware from the veranda overlooking the feature courts where the members lunched.

As long as those clamdiggers are white
Eventually I began to accept what was being played as tennis, not some noiseless and archaic predecessor of the current sport. But the atmosphere at the club was so genteel, so civilized, that I almost expected to see someone take the court in Bill Tilden-style white flannel trousers. Sondhu Nadal's current costume would have been unthinkable, and indeed, he would have been asked to ditch the neon shirt in favor of the white attire the Club requires.

The Neighborhood
The Philadelphia Cricket Club is surrounded by beautiful slate-roofed, ivy-covered mansions of Chestnut Hill, and many of the tournament's participants are housed in them--guests of club members with a spare room or two and tennis playing children who serve as ballrunners. (ITF Grade 3s and above are required to provide "hospitality", i.e. meals and lodging). CnutHillhome
Because most of US juniors who were in Europe for the French Open returned to England for the Roehampton Grade 1 event and did not play the US Grass Courts, the field was made up of younger juniors, who were getting their very first exposure to grass court tennis. USTA High Performance Coach David DiLucia, who is from the Philadelphia area, conducted a grass court camp for a few days prior to the tournament, using both the Merion and Cricket Club grass courts. Germantown Cricket Club also features grass tennis courts, making Philadelphia the undisputed center of grass tennis in the United States. The burning question is, of course, do they play cricket?, which apparently they do, once a year in May.

Top Three Reasons I'll Return Next Year
3. Ian Crookenden, the tournament director, who treated my husband and I as if we were valued volunteers, even though we weren't actually required to DO anything.

2. Ballrunners and officials. Ballrunners are scarce at junior tournaments anywhere outside Kalamazoo, but not at PCC where they were abundant and enthusiastic all through the tournament. The predominantly Middle States section officials were generally excellent, even with lines that are nowhere near as distinct as those on clay or hard courts. ballrunners

1. The food. The buffet that players and volunteers were offered was the club members lunch as well, uniformly excellent and, I don't think I'm overstating this, every bit the equal of a cruise ship in quality, variety and quantity. The coconut crusted chocolate/butterscotch brownies were a revelation to someone who thought she'd experienced every worthwhile variation of a bar cookie. This one elevates the form. In addition, an ice cream sandwich wagon appeared every afternoon, a perfect snack if you somehow avoided overeating at lunch. Tip to prospective players--the food alone is worth the $70 entry fee, even if you lose in the first round (but sign up for doubles; that guarantees you another whole day to eat).

Jetlag free
One of my goals for this year was to get a credential to Wimbledon. It didn't happen, but my disappointment is minimal, what with this similar-- no, superior--experience at the Philadelphia Cricket Club. No media hordes, no queues, no endorsement-rich tennis stars, no royal boxes, no English food, no rain. The U.S. Junior International Grass Court Championships have much to recommend them vs. "The Championships".