Clay-to-grass move trips up big names

Rafael Nadal, who won the French Open for an unprecedented ninth time last Sunday, has now produced a far better trivia question for tennis fans of the future.

Nadal was the victim of, conceivably, the least surprising upset in tennis history Thursday in Halle, falling 6-4, 6-1 to German wild card Dustin Brown in under an hour.

Upon winning, Brown fell to his knees and kissed the turf (it’s easier on the lips than red clay). If I had to draw a thought bubble over his head, it would say: “Thank God I got him this year, not in 2015.”

The reason? If Nadal plays at Halle again next year, it won’t be four days after he won at Roland Garros. Should he add that 10th French Open title (you have a better pick?), he will have at least a week-and-a-half to rest and prepare for Halle.

Next year, Wimbledon is moving back a week on the calendar, and the ATP is juggling events as well as adding a new one and re-jiggering an existing one to create a longer grass-court segment.

So next year, the ‘s-Hertogenbosch ATP 250 will move up a week (to the week after the French Open), along with the new Stuttgart 250. They’ll be followed by the two premier grass events, Halle and Queens. They’re both 250s now, but will become 500s. The 250 tournament now in Eastbourne (next week) will move to Nottingham and conclude the day before Wimbledon begins.

You have to wonder, could a shift of one week on the calendar give you more bang for the buck than this one?

A look at the draws at Halle and Queens will tell you all you may need to know about the present situation. Nadal is out, Novak Djokovic (Nadal’s victim in the French Open final) wasn’t ever in, and even with a solid 10-day head start on the grass season the inestimable Roger Federer found himself on unsure footing in Halle, a tournament he’s won six times.

Federer lost a first-set tiebreaker then had to claw his way through a 6-4 set before he finally eliminated Portugal’s Joao Sousa, who hasn’t even be able to qualify for the main draw at Wimbledon in three tries.

Andy Murray had even more incentive to do well at Queens than his rivals. He’s the defending champ at Wimbledon, and he’s playing on grass under the watchful eye of his new coach Amelie Mauresmo for the first time this week. He needs work on the grass but all he got was one win before he was ambushed yesterday by grandfatherly Radek Stepanek. Could it be partly due to the fact that Murray had his best French Open (losing in the semifinals to Nadal) in years?

All of these ifs, ands or buts will be mitigated, if not entirely eliminated, next year. Players who go deep at the French Open will have the luxury of resting for a week after that tournament before the important Halle and Queens 500s begin.

Should an elite player want to get the extra work, or need to rebound from an early loss at the French Open, he can play the grass events in Stuttgart or ‘s-Hertogenbosch as well as the two 500s.

"I lost today because my rival was playing better than me," Nadal said after losing to Brown. "And at the same time, as I said yesterday, the transition from clay to grass is difficult, especially when you arrive a little bit tired and not at 100 percent. But I tried my best."

If you remember, Nadal pulled out of Halle last year after he won the French Open, under doctor’s orders to rest his knees. This year, he made a noble effort to honor his committment, and he made Dustin Brown’s day.