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|Merion Cricket Club|
Lawn tennis isn't terribly ancient, having originated in England around 1880 as a variation of badminton which was brought back from India during the days of the British Empire. As the name suggests, it was originally played exclusively on grass courts, which proved hard to maintain. It was supplanted for a while by clay courts, and more recently by hard and artificial surfaces. Lawn tennis on lawns has largely become a game for the rich because of the cost and difficulty of maintaining a playable surface in hot weather.
If you wander into the Merion Cricket Club you'll find lawn tennis in the grand style, viewed from luncheon tables under a roofed porch. The long relatively narrow porch is right up against the grass courts, but it's also sort of a Peacock alley where well-groomed young ladies show their stuff, and everybody at the tables wishes to seem to know everyone else. There are times when the athletic entertainment becomes cricket out there on the field beyond the porch, but a larger proportion of the lunchers turn their backs on the field during that season than when exciting tennis championships are reaching the finals.
In addition to being more expensive to maintain the courts, tennis on the grass is a different game from tennis on a hard surface, like clay or asphalt. The ball tends to skid when it hits the grass, so it is more effective to volley it before it hits or before it takes much of a bounce. The bounce tends to be more nearly straight up, while on harder surfaces the ball bounces at a low angle. Either way, the consequence is a tendency for a faster game on grass. The players run harder to get the ball at the bounce, and the advantage goes to those who serve hard and return the ball hard -- and fast.
|Cary Grant and Kathryn Hepburn|
The rather special nature of the game adds to the up-scale atmosphere. And makes it just as attractive for the Kitty Foyles at the tables, as for the Kathryn Hepburns, both of whom have their own attractions for the Cary Grants. The parking lot is also a good place to form an opinion about the latest in high-priced autos.
Originally published: Wednesday, July 16, 2008; most-recently modified: Tuesday, September 14, 2021