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The Changing Grass at Wimbledon


On the surface, Wimbledon is more steeped in tradition than another tennis tournament, yet it undergoes more radical changes from each day than another Grand Slam since it is the just one played on grass. As its grass courts progressively lose their moisture after which patches of the grass itself, players must continually adjust.

Fifty years ago many tournaments, including three of the 4 Grand Slams, were played on grass. But today, many players play just one or two grass-court tournaments before Wimbledon.

“The players are on hard courts just about all yr and don’t have any doubts there, but they’re not getting many reps on grass,” said Tracy Austin, a Tennis Channel analyst who reached two semifinals and won a mixed doubles title at Wimbledon. “Players get psyched out by the grass.”

As Ian Westermann, the writer of “Essential Tennis,” said, “Players need to problem-solve and think on their feet.”

Wimbledon was once much more distinctive, but in a way that many fans found repetitive and boring. Grass courts play fast, and the ball stays low, so matches were once an onslaught of serve-and-volley points, which reduced the drama. In 2001, the tournament switched grasses, replacing a combination that was 70 percent ryegrass and 30 percent creeping red fescue with 100% ryegrass.

The brand new lawn made the courts more durable and provided cleaner bounces, while allowing Wimbledon to maintain the soil beneath drier and firmer. That yielded higher bounces and slowed the sport, which Eddie Seaward, who was then the top groundskeeper, acknowledged was needed for the great of the game.

The serve-and-volley quickly fell from favor. Craig O’Shannessy, the director of the Brain Game Tennis website, said that, in 2002, 33 percent of the boys’s points featured that approach, but three years later, that number had dropped to 19 percent. Since 2008, the serve-and-volley has been used 5 to 10 percent of the time.

But O’Shannessy cited statistics revealing that whilst usage fell, the serve-and-volley remained a winning tactic: Two-thirds of serve-and-volley points were won by men, a figure that has not varied for 20 years. O’Shannessy cited a “herd mentality” for abandoning the tactic and said players should attack more steadily.

Austin said rallying is now a part of Wimbledon. She said that as changes in strings and playing styles gave returners more weapons against the serve-and-volley, players began engaging in baseline rallies on the grass.

Serve-and-volley “is successful since it’s not predictable,” she said, adding that players now not learn or practice the serve-and-volley style, so that they’re not comfortable doing it often.

Wimbledon still requires a distinct skill set and mind-set from the opposite Grand Slams. While there are longer baseline rallies now, Westermann said, “grass places a premium on first-strike tennis. You simply need to take your shot.”

Patrick McEnroe, an ESPN analyst, said that players in his day needed to charge the online immediately because service returns otherwise stayed too low, but that now the ball was more prone to come up high enough for the server to hit an aggressive ground stroke.

“It’s easier to hit a primary ball from the center of the court together with your forehand than with a volley,” McEnroe said. “And a mediocre volley is prone to bounce higher now, giving your opponent more of a probability to hit a passing shot.”

Austin said that “serve-plus-one” style wasn’t all the time feasible with no big serve, but McEnroe said players should concentrate on “taking the ball early and moving forward” to win the purpose in a single or two shots.

Westermann said big servers still could go further in Wimbledon than on other Grand Slam surfaces, and McEnroe added that the wide slice serve was especially effective since it is harder to succeed in and harder to get well from on the low, fast court.

Moreover, Wimbledon favors players who can hit through the court with hard, flat ground strokes. Topspin, the shot that brought Rafael Nadal limitless success on clay, is less effective here since the deadened bounce leaves the ball in an opponent’s comfort zone.

To optimize the lower bounce, Austin and McEnroe said the slice backhand — vital to Roger Federer’s Wimbledon glory — was an important weapon. “The slice stays so low and the spin is much more squirrelly on grass, especially because there are still uneven bounces there,” Austin said.

Greater than other surfaces, grass rewards players who can improvise off low or bad bounces, McEnroe said. “Clay requires more point construction, but on grass, the advantage is to the superior technical players who’ve the very best racket skills,” he said.

The bounces are lower and the ball moves slower in the primary week, O’Shannessy said, because there’s more water within the blades of grass. “Your butt and hamstrings shall be far more sore playing on grass from getting down low,” he said.

That moisture also causes players to slide on the run, Austin said, adding that “it gets of their head” as they worry about potential injuries.

McEnroe said players can’t just explode and run all out. “Your feet need to be light, and whilst you run, you might have to think, ‘How am I going to stop?’” he said.

Because the second week begins, the grass dries out and the soil hardens — barring rain — producing the next bounce, making topspin more practical.

As second-week regulars, returning players have an edge, O’Shannessy said: They’re experienced in coping with the grass because it turns to dust and dirt. “You’re often moving between two different surfaces, and should you’re not used to it, that could be difficult,” he said.

The dirt surrounding the baseline where the players hit lots of their shots not only changes the bounce again, but it surely also becomes slippery. “Complaining in regards to the dirt is one other Wimbledon tradition,” Westermann said.

While it is perhaps tempting for players to back up for higher footwork and time to regulate to the bounces, he said, that tactic just allows opponents to go on the offensive.

“Players as a substitute have to double down and take the ball early,” he said. “Players who’re confident and aggressive shall be rewarded.”

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