Are The Wimbledon Courts Slower Now Than Before? Head Groundskeeper Says No
In an interview with the tennisspace, Wimbledon head groundskeeper Eddie Seaward thinks that the grass courts haven’t slowed down as many believe.
“I don’t think the grass has slowed down,” Seaward told the site. “The ball still comes off the grass at the same speed. But, as the courts are a bit harder, the ball bounces a bit higher. The courts are a bit harder because of the grasses we use, and also because we prepare them that way. We wanted the hardness because we wanted the courts to be in just as good shape on day 13 as one day one, and that’s what we’ve got. If the ball comes at you at knee height at 140mph, you’ve got no chance or returning it. If it comes at you at chest height, you’ve got much more chance of getting the ball back into play. That’s why we’re getting the rallies.”
Whether the courts have slowed or the balls made heavier continues to be a hot debate in the tennis community. Here are a collection of player quotes from Wimbledon on the controversial topic:
Martina Navratilova on Wimbledon court changes (2011):
It bounces higher and bounces slower. Higher bounce always slows the court down because you have more time to get to it. It’s not skidding through as much.
The slice now, because you can put so much more spin on the ball, the slice stays low. It’s easy to hit a really good slice because of the strings. The ball stays pretty low on the slice. But the serve is not coming through nearly as much.
Yeah, I think they need to speed it up. I think they need to speed up the courts, generally speaking, or lighten up the balls. How good was the French Open with those light balls? It’s fantastic tennis. Then the talent comes really through. You can be touchy-feely with a light ball. Good touch pays off. When you have a heavy ball, I can’t volley a heavy ball. If you punch it, it doesn’t go anywhere.
This light ball, poom, now you can come to the net. Number one thing I would put a lighter ball. Hitting the ball so hard, the heavy ball, it’s going to take a toll on the arms. Speeding up the court, you can come to the net and be aggressive.
Nowadays, I couldn’t serve and volley. I would have to pick my spots. For me, if I can’t serve and volley, something’s wrong with it, something is wrong with the game. You’re not going to get any variety. If I can’t do that now playing the way I played then, you need to even it up somewhere.
Novak Djokovic on playing on grass (2011):
It is a specific surface that we don’t really get to play on that much throughout the year. It’s only I guess couple of weeks of the year that we get to play on the surface that this sport began, so it is a bit exciting for all of us to perform on grass courts.
But, you know, I guess you can always put Federer and Nadal in front of everybody else to win Wimbledon because they have been so successful on the grass courts in past couple of years and they’ve been winning the Wimbledons, the last five, six Wimbledons.
It is the fastest surface that we have in the sport, but it is definitely slower than it used to be and the ball bounces higher, which I think is more suitable to my style of the game, to the baseliners, and it’s why we see more rallies more often on the grass courts nowadays.
Roger Federer on the court speeds (2010):
Well, the thing here, there’s no bad bounces. You can just stick at the baseline, half volley, not panic when a guy moves in. You can always flick it at the end. Obviously they’re not the fastest courts anymore. Depends obviously how you play, as well.
If you’ve got a massive serve and you can just outright overpower a guy, then obviously it’s fast. But a guy who is that agile at the baseline like Falla makes it very difficult to play against, because he can neutralize you, plays a flat ball, doesn’t miss much. You’ve got to take chances. Today the chances I took were not working.
Roger Federer on Wimbledon court speeds (2010):
Well, I still think, you know, it’s a touch too slow. Indoors I think our game has slowed down drastically. But I definitely think the bounces are nice and high here at Wimbledon. I think the bounces were lower. If the bounces are lower, it makes it much faster to play on.
But, you know, it’s the way it is. Today I think it’s particularly quick. I felt it also on my serve and on Bozoljac’s serve. If you do hit your spots, the ball travels through the air very quickly. Once you try to find the right spots, you don’t have to take the chances anymore like in the beginning.
You have the opponent guessing, your first-serve percentage goes up. Next thing you know you’re serving at 70%, not as high a risk, because the air is doing the work for you. The court was fast, too, because it’s hard and quick today.
But it’s not always like that. I still wish it was faster, but I’m not complaining. I’ve played fantastic here over the years obviously in these conditions.
Michael Llodra on Wimbledon Center court speed (2010):
No, it’s slow. It’s not quick like usual. But, you know, it’s not the question today, you know, if it’s fast or slow.
I mean, couple years ago it was faster for sure.
Novak Djokovic comparing Wimbledon court speeds (2010):
Well, it’s difficult from my side to say and compare to the tennis that was 15 years ago because I’m really young and I haven’t played. I haven’t played Wimbledon for many years. I’ve played only five, six times.
From the first time I stepped on the Wimbledon grass, it is the fastest surface in the world in tennis. But from all the opinions and by watching as well on the TV, my opinion is that it got slower. It got much slower than, let’s say, 15 years ago.
Mardy Fish (2009):
Yeah, I mean, you do. You know, like I said a couple days ago, you know, it still takes the serve a little bit, you know, and you’re able to — you’re able to get some free points on your serve, you know, ’cause it stays low and sort of skids if you hit the right serve.
I think the balls have a huge thing to do with it. They’re so heavy. I mean, you know, I’m usually right around the 128, 132-ish area on my first serve for the most part. I think I probably hit one serve 130 today, you know.
So the balls are really heavy. You know, I think those guys that like to stay back, they just feel like they can kind of take a cut at the ball and it’s not really gonna fly too much, you know, ’cause the balls are pretty heavy.
You know, the grass is so good, you know, it just bounces up there just like a hard court. If you don’t hit the approach, you know, years past you could kind of come to the net and maybe get away with a slice or a bad slice or a bad approach or just, you know, approach in general, and you just can’t do that anymore against good players here.
Jonas Bjorkman on changes in the game and at Wimbledon (2008):
It’s so different. Everything is so different: strings, the material of the racquets, the speed of the courts, how a tennis player is built these days.
When I came up, there was not too many who was going into the gym, and these days you see them like this (packed). It’s much more physically. Everyone is working harder. They’ve been taking it to a different – what do you say – improving it even more from the past than I started.
Marat Safin on the Wimbledon courts (2008):
I played well because I think the courts, they has been getting slower and slower throughout the years. So it’s not any more like they used to be like eight years ago. It was really fast, and now you can play from the baseline and nobody even getting close to the net.
Roger Federer on Wimbledon speed (2008):
Well, I don’t think it’s that much of a difference since I played Pete here in 2001 really. So, I mean, it’s not that extreme, you know, to the point where I need to thank anybody, I think, you know.
I think it’s just also the way how players are playing today: more from the baseline, not as much serve and volley, chip and charge. That sort of gives you the feeling that it’s slowed down, as well, you know.
Because 95% of the guys play from the baseline today, whereas before it was maybe 50/50. That is a big change, I think, and that’s happened in the last, let’s say, 10, 15 years.
Mikhail Youzhny on Wimbledon and ATP surfaces (2008):
Yeah, now it’s all courts slower than it was before. We don’t have now fast surface, only one tournament what I know, one tournament on the grass where it was fast. Now the tournament is surface slower and slower. That’s why it is too many Latino guys and Spanish guys start to play good on hard, on grass. Before it was much easier to play against these guys on grass and hard court. Now it’s not a big difference between surface.
Rafael Nadal on the court speed at Wimbledon (2007):
I saw, I don’t know where, that the court was so much slower than last years. The true is not. For me the court is the same. I was here the last maybe four years. I lost one time for injury. But for the last four, five years I was here. Every day I feel the same feeling. Every time I feel the same feeling in the court. The court is not coming slower than last years.
Martina Navratilova on the slower surfaces in tennis and Wimbledon (2006):
(center court): It doesn’t feel that slow. I feel like the slice bites. The slice stays low. But the topspin doesn’t. Yeah, it’s slower. I think it is slower.
(other events): Yeah, yeah, yeah. Everything’s slower. All the courts are slower. I mean, Indian Wells, forget about it. You hit a great volley and, you know, the person’s got five minutes to run it down and hit it by you.
So it’s frustrating, yeah. You can’t play a normal game. It should be equal. A great serve and volleyer – of the same ability – should play against a great baseliner and it’s like half and half. Half the time this one, and half the time that one. So on this court, this one’s slightly favored; on this court, that one’s slightly favored.
Now the ball has gone completely in favor of the baseliner. It’s a shame.
Thomas Johansson (2005):
It’s pretty slow, I would say. You could easily stay back, which I do pretty much all the time. But you can also play serve and volley, of course. But I think it’s a lot slower this year than it was maybe five years ago. I don’t know if it’s the court or if it’s the balls. For the moment, I’m not complaining.
Lleyton Hewit on speed of Wimbledon grass (2005):
All grass is different. But today it was pretty slow, very slow. It felt very soft out there today. I’ve got no doubt, though, it’s going to quicken up over the next two weeks, you know, the more play it gets on it, I think because the show courts just don’t have any play at all. So, you know, today they’re very green out there. Both of us playing from the back of the court, where both of us were serving, we were leaving imprints into the court it was that soft. You know, I’ve never seen that before.
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