This year, since the start of the tournament, many players have complained about the state of the courts. If the weather has tortured the London grass, it’s essential to put these critics into perspective. And accept the hazards linked to the weather.
« Wimbledon considers itself to be the greatest tennis tournament in the world. The organisation needs to step up to these standards. And I don’t think that the courts are matching up these expectations this year. » This punchline was pronounced by Jamie Murray, Andy’s elder brother, and London’s favorite. A voice which means a lot. Along with him, many other players have criticized the 2017 edition of the English grass. With two major critics : the rapid wear of the grass, and the risk, which is presumed to be huge, of slipping on it.
Firstly, the wear, which is noticed every year. As the grass is used intensively, it loses its beautiful aspect as the matches go along, and the courts gradually show the patch of soil which can be found between the grass and its foundations. The courts, which are replaced each year, have switched in 2001 from 70 % to 100 % of « ray grass » which is more resistant the the « creeping red fescue » grass which was used before. But nothing has changed. « The courts have been stamped on by the players for eight hours a day for the last ten days. So obviously, they are going to wear off, says Gregory Brusso, the founder of the Deauville Lawn Tennis Club, the main all-grass tennis club in France. Obviously, we don’t have that problem because our courts our not played on as much. » But why are the courts of Wimbledon more damaged than usually ? Simply because of the really hot temperatures which London has seen lately, which tend to « burn » the grass. Something that the Swiss Timea Bacsinszky seemed to have trouble understanding - « It was only the second day of the tournament and the court was already devastated. Usually, we see that during the second week. I’m really disappointed by the state of the grass this year. » -, unlike Fabio Fognini - « It’s not the organizer’s fault. It has been really hot this year, and the grass is not as good as last year » - or Novak Djokovic - « It’s something that I’d never really seen before at Wimbledon, where the courts are always perfect. But I imagine that the weather can impact the quality of the grass. »
“A lack of impartiality”
What about the risk of slipping, then ? Unacceptable, according to some. The Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic hasn’t hesitated to cause a scene after her second-round defeat : « Today, it’s obvious that the court is dangerous for us. It’s quite unique to see that after only two games, both players want to stop the match. It means that there’s something wrong. » Seeing that the surface at Wimbledon favors falls is not something new. Especially during the first week. The reason why Gregory Brussot considers the polemic to be a false problem. And argues that there is a « lack of impartiality. » He explains : « I question the legitimacy of the critics much more than the legitimacy of the courts. When a player loses, he’s certainly more likely to criticize. You know, opinions are subjective, so you can put things into perspective. Speaking about a same court, one player will say that it’s extremely slippery while the other will say the opposite. » Before concluding : « In any case, grass is a slippery surface. Playing on that surface means you have to know how to find a good balance. It requires experience, and dosing your movements according to the surface, which is different than hard courts or clay. If they don’t know how to adapt, some players will easily criticize the surface rather than their own game. But not everyone moves around the court like Federer ! »
In this context, who is really to blame ? The manufacturers of the grass tennis courts, which cost approximately 60 000 euros, twice as much as a clay court ? The organizers, who are completely obsessed by the state of the grass ? The sun, which is too present ? The rain, which is too absent ? Global warming, which nobody seems to care about ? Neil Stubley, who’s been the Head groundsman since 2013 ? Eddie Seaward, who retired after a 30-year long career ? Or simply a few players who sound dissatisfied as soon as a Grand Slam tournament shows the slightest flaw ? Gregory Brussot has his own idea : « You can’t expect a perfect adhesion from a grass court. And I don’t really think that the courts are in a worst state than usually. Players have to admit that they are less comfortable with this type of grass. And they have to adapt to the surface, that’s all. » Just like they have to adapt to the clay at Roland-Garros, and the tarpaulin which are present at the back of the courts…
By Florian Cadu