Wimbledon and the lure of grass court tennis

tennis ballIf it is June, then tennis must be making its annual trans-channel migration to  fair olde Englande.

Wimbledon officially begins in just under a week and tennis players – both the ones you know, as well as the ones you haven’t yet heard about – are preparing for this greatest of grand slams – and the only one played on grass.

The whole grass court season in tennis lasts approximately a month, which is unfortunate for tennis fans because grass is a unique natural surface that requires special skills, often producing brilliant tennis. The surface is more relenting, but it requires speed, quickness and effective serving. Grass forces players to reach the ball faster relative to other surfaces, and rallies are likely to be comparatively brief; therefore, speed and power are rewarded.

But grass courts are expensive to maintain (they need to be reseeded every year) plus they are extremely dangerous when wet.

At one time, tennis was played exclusively on grass. The U.S. Open held court on grass until 1974 when Americans tried a short stint on clay. The Australian Open was also played on grass courts until 1988, when the tournament moved to Melbourne and a new synthetic surface. So prior to 1975, proficiency on grass courts was necessary to achieve tennis stardom.

Gradually, most grass courts were replaced by synthetic surfaces which, while more expensive to install, are far easier and less costly to maintain.

Wimbledon, with 100 percent rye grass, is considered slower than other grass courts but changes in it’s composition has created more parity with other major tournaments. It’s been well-publicized that in the early 2000s Wimbledon’s organizers changed to 100% rye grass in an effort to make the courts more durable, but players said the change also made the balls bounce higher and slower. Some fans like the longer rallies; others miss the speed of the earlier grass court game.

It’s too bad that 5-time Wimbledon champ, Venus Williams, considered a grass court specialist,had to drop out of this year’s tourney because of health issues.  Still, I’m getting the strawberries and cream ready. Two weeks of great tennis ahead.

Pretty Tough Trivia:

The grass courts at Wimbledon are cut at exactly 8mm.



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