Wimbledon aims to avoid another slippery court furore
Wimbledon’s head groundsman says his team has learnt lessons after last year’s slipping controversy, which saw players retiring injured from Centre Court.
Neil Stubley, head of courts at the All England Club, told The Telegraph he has spent more time tending the famous grass surfaces than he has with his own children in the last month in a bid for a perfect start to the Championships on Monday.
The opening days of the 2021 tournament were beset with incidents, with Serena Williams injuring herself so badly after slipping on the grass that she could not carry on.
Frenchman Adrian Mannarino also had to retire hurt after slipping in his match against Roger Federer, while Novak Djokovic, who went on to win the grand slam, said he couldn’t remember falling over so many times on a court after his first-round win.
Now Mr Stubley has described a perfect storm of circumstances, which he is praying will not be repeated this week.
He explained how his team always aim to start the Championships with as much moisture in the ground as they dare, to give the courts the best chance of surviving the marathon fortnight of intensive use, which sees the surfaces progressively dry. But the threat of rain forced them to close the roof, upsetting their delicate plans.
“In 2021 it was the first time we’ve experienced the roof on for day one,” he said. “Even though the roof had been in play since 2009, it had never come into play for day one.”
That, coupled with the mild conditions, meant the moisture couldn’t escape.
“In any grass court tennis tournament, whether ours or anybody else’s, in the first two or three days there’s always that risk of slipping.”
He added: “It’s something that we learn. We learn every Championships. The weather always has the last say.”
Mr Subley spoke to the Telegraph following weeks of mainly good weather for the purposes of preparing world-class grass courts.
However, with some likelihood of rain forecast for Monday, the roof might be in action on the first day this year as well.
'In an ideal world no one mentions the grass'
This year also comes with the added challenge of a scheduled 14-day tournament, in contrast to previous years, where the middle Sunday has traditionally been a rest day, or used to catch up on some play if weather hampered the first week.
As the championships go on, the courts naturally deteriorate, which also throws up criticism but Mr Stubley said that “goes with the territory”.
“It’s one of those things. In an ideal world no one mentions the grass courts because it’s the tennis that is talked about, and the playing surface just does the job, ticking along, but there will always be comments," he said.
He added that from a surface maintenance point of view, Roger Federer was an ideal competitor because of his balletic style.
“Each player has their own style. With Roger, he’s quite light on his feet, whereas the likes of Andy [Murray] and Novak [Djokovic] just chase down every ball.
“And also you don’t know when the guys come out whether it’s going to be a two-and-a-half-hour match or five and a half hours.”
Having been at Wimbledon for 27 years, he is used to the pressure, but it does not make the intensity of preparation any less.
“You end up looking after the courts in the month leading up to the Championships more than you're with your own family. They almost become your children.
“I’m old enough now and I’ve done enough Championships to know you never become complacent. You’re always waiting for something to go wrong.”