July 4, 2023
Melinda Head

Wimbledon 2023: Will Djokovic Equal Federer’s Grass-Court Accomplishments?

The challenges of a living surface

Tennis fan or not, everyone knows Wimbledon.

Wimbledon is a brand onto itself, known for its unique grass courts, timeless tradition and hobnobbery.

Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam tennis event still held on grass.

Neil Stubley is the Head of Courts and Horticulture at Wimbledon. He’s been on the job for almost 30 years. Mr. Stubley is looking for a new member of the Wimbledon gardening staff now

The 8mm high 100% perennial ryegrass (about ¼”) is faster than clay and hard courts.

Wimbledon is a place where you’re likely to see more aces than anywhere else.

An ace is a legal serve that is not touched by the receiver, winning the point for the server. To be considered an ace, the serve must land in the service box diagonally opposite the server’s side of the court, not touch the net or any other part of the court before bouncing, and not be touched by the receiver.

And aces mess with even the best player’s head. Last year there were 2,920 aces at Wimbledon compared to 2,435 at the U.S. Open.

“An ace can have a huge impact on the mind of a tennis player. It can crush their confidence and make them feel like they have no chance. It can also energize the server and give them a sense of invincibility. When you hit an ace, it’s like you’re saying to your opponent, “I’m better than you, and there’s nothing you can do about it”. (Patrick Mouratoglou, former Serena Williams coach)

Grass is the fastest type of playing surface. Why?

The speed of a tennis court surface is determined by a multitude of factors, including the type of surface, the amount of friction between the ball and the surface, and the height of the bounce. At Wimbledon, the expertly grown and manicured grass is relatively smooth, which allows the ball to slide on the surface and pick up speed. It also has a low coefficient of friction, which means that the ball doesn’t lose as much speed when it bounces. As a result, balls travel faster on grass courts than on other surfaces.

“The surface is everything in tennis. It dictates the way you play, the way you move, and the way you think.” (Serena Williams)

At Wimbledon, faster ball speed means that players have less time to react to shots, so they must be able to hit the ball with a lot of power and accuracy.  Players with big serves and powerful groundstrokes are generally the most successful at this world class venue.

“Not only is the court fast in the sense that you don't have a lot of time to react to the ball. Instead of bouncing up for you to hit it back, (the ball is) sliding towards you.” (Liz Thompson, Tennis Author)

Unibet - Tennis Surfaces Explained

Now let’s layer on the fact that a grass court is a living surface, which is sensitive to changing moisture levels and atmospheric conditions. Mr. Stubley knows this only too well. Mother Nature makes grass the most variable surface to play on, which also makes Wimbledon the most satisfying tournament to win. Roger Federer will concur.

Novak Djokovic dried Centre Court with a towel and urged the crowd to "blow" during a rain delay yesterday, after which ground staff deployed leaf blowers to dry the grass

36 year-old Serbian Novak Djokovic won the Wimbledon Gentleman’s Singles Championship at Wimbledon in 2022 – his 7th grass-court title

24 year-old Kazak Elena Rybakina won the Wimbledon Ladies’ Singles Championship in 2022 -- her first Grand Slam title

Recently retired, 41 year-old Swiss/South African Roger Federer could never get enough of Wimbledon. His record of 8 Wimbledon titles still holds. However, let’s not forget that Czech-American Martina Navratilova won Wimbledon 9 times, a record that remains unchallenged.

Federer’s most famous Wimbledon match was in 2008 against Spain’s Rafael Nadal. The game went on for 4 hours and 48 minutes of play, and is considered, by many, to be one of the greatest matches in tennis history. Nadal won in 5 nail-biting sets: 6-4, 6-4, 6-7(5–7), 6-7(8–10), 9-7.

Federer is arguably the greatest male grass-court player of all time. This year, 7-time Wimbledon champion Djokovic could very well match Federer’s SW19 accomplishments. We will know soon enough.

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Next Tuesday, July 11th, we cover “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning (Part One)”, which hits North American theaters on July 12th. Ready for a dose of Tom Cruise?

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About the Author

A serial entrepreneur, Melinda is a sociologist and statistician who believes there is no currency with greater value than knowledge

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