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Wimbledon used to symbolize the end of the grass court season but now it’s playing more like the opening of the summer hard court season.

Every year I look forward to Wimbledon so I can settle in and watch a bit of serve and volley. It’s beautiful to watch because serve and volley players are acrobatic and graceful. Players move backward and forward and side to side. Tennis flows over the entire court in a constant ballet of movement.

In a parallel universe, maybe. Tim Henman may serve and volley and Nicolas Mahut would serve and volley too if he hadn’t lost in the first round, but if you look at the grass courts, the only place they’re worn down is along the baseline.

Instead of serve and volley I’m seeing a lot of kick serves and they’re bouncing high. Listen to this from Henman: “Kick serve now works on grass. You can get a lot of sideways movement on it.” And Roger Federer: “You can use the kick too these days, because of the slower conditions…”

So much for my prediction that Rafael Nadal will fail to reproduce his 2006 run to the final. At this rate, the conditions suit him fine.

What’s slowing things down? Let’s start with the ball. Todd Woodbridge has won nine Wimbledon doubles titles dating back to 1993. He always saved one ball from each final. When he compares today’s balls with his mementos, the current version is clearly bigger and fuzzier.

You can’t hit a bigger ball as hard and a fuzzier ball grabs more. Trying grabbing onto a hairless dog. You can’t do it, your hands slide off. Yes, there are such things as hairless dogs. Anyway, grabbiness is important because it allows players to put spin on the ball.

Then there’s the court. Tennis-X reported this quote from an International Herald Tribune article by Richard Evans: “Moss was removed from underneath the grass to make the ball bounce higher – right into the hitting zone of clay-court masters.”

The higher the ball bounces, the worse it is for serve and volleyers. If the ball stays up it’s easier to track it down and a player at the net becomes target practice for all those clay court defensive specialists.

The organizers of Wimbledon slowed the courts down because everyone got tired of seeing three stroke rallies and one-dimensional tennis. But when Rafael Nadal gets to a final, hasn’t it gone too far to other way? Now we’re seeing defensive specialists reach later rounds of Wimbledon.

What hurt Britain’s past hero, Henman, might help their future hero, Andy Murray. Power is not his game and at this rate, the conditions might turn out to be perfect for his mix of intelligence and defense.

Personally, I’d rather see one month of purely offensive tennis. Players are much better returners these days – that’s one reason why Roddick has only one title this year – so we don’t have to worry so much about one dimensional tennis. It’s slightly insulting if you think about it because Wimbledon is slowing the courts down so players can catch up to the big hitters.

There’s no need and if they keep going, they’ll look more like the opening of the summer hard court season that the closing of the grass court season.


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See also:
ATP Fantasy Tennis: Wimbledon Picks
B**tch and Sing Dept: Grass Munching Time

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