Jul 5, 2022 - Sports

Why Wimbledon's grass is so tricky

A hand picks up a tennis ball that reads "Wimbledon 2022."

Photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Wimbledon's grass courts present players with two unique challenges: remembering how to play on a rarely used surface and adjusting to that surface's changing temperament.

State of play: Though three of the four Grand Slams were once played on grass, it's now resigned to a handful of summer events. That lack of reps can psyche some players out as they navigate the tricky surface.

  • Balls bounce faster, lower and with less predictability on grass. That's why players with the best racket skills tend to perform well at the All England Club.
  • Rafael Nadal's patented topspin shot is less effective with Wimbledon's deadened bounces, whereas shots like Roger Federer's slicing backhand reign supreme.

Yes, but: As the tournament's second week continues in London, that once-pristine grass has turned dry and the soil beneath it has hardened.

  • Returning players have a distinct advantage on this "new" surface: They're experienced in dealing with the grass as it turns to dust and dirt, tennis analytics pioneer Craig O'Shannessy tells NYT.
  • The second-week grass also produces higher bounces that make topspin even more effective, which is good news for Nadal: He's in the quarters for just the third time since 2011.
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