“The transition from clay to grass, in my opinion, is probably the most difficult one, if not the biggest challenge in our sport,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas after his first-round defeat on Monday. That’s true in terms of tactics, but also in terms of basic footwork. Players move differently on each surface—how they push off to begin a run, how they stop (or slide), depending on whether they’re on the grit of a hard court or the dirt of a clay court. In a sport based entirely on nonstop change of direction, there is no margin for error as surfaces change. Moving on grass can be especially demanding, because the turf gets slippery—especially when it’s been rainy, as has been the case in London all week, or later in the day, when it gets dewy. The transition doesn’t get any easier when players can’t get in the necessary practice to make the adjustment. Grass-court “season” barely exists. The French Open concluded two weeks ago.
Centre Court claimed two victims today. First was Adrian Mannarino, who, up two sets to one on Roger Federer in their first-round match, slipped and appeared to suffer a knee injury. After receiving some treatment and limping through the end of the fourth set, which Federer won, Mannarino conceded and left the court in tears.
A few hours later, early in the first-round match between Serena Williams and Aliaksandra Sasnovich, Williams appeared to slip and plant her foot at an awkward angle.
Unable to generate power through her legs, Serena could barely serve, and at 3-3, through tears, she retired from a match at a major for just the second time in her career. Afterwards Sasnovich said the court was so slippery that she was giving up on shots she might otherwise pursue. “When she did an angle, I couldn’t run, because it was so slippery,” she said. Andy Murray, who won on Centre Court on Monday, also observed that it was “not easy to move out there,” as did Federer. Both those players have won this tournament before, on this court. Something about this year’s turf is not quite right, and while no one can control the weather, entire careers are indeed spent controlling every blade of grass on the most famous court in tennis. Better do something quick!