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post #188 of (permalink) Old 12-09-2011, 02:15 AM
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Re: Speed up the Courts

Originally Posted by masterclass View Post
I also enjoy the variety of tennis that can be played by the world's top players when the court surface speeds vary. I appreciate the talent it takes for the world's best to be able to adapt and showcase their talents on all courts, or if unable to adapt, to at least specialize on certain types of courts. It used to be a great accomplishment to win the French Open and Wimbledon back-to-back or complete a career grand slam because of the surface differences. However, the trend in the last few years has been to make many of the traditional various court surfaces more alike in playing speed, either via surface change or ball changes.

Many believe the primary cause of this was due to greatly improved racquet and string technology, allowing players to hit with far greater power and accuracy. In around 2001, this led to people like David Lloyd (former British Davis Cup captain) saying that tennis had become almost "unwatchable" at Wimbledon (see here), due to players like Pete Sampras, Goran Ivanišević, and others playing matches that consisted of nothing but hitting extremely fast serves and perhaps a single volley. Now Lloyd actually advocated that the Wimbledon grass be ripped up and replaced with synthetic carpet. Well, suggestions like replacing the grass at Wimbledon probably didn't sit well with the those who value tradition so highly in that event (the suggestion probably amounted to heresy), but at the same time, they felt that they needed to respond in some manner. So it is said that the Wimbledon head groundskeeper, Mr. Eddie Seaward, spoke to many of the professional coaches and asked what they wanted (see here ). Evidently the consensus at the time was that the grass needed to be "slowed down" to make the game less "boring". Mr. Seaward then began to change the surface and indeed over the last few years it has changed; the ball bounces higher and in effect has increased time and space needed to react.

Now with all that said, it seems that the pendulum may have swung a bit too far in the other direction. The game has become homogenized to an extent where almost all players are capable of being "all court players" because all courts play similarly (though one still slides more on a clay court). This appears to be leading to the gradual extinction of the beautiful serve and volley style of play in singles tennis. I'm not lamenting about the late 90's one serve, volley and point over. I'm writing about the serve and volley of the 70's and 80's where the great volleyer and the great baseliner had approximately equal chances to win depending on whether it was their day to excel. One could still see shorter points and longer points, depending on the relative skill of the players involved. Another bonus for all players in a more balanced game would be a significant reduction in injuries and fatigue since the points would on average tend to be over more quickly than they are now.

What would it take to bring back that balance? I think the high tech racquets are here to stay. Perhaps it could be as simple as changing the balls somewhat. Start with playing a faster ball at Wimbledon and a slower ball at the French and see what happens. If that doesn't work, tinker with the surfaces just a bit. The changes need to be small, to avoid the pendulum swinging too far in the other direction.

These things can be done, but either somebody well-placed, a significant number of players, or a significant number of fans (via reduction in the viewing audience) will have to speak up in order for the status quo to change.

Well said.
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