Wimbledon to address ‘dangerous’ surfaces by allowing players to practise on Centre and No 1 Court

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Serena Williams - Wimbledon to address ‘dangerous’ surfaces by allowing players to practice on Centre and No 1 Court - PA
Serena Williams - Wimbledon to address ‘dangerous’ surfaces by allowing players to practice on Centre and No 1 Court - PA

Wimbledon will allow players to practise on Centre Court and No 1 Court ahead of the tournament for the first time, in an attempt to avoid a repeat of last year’s injuries on the “dangerous” slippery grass.

The courts were criticised by players who complained that the pristine surface was more slippery than usual in the first few days of last year’s event. Serena Williams, the 23-time major champion, was the most high-profile victim, after she lost her footing during her first-round match and was forced to retire through the injury she sustained.

Wimbledon organisers will now be allowing players on to the show courts ahead of the tournament, which starts a week on Monday, so the lush grass will be more worn and less wet.

A tournament representative said on Sunday there would be “limited practise” as part of an “enhanced playing in” of the two show courts. This year is believed to be the first time the organisers will allow players to make such preparations.

Practising on the main courts prior to competitive action happens at all the other majors, but not at Wimbledon, due to concerted efforts to protect the grass. Previously just one set of doubles would be played on the two courts by club members on the Saturday prior to the opening Monday. This latest proactive step will likely be welcomed by players and alleviate some anxieties – especially in the first week.

Williams’s injury occurred after she had played just six games on day two of the Championships, and followed the exit of France’s Adrian Mannarino, who was also forced to retire from his first-round match against Roger Federer after a fall. The closed roof had added to the moisture and humidity on Centre Court that day, making the surface more difficult to navigate safely.

Andy Murray called the conditions “extremely” slippery at the time, saying it was “not easy to move out there”, while eventual champion Novak Djokovic said: “I don’t remember falling this many times on the court.”

The All England Club defended the court conditions though. “The preparation of the grass courts has been to exactly the same meticulous standard as in previous years,” their statement said at the time.

Wimbledon has been handling months of off-court controversy, following its decision to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from this year’s event.

With no ranking points on offer as a result of the ban, the tournament’s reputation has been picked apart within tennis, as a number of players – including Naomi Osaka – questioned whether they would risk playing what was now effectively an “exhibition” event. Four-time major champion Osaka also cited fears about falling on the grass.

In the end, she pulled out through injury last week, but 2014 finalist Eugenie Bouchard became the first to opt out because of the lack of ranking points.

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