At Wimbledon, slippery Centre Court grass the story after falls, retirements

Day Three: The Championships - Wimbledon 2021
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WIMBLEDON, England — Asked about his connection with the Centre Court crowd after his second victory there this week, Novak Djokovic joked: “I seem to be having a really nice connection with the grass.”

The five-time champion at the All England Club chuckled at his own line, then added, “I don’t recall falling this much in the first two matches of Wimbledon.

Yes, less than 24 hours after Serena Williams and Roger Federer’s opponent pulled out of matches after getting hurt in falls, the slips kept coming Wednesday.

The No. 1-seeded Djokovic was no worse for wear after losing his footing at least five times while beating Kevin Anderson 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 in a rematch of their 2018 final at the Grand Slam tournament, but he was merely one example of someone who couldn’t stay upright.

WIMBLEDON DRAWS: Men | Women

Andy Murray, Bianca Andreescu, Nick Kyrgios, John Isner and a ball kid were among the folks taking tumbles on Day 3.

“I didn’t slip just once; I slipped, like, six times during the match. The courts are pretty wet,” said Andreescu, the 2019 U.S. Open champion and No. 5 seed who lost to Alize Cornet 6-2, 6-1 on No. 2 Court. “I mean, the courts are super slippery. I have only played here once before, but they weren’t like this at all.”

Williams’ latest bid for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title ended with her “heartbroken” and in tears after just 30 minutes and less than a set Tuesday. She injured her right leg when her left shoe lost traction behind the baseline in almost the exact same spot that Adrian Mannarino twisted his right knee while leading Federer.

Both of those matches were on Centre Court. But Isner’s trouble came on Court 18 during his five-set loss Wednesday, and Kyrgios came down awkwardly on No. 1 Court.

In what sounded like an attempt to dispel the notion that anything might be different about the grass two years since the tournament was last held, the All England Club issued a statement Tuesday night that said, in part: “The preparation of the grass courts has been to exactly the same meticulous standard as in previous years.”

Wimbledon’s courts are removed annually and new grass is installed. So the fact that the 2020 edition was called off because of the pandemic shouldn’t affect things.

“Even though we didn’t have The Championships, our renovation program was the same,” Neil Stubley, the club’s head of courts and horticulture, said before competition began Monday. “So we literally just ripped the courts up and sort of re-leveled, re-seeded and then just grew them back in for this year.”

Djokovic offered another possible explanation: Players are out of practice on grass. Not only was last season’s circuit on the surface wiped out, but there were only two weeks, instead of the standard three, between the end of the clay-court French Open and start of Wimbledon.

His first-round match Monday, and the matches involving Williams and Mannarino on Tuesday, were played with the main stadium’s retractable roof shut because of rain. And that — rather any sort of change to the grass itself at the oldest Grand Slam tournament — is what the All England Club blamed for how slick the surface was during what it said were the wettest two opening days of Wimbledon “in almost a decade.”

Keeping the roof closed for a long period leads to “additional moisture” on the grass, the club said.

“It feels a tad more slippery, maybe, under the roof. I don’t know if it’s just a gut feeling. You do have to move very, very carefully out there. If you push too hard in the wrong moments, you do go down,” Federer said. “I do feel it’s drier during the day. With the wind and all that stuff, it takes the (moisture) out of the grass. But this is obviously terrible.”

On Wednesday, though, there was no rain, so Djokovic’s match was played in an uncovered arena.

The outset of the two-week tournament is “a time when the grass plant is at its most lush and green, which does result in additional moisture on what is a natural surface,” the club said in its statement, adding: “With each match that is played, the courts will continue to firm up.”

Federer offered a similar assessment.

He’s rather familiar with the place, having first entered Wimbledon in 1999 and winning it eight times.

“I feel, for a lot of players, it’s super key to get through those first two rounds, because the grass is more slippery. It is more soft,” he said, noting that later in the fortnight “usually it gets harder and easier to move on.”

As far as Djokovic was concerned, what mattered more than his false steps was the final score.

“Hopefully, as the tournament progresses, I’ll also fall less,” he said, “even though I don’t mind falling more if the result is winning a match.”

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Diana Taurasi says 2024 Paris Olympics ‘on my radar’

Diana Taurasi
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Diana Taurasi said immediately after winning her fifth Olympic gold medal in Tokyo that she might try for a record sixth in Paris.

It’s still on her mind 17 months out of the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“It’s something that it’s on my radar,” Taurasi told The Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday after the first day of a USA Basketball training camp in Minnesota, her first national team activity since Tokyo. “I’m still competitive, still driven, still want to play, I still love being a part of USA Basketball.”

Taurasi will be 42 at the time of the Paris Games — older than any previous Olympic basketball player — but said if she’s healthy enough she’d like to give it a go.

“If the opportunity comes to play and be a part of it, it’s something I’ve always taken a lot of pride in,” said Taurasi, who shares the record of five Olympic basketball gold medals with the retired Sue Bird. “When you get to my age at this point in my career, you just try to win every day. Right now this is a good opportunity to be part of this team moving forward we’ll see what happens.”

She said she would have played at the FIBA World Cup last year in Australia, but had a quad strain that kept her out of the end of the WNBA season.

“I got hurt a little bit before. I had a good conversation with Coach (Cheryl) Reeve and (USA Basketball CEO Jim) Tooley. I felt like I hadn’t played enough basketball to be out there and help,” Taurasi said. “That’s the biggest thing with USA Basketball is being able to help the team win.”

Reeve said Monday that when she succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach a few months after Tokyo, she wasn’t sure whether Taurasi would play for the national team again. That was before her conversation with Taurasi.

“I look forward to having a chance to have her be around and be, as I told her, a great voice,” Reeve said. “Obviously, the competitive fire that she competes with is something that we all do well with.”

In Tokyo, Taurasi started all six games and averaged 18.8 minutes per game, sixth-most on the team (fewer than backup guard Chelsea Gray). Her 5.8 points per game were her fewest in her Olympic career, though she was dealing with a hip injury.

Taurasi is an unrestricted free agent although she is expected to return back to Phoenix where she’s spent her entire career since getting drafted No. 1 overall in 2003.

“Phoenix still has things they need to work out,” the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer said.

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Alexis Pinturault wins world championships combined; American in fourth

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France’s Alexis Pinturault won the world Alpine skiing championships combined at his home venue after defending world champion Marco Schwarz blew a lead in the final seconds of his slalom run.

Pinturault, a 31-year-old who hadn’t won a race in nearly two years (the longest drought of his distinguished career), prevailed by one tenth of a second over the Austrian Schwarz in Courchevel, France.

“I hope to enjoy it because it was pretty difficult some months ago,” Pinturault said.

Austrian Raphael Haaser took bronze in an event that combined times from a morning super-G run and an afternoon slalom run, one day after his older sister took bronze in the women’s combined.

River Radamus was fourth, a quarter of a second from becoming the first U.S. man to win an Alpine worlds medal since 2015. Radamus’ best event is the giant slalom, which is scheduled for Feb. 17 at worlds.

“It’s nice, but honestly, you don’t come to world championships hoping to get fourth,” Radamus said.

Five skiers finished within 2.98 seconds of the winner in an event that has been dropped from the annual World Cup schedule and is under review to remain on the Olympic program.

ALPINE WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Pinturault had the fastest super-G run by six hundredths over Schwarz. Schwarz, a slightly better slalom skier than Pinturault, erased that deficit early in the slalom and had a three tenths lead at the last intermediate split.

He gave it all away about six gates from the finish, slamming on the brakes. Moments later, he crossed the finish line one tenth behind Pinturault, who reacted by pumping his fists in the air.

The Frenchman earned his first race victory since the March 2021 World Cup Finals giant slalom, where he clinched his first World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing. Last season, Pinturault went winless on the World Cup for the first time since he was a teenage rookie in 2011, plus went medal-less at the Olympics.

Pinturault, who grew up in Courchevel and now co-owns the family’s five-star Hotel Annapurna there, had retirement cross his mind in the offseason, according to Eurosport. He skipped a pre-worlds Sunday press conference due to illness.

Nonetheless, Pinturault was on the front page of French newspapers this week, including L’Equipe on Tuesday. In a sports cover story for Le Figaro, Pinturault said that, given the circumstances, it would be almost a “nice surprise” to go for a medal at these worlds.

Olympic champion Johannes Strolz of Austria skied out of the slalom after tying for 29th in the super-G.

Olympic silver and bronze medalists Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway and Jack Crawford of Canada were among the speed specialists who did not start the slalom. They essentially used the event as a training run for Thursday’s super-G.

Worlds continue Wednesday with the women’s super-G, where Mikaela Shiffrin is a medal contender but not the favorite. She can tie the modern-era records for individual world championships gold medals (seven) and total medals (12).

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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