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.
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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