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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Eliud Kipchoge breaks marathon world record in Berlin

Eliud Kipchoge Berlin Marathon
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Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge broke his own world record in winning the Berlin Marathon, clocking 2:01:09 to lower the previous record time of 2:01:39 he set in the German capital in 2018.

Kipchoge, 37 and a two-time Olympic champion, earned his 15th win in 17 career marathons to bolster his claim as the greatest runner in history over 26.2 miles.

His pacing was not ideal. Kipchoge slowed in the final miles, running 61:18 for the second half after going out in an unprecedented 59:51 for the first 13.1 miles. He still won by 4:49 over Kenyan Mark Korir.

“I was planning to go through it [the halfway mark] 60:50, 60:40,” Kipchoge said. “My legs were running actually very fast. I thought, let me just try to run two hours flat, but all in all, I am happy with the performance.

“We went too fast [in the first half]. It takes energy from the muscles. … There’s still more in my legs [to possibly lower the record again].”

MORE: Berlin Marathon Results

Ethiopian Tigist Assefa won the women’s race in 2:15:37, the third-fastest time in history for somebody who ran one prior marathon in 2:34:01. Only Brigid Kosgei (2:14:14 in Chicago in 2019) and Paula Radcliffe (2:15:25 in London in 2003) have gone faster.

American record holder Keira D’Amato, who entered as the top seed, was sixth in 2:21:48. D’Amato, who went nearly a decade between competitive races after college, owns the American record of 2:19:12 and now also the 10th-best time in U.S. history.

“Today wasn’t my best day ever, but it was the best I could do today,” she said in a text message, according to Race Results Weekly, adding that she briefly stopped and walked late in the race.

The last eight instances the men’s marathon world record has been broken, it has come on the pancake-flat roads of Berlin. It began in 2003, when Kenyan Paul Tergat became the first man to break 2:05.

The world record was 2:02:57 — set by Kenyan Dennis Kimetto in 2014 — until Kipchoge broke it for the first time four years ago.

The following year, Kipchoge became the first person to cover 26.2 miles in under two hours, clocking 1:59:40 in a non-record-eligible showcase rather than a race.

Kipchoge’s focus going forward is trying to become the first runner to win three Olympic marathon titles in Paris in 2024. He also wants to win all six annual World Marathon Majors. He’s checked off four of them, only missing Boston (run in April) and New York City (run every November).

Kipchoge grew up on a farm in Kapsabet in Kenya’s Rift Valley, often hauling by bike several gallons of the family’s milk to sell at the local market. Raised by a nursery school teacher, he ran more than three miles to and from school. He saved for five months to get his first pair of running shoes.

At 18, he upset legends Hicham El Guerrouj and Kenenisa Bekele to win the 2003 World 5000m title on the track. He won Olympic 5000m medals (bronze in 2004 and silver in 2008), then moved to the marathon after failing to make the 2012 Olympic team on the track.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The U.S. goes for its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headline a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, includes neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team includes nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 52 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The field also includes host Australia, the U.S.’ former primary rival, and Olympic silver medalist Japan.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), isn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
11:30 p.m. Mali vs. Serbia Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA vs. South Korea Group A
2 a.m. France vs. Japan Group B
3:30 a.m. China vs. Puerto Rico Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Canada Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico vs. South Korea Group A
11:30 p.m. Belgium vs. China Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
2 a.m. Canada vs. Mali Group B
3:30 a.m. France vs. Serbia Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Japan Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. Quarterfinal
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
4 a.m. Quarterfinal
6:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
Fri., Sept. 30 3 .m. Semifinal
5:30 a.m. Semifinal
11 p.m. Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. Final