You know something is not right when Andy Murray and Roger Federer start complaining about the quality of the grass at Wimbledon. The slipperiness of the surface in the first week this year has been a recurring theme, with numerous players critical of the standard of the usually near-perfect grass.
The unusually hot weather in the buildup to the tournament and throughout the first week has generally been considered to be the culprit, with officials saying the “hardness readings” have been within the usual margins they feel are playable. Many players have been slipping and Murray said “[Centre Court] is not in as good condition as previous years” and described seeing “divots”.
But strange things seem to have been happening around Court 18, the fifth show court at the All England Club, made famous in 2010 when the American John Isner and Nicolas Mahut of France battled it out for 11 hours and five minutes over three days. The record match is commemorated by a plaque, which is where the weirdness began. On the day of the draw, the plaque was missing from its usual spot on the wall and there were fears it had been stolen.
The surface itself was an issue even in the week before the tournament. Gilles Müller, the No16 seed from Luxembourg who plays Rafael Nadal in the fourth round on Monday, said he had never seen it in such poor condition. “I practised last week on court 18 and I thought: ‘Oh, the grass doesn’t look so good on this court, it’s not in the best shape’,” he said. “Maybe it was the warm weather the week before, I don’t know. I felt that the court was not in great shape bounce wise. I didn’t feel it was dangerous [but] I felt like it was very soft and slow. Warming up at Aorangi [Park, where the main practice courts are], where courts are pretty fast, then playing on Court 18, there was a huge difference.”
In 2016, there were 20 matches scheduled to be played on Court 18 in the first five days; this year, 19 were played between Monday and Friday and many of those who played on it were not happy. Britain’s Laura Robson yelled out “it’s so soft” during her first-round match there while Kristina Mladenovic of France said she was thankful not to get seriously injured when she played – and lost – to the American Alison Riske in the second round on Thursday.
Both players asked to move courts after just two games but had to play on and Mladenovic described the court as “damaged”. A hole on the side of the court, which was reportedly caused by the American Ryan Harrison during practice, did not look good either.
Jamie Murray, who lost his men’s doubles match on Court 18 on Friday night, said the courts were the talk of the locker room. “The courts this year were different in the way that you could see where people put their foot in, it was almost like the turf had come up,” he told The Times. “I’ve been playing here a lot of years and I’ve never seen the courts that – I wouldn’t say bad, but they weren’t good. I don’t know why they were reacting like that to the players’ movements.”
The plaque, by the way, was back in its rightful place the next day, with the truth, according to the club, being that the logo on the plaque needed a bit of touching up.