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How does Wimbledon's surface affect play?

Much is said of Wimbledon's grass surface, unique as it is among Grand Slams. Every year it's subject to debate: have Wimbledon's grass courts changed speed? And do the worn-out courts affect the play? Bettors should pay close attention to the answers of these questions.

 

How variable is grass?

As the only living surface on the tour, many pundits and players consider grass unpredictable. Come summer, you'll often hear rumours of a change in speed or a variation in bounce from last season. But how truthful are these murmurings, and should bettors allow television commentators to influence their Wimbledon betting predictions with such stories?

According to an interview with Wimbledon's Head Groundskeeper Eddie Seaward in 2012, there has been no change in the composition of the grass since the switch to 100% Ryegrass in 2001, which means we shouldn't witness any changes in the speed of the surface between Wimbledon 2013 and the other years.

However, Seaward added that the courts are now rolled to be a bit harder, which causes higher bounces and a perception of a drop in speed. Nine-times Wimbledon winner Martina Navratilova has also noted the change, stating in 2011 that the ball "bounces higher and bounces slower. It's not skidding through as much."

Statements similar to Navratilova's have been made at every competition in the last ten years, however. Take Lleyton Hewitt in 2005: "All grass is different. But today it was pretty slow, very slow. It felt very soft out there today." Or Marat Safin in 2008: "they [courts] have been getting slower and slower throughout the years." Or Michael Llodra, 2010 "No, it's slow. It's not quick like usual. But, you know, it's not the question today, you know, if it's fast or slow. I mean, couple years ago it was faster for sure."

So what's the truth? In fact, analysis of aces, service points won and return points won - which are arguably the most accurate way of determining the speed of a court - suggest that not much has changed in the last five years:

wimbledon-table

At most, there is a 1.4% change in the ace rate between the two extremes, 2008 and 2010. With every other year falling in between the 1.4% variance, the margin for aces isn't a massive change; especially considering the ace rate on clay is as small as 6.03% (French Open 2012) and 7.06% on hard (Australian Open 2012).

Weathering the differences in temperature

Another tool for disproving the theory of recent grass alterations at Wimbledon is the weather. It's widely known that the warmer the day, the quicker the ball travels through the air, resulting in lower bounces from the grass and an increase in the "skidding" effect Navratilova mentioned.

wimbledon-graph

Mapping the above results to the average temperature over the course of those competitions (at midday) shows that the highest ace rates came at the competitions with the highest average temperature, as shown in the graph below:

Did the notable increase in temperature in 2009 and 2010 (where it was at least 3.7 degrees warmer than the other years) cause the increase in ace percentage? Could the players attribute to the grass what is actually a factor of the Great British summer? It seems so.

These findings suggest that studying variations in courts (year-on-year) at the All England club could be a waste of time, and that we should always be aware of "expert" and player opinion when it's not backed by data. We should also note that when the day is hot, big servers hold the advantage. It would be beneficial for bettors to track Pinnacle Sports' odds movement in relation to temperature changes - for an up-to-date accurate weather resource click here.

Worn courts a warning?

Even the most meticulously attended grass in the country cannot withstand the athleticism of two weeks of constant tennis, so when things draw to a close at SW19, it's fair to say that the players are almost playing on dirt surfaces, rather than grass. But how does this impact play?

Despite being rolled every day, the lack of grass on worn-out patches makes bounces more unpredictable, increasing the importance of luck in the game. This unpredictability means that baseline defenders - who depend on consistency - are at a disadvantage, and aggressive shots are enhanced. This idea is backed both by the long-held belief that grass is a serve-and-volley favourable service, and Federer's success in playing an attacking game.

Of course, both this point and the fact that the court hasn't slowed down over the last five years, goes against a trend we've seen in Wimbledon champions where (between Djokovic and Nadal) defenders have won three of the last five Wimbledon competitions.

Therefore while these factors can have an influence, they're definitely not the determining factor, and therefore cannot stop dominant players like Djokovic and Nadal.

 


This article was provided by Pinnacle Sports, the best and most professional online bookmaker.

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