Rafael Nadal and Matteo Berrettini made Wimbledon history at lunch as the duo were allowed to practice for 45 minutes on Centre Court – the first time it has ever happened on the Thursday before the tournament.
The idea came about to try and slightly unsettle the surface on the eve of the 2022 tournament in order to avoid slipping and sliding on the fresh grass. The decision was made following players struggling to stay on their feet during the opening few days over the last few years.
The SW19 courts are perfectly primed for a fortnight of elite tennis action, and the glossy surface often catches people out as they battle in the early rounds. However, the surface gets eventually worn down – but it is a difficult challenge in the opening rounds of the tournament.
Players visibly struggle and renewed attention was placed on the issue last year as megastar Serena Williams fell victim to the Centre Court surface. The seven-time champion – who is one Grand Slam title short of Margaret Court’s record of 24 majors – was unfortunately forced to retire after she lost her footing twice during her first round match against Aliaksandra Sasnovich.
Williams became the second player in as many matches to retire injured after falling on court, following Adrian Mannarino. The Frenchman slipped while leading Roger Federer and couldn’t continue after his fall.
Both Williams and Mannarino had played under the roof on Centre Court which perhaps worsened the issue as the damp and humid conditions contributed to the slippery surface. Two-time Wimbledon champion and British icon Andy Murray lent his voice to the issue, declaring he found the Centre Court turf particularly slippery during his own early round matches.
“Brutal for @serenawilliams but centre court is extremely slippy out there,” Murray wrote. “Not easy to move out there.”
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However, Federer suggested that while it was unfortunate, it was a natural problem players always faced during the first few days of a tournament. The eight-time Wimbledon champion said: “Those first two matches are always extremely difficult. But it’s always been like this.
“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. As the tournament progresses, it usually gets harder and easier to move on.”
Traditionally, only people allowed to hit on Centre Court and No 1 Court prior to the tournament were four female All England Club members in a friendly doubles match on the Saturday to ensure preparations were complete. However, that rule has been altered to allow around four sessions of practice between professional players this week to help them prepare for the court surface and hopefully avoid injuries.
High-ranking seeds and former champions have been allowed to book one of two 45-minute sessions on each court. Nadal and Berrettini went on first at 1.30pm before Novak Djokovic was scheduled with Marin Cilic, who reached the semi-finals at the French Open.