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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 June, 2005, 09:36 GMT 10:36 UK
The grass is always slower
By Sarah Holt
BBC Sport at Wimbledon

Tim Henman has complained that slower playing surfaces at Wimbledon are responsible for drawing the sting from his game.

Tim Henman
Henman has been unimpressed with the conditions at Wimbledon
The British number one bemoaned the grass was becoming "increasingly slow, heavy and high bouncing", after his arduous five-set victory against Jarkko Nieminen.

It is not the first time Henman or his fellow players have raised the issue.

Greg Rusedski claimed Wimbledon purposely slowed the courts in 2001 and this year American Taylor Dent agreed they have been getting slower each time he plays here.

Organisers started to use 100% perennial ryegrass seed in 2001 to provide a stronger grass more able to take the wear-and-tear of two weeks of continual usage.

"What Tim is saying is absolutely true," agrees John Lloyd, BBC Sport commentator and two-time Wimbledon mixed doubles champion.

"The courts have become slower and they are bouncing higher than they used to.

"When I was contesting Wimbledon 25 years ago, playing on grass was more like Russian roulette.

"You got a lot of bad bounces, quick-shot rallies and a lot of serve-and-volley. Even playing in the senior doubles now, I can tell it's changed, you have much longer to return the ball now.

"But I don't think it's a sinister reason. Wimbledon just changed the texture of the grass to make the courts more durable and that makes them slower because the grass is spongier."

None of this is good news for Henman of course, whose serve-and-volley game is supposed to be a perfect fit for grass.

You could probably count five serve-and-volleyers at Wimbledon but 15 years ago they made up 50% of the draw
John Lloyd
The Briton was forced to change his tactics against Nieminen and admitted he served and volleyed "less than 20% of the time" in the final two sets against the Finn.

Faced with having to make difficult decisions to abandon his natural game, a time-machine might just be Henman's only hope of claiming an elusive Wimbledon crown.

"If the conditions were as they were 20 years ago, then Tim would have a better chance at Wimbledon," agreed Lloyd.

"His type of game benefits from the surface that existed back then - the spins, the slice approaches, the volleys would all work, it would even help his serve.

"Slower courts now mean he loses a slight advantage that he would have on quicker grass courts.

"Tim has to be at the top of his game to have any chance here and against Nieminen he looked so far below that."

Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova
Sharapova is a stranger to the net
Those that rise to the top in the new-age at Wimbledon are baseliners.

Reigning women's champion Maria Sharapova barely ventures to the net while big-hitters such as Andy Roddick and Marat Safin are now cutting a swathe through the field.

"We are moving in that direction," admitted Lloyd. "I think the serve-and-volley game is dying.

"You could probably count five serve-and-volleyers at Wimbledon but 15 years ago they made up 50% of the draw.

"The ball is bouncing so much truer now, it's almost like playing on a hard-court."

So if Henman is no longer able to make hay on Wimbledon's grass-courts, can the British public count on new hope Andy Murray to cut it?

"Andy doesn't have a traditional grass-court game, he's better on clay and hard-courts at the moment - or he thinks he is," says Lloyd.

"But he has a huge serve, he moves well round the court and, yes, I think he will be a very good grass-court player."

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