If you’ve been watching the Australian Open for the past two days, then you have undoubtably heard commentators, analysts, and players discussing the speed of the court in Melbourne. Court speed is debated at just about every grand slam. Consensus opinion is that court speeds in this era are medium-slow to very slow at just about each major. For those of you who have watched enough tennis, you know the affect the speed of a surface can have on the game.
What I’ve noticed in watching the action is that yes, the courts look slightly faster. I mean slightly. This is not an event-altering adjustment. The outside courts look to be a bit quicker than the Stadium courts, as the players have reported. And as Brad Gilbert said, the new balls at this years Aussie Open aren’t fluffing up as much as years past, allowing them to get through the court a bit quicker. But even with these modifications, the tennis hasn’t been impacted too much. Part of the reason the courts are playing quick is because it’s so hot, over 100 degrees on Tuesday. When it’s hot outside(and especially dry heat like they have in Melbourne), the balls fly through the air much quicker. In contrast, if you’ve watched any of the night matches you’ll have noticed a significant drop in the court speed. Djokovic and Lacko, and even Nadal and Tomic’s matches looked to be playing much slower than the day.
So all that crap begs the question: Should the courts be faster?
As somebody who enjoys aggressive, attacking tennis, I always felt that quicker courts would lend themselves to more aggressive play, and they do. But you have to be careful, because at a point the tennis starts to get boring for the fans with razor quick courts. First serve unreturned. Second serve chipped back to the middle, forehand winner. First serve unreturned. The rallies are short, and therefore the matches are short. Tournament officials are stuck between giving fans a good show, and allowing players easier times on their bodies.
Everybody remembers the epic Djokovic vs Nadal Final in Melbourne ’12. All 6 hours of it. And because of how slow that court was playing, it seemed like every rally was going at least 20 strokes. This, obviously, made the players tired, and therefore they began to take very long time between points. With the new 25 second rule, those guys would have defaulted in the third set. So if we really want to enforce these new rules then the surface speed is kind of forced to be faster.
Is this good for fans? I don’t know yet. I always used to agree with the old-timers and say,”yeah, lets make these courts faster.” But I’m starting to rethink my position. The courts in Brisbane and Sydney were really fast, and there weren’t a lot of long rallies. I started to say to myself,”this is kinda boring…”
So I guess I’ve come up with a conclusion that is fair for everyone. How about we don’t go just one way or another, and instead make each Grand Slam have very different characteristics. Believe it or not, the French Open has been getting quicker over the years. Wimbledon has slowed down significantly and the US Open is…inconsistent. How about the Australian Open goes back to being really slow with a high bounce, Roland Garros goes back to its slower speed, while Wimbledon and the US Open get sped up?
What do you think? I might have just confused myself writing this article.