x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Wimbledon: Groundskeeper defends playing surface despite slippery falls

After their Wimbledon withdraws, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova were both vocal in their complaints about the playing surface at All English Club.

France's Michael Llodra and eight other players retired in the second round. Adrian Dennis / AFP
France's Michael Llodra and eight other players retired in the second round. Adrian Dennis / AFP

LONDON // Wimbledon's new head groundsman said Thursday he was "100 per cent happy" with the grass courts despite a string of players tumbling out of the tournament through injury.

Reflecting on his first week as Wimbledon's No 1 "turf man", Neil Stubley said: "We are still confident this morning coming in that we are still producing the best tennis courts in the world."

He added: "We are 100 per cent happy with the playing surface and it's no different to any other year."

A day of shocks and slips on Wednesday provoked tabloid headlines like "Wimbledon carnage". The Croatian Marin Cilic, who pulled out through injury, called it "a very black day".

Victoria Azarenka, the second seed, called on the organisers to examine the state of the courts after taking a fall and suffering a knee injury on what she called a slippery Court 1 on Monday. She withdrew. Her knee failed to recover in time for her second-round match.

On Wednesday, seven more players joined the Wimbledon casualty list in what was a record number for one day at a grand slam. Along with Cilic, the wounded list included Radek Stepanek, Steve Darcis, Guido Pella, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Romina Oprandi and John Isner – who managed to get through 183 games over 11 hours in his marathon match against Nicolas Mahut three years ago.

Isner and Cilic pulled out with knee injuries. Belgium's Darcis, who had knocked out Rafael Nadal in the first round, succumbed to a shoulder problem and the Czech Stepanek had trouble with his left hamstring.

Maria Sharapova was overheard on the court microphone calling her court "dangerous" as she slipped a number of times before eventually departing the tournament via the scoreboard.

Asked about that comment, Stubley said: "It's her opinion. Lleyton Hewitt played on the court an hour before and thought it was fine."

Phlegmatic about what the players and press had to say, he added: "It's part of the job working at a high-profile event. We are under the spotlight. We will take it on the chin.".

It is his first time in charge since the retirement of the long-time groundsman Eddie Seward.

"We are fully confident that we have prepared them how they should be prepared every year … they are wearing exactly how they should be," he said.

Boris Becker, a former champion, rose to the defence of the courts. The German, renowned in his heyday for throwing himself in spectacular dives, said: "The grass is always going to be slippery in the first couple of matches. That has been the case for the past 100-plus years."


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