Players have never been allowed to practice on SW19’s two largest courts ahead of the championships
Serena Williams was the most prominent victim of a baseline error that forced her to retire in the first round through injury, but she was by no means the only one, prompting widespread outcry about the conditions underfoot.
Tim Henman has blamed the weather for last year’s slippery Wimbledon pitches but says the All England Club (AELTC) has made changes to training arrangements for 2022 to avoid further player complaints.
Sources within SW19 field personnel said I Last summer they didn’t think the courts were any more slippery, but Henman, who is a member of the AELTC board, says the head of courts and horticulture, Neil Stubley, ruled that Center Court and No 1 Court should be free from the Practice sessions would also benefit the outdoor courts, especially in bad weather years.
“I think if you think back to last year and if you look at the climatic conditions before the tournament, it was wet,” said Henman I.
“We had the first three or four days where the roof was closed on center court and you can actually look at the amount of fertilizer that’s been put on the courts and that obviously makes them green and keeps the moisture in the plant. These are all variables.
“It was obvious that the courts were slippery last year because there was no warm weather and no way to really dry out. If that was the case last year, adjustments need to be made.”
Henman added: “I think we all think it’s a wise decision from a club perspective and we’ll see how it plays out, but one thing you can’t control is the weather ahead of the Championship. So it’s a challenge, but we’d like to think that this year will be better.”
Traditionally, Center Court’s sacred turf has been reserved for tournament play and occasional AELTC members, but this move will add significantly to the pool.
It’s not the only way the SW19 authorities are trying to make the championships a more open place.
In March they launched Play Your Way to Wimbledon, a competition aiming to inspire the next generation of tennis talent in the UK. More than 2,000 events are planned, which will culminate in August with national finals in the under-15 and under-19 categories at Wimbledon on the Aorangi pitches.
“It’s about accessibility,” Henman added.
“The championships are the highlight of our sport for the two weeks. The club goes the other 50 weeks of the year.
“You can potentially have 15,000 people playing across the country to get the opportunity to play on grass at Wimbledon.
“I think that probably wasn’t realistic for a long time. The club would not be accessible. But now I think it can be enormously inspiring.
“It’s not necessarily about producing another Wimbledon champion. It’s about giving young children, boys and girls, the opportunity to play tennis and enjoy a sport that can be played for life, friendships and the healthy and active lifestyle that comes with it.
“I’m really looking forward to being a part of it and hopefully inspiring a few people to pick up a racquet.”
Play Your Way to Wimbledon, Powered by Vodafone is the UK’s largest grassroots tennis competition and is run in partnership with the LTA, the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club and Vodafone.