Philadelphia, PA – The once-fast grass courts at the storied All England Club have undergone modifications over the years that may seem insignificant to the average tennis fan...but they haven't gone unnoticed by the world's top tennis players.
Following the Wimbledon Championships in 2001, officials decided to install 100-percent perennial Ryegrass, which in turn, makes the soil much drier and harder beneath one's tennis shoes. The end result? Balls bouncing higher and the perceived speed of the court becoming much slower.
Some would even argue that the grass surface at Wimbledon has become more comparable to that of the play on a clay court, i.e. at the French Open.
Experts agree that the newer grass at Wimbledon has changed the way The Championships has been played over the last decade, and they are anxiously waiting to see how it will affect the outcome of the 2012 Olympic tennis event, which will commence next week.
"If you look at matches played at Wimbledon before 2001, players used to serve-and-volley all the time," said Pat Hanssen, the director of sales and marketing at Har-Tru Sports, the largest manufacturer of clay tennis court surfaces in the world. "Today, players stay at the baseline because of the reduced speed and increased hop of the grass. Finals have become more akin to a clay-court match than a grass-court match, and it's not only due to the reduced surface speed. At the end of the tournaments when the natural wear- and-tear of the play has worn down the grass, players are playing on dirt. You see players sliding around like they're on clay."
Another unique aspect of the Games is that groundskeepers at the AEC are facing a race against time to grow the new grass for the Olympics. They have just 20 days after the conclusion of Wimbledon to repair damage caused by the fortnight of play on the world's most famous courts.
On those courts, world No. 1 stars Roger Federer and Victoria Azarenka will be among those on hand playing for gold.
The Swiss legend Federer is fresh off his seventh Wimbledon title and 17th Grand Slam championship, while the Belarusian Azarenka has held the No. 1 ranking for a majority of this 2012 season following her first-ever major title at the Australian Open back in January.
Federer still needs Olympic singles gold to complete the coveted career "Golden Slam," which is all four majors and Olympic gold.
The reigning Olympic gold medallists in singles are Spain's Rafael Nadal and Russian Elena Dementieva, but neither player will be on hand to defend their titles. Nadal pulled out of the tournament this week, citing physical problems, while Dementieva has since retired from the sport.
Nadal beat Chilean slugger Fernando Gonzalez in the 2008 gold medal match in Beijing, while Dementieva topped Dinara Safina in an All-Russian women's gold- medal bout in China four years ago. Neither Gonzalez, Dementieva (who was also a silver medalist in Sydney in 2000) nor Safina will be in the respective draws in London, as all three are now retired.
Several other stars will vie for medals in London, such as Beijing bronze medalist, reigning Aussie Open and U.S. Open champ and former world No. 1 Novak Djokovic of Serbia, and British hopeful and 2012 Wimbledon runner-up Andy Murray.
Meanwhile, Azarenka can expect to be challenged by the likes of five-time Wimbledon champion Serena Williams as well as Poland's Wimbledon runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska; former No. 1 and reigning French Open champ Maria Sharapova of Russia; former Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic; German left-hander Angelique Kerber and outgoing former top-ranked Belgian star Kim Clijsters, who will retire from tennis for a second time following this year's U.S. Open, where she's a three-time titlist.
The 14-time Grand Slam winner and former No. 1 Serena and Sharapova both need an Olympic gold medal to secure the Golden Slam. "Shaza" became a career Grand Slam winner by virtue of her first-ever French Open title last month.
The great game of tennis was a part of the first modern Olympic Games way back in 1896, and the first woman to win an Olympic medal in any sport was British tennis player Charlotte Cooper in Paris in 1900. Tennis was withdrawn from the Olympics following the 1924 Paris Games, but returned as a demonstration event in Los Angeles in 1984 and as a full-medal sport in Seoul four years later.
The All England Club previously staged Olympic tennis in 1908 at its old site on Worple Road. This will be the first event to be held on grass since tennis' return as a full-medal competition.
Only now, the grass plays more like clay.