At Wimbledon, players must deal with the challenge of grass

For Debbie Jevans, a seat on Center Court at Wimbledon requires little more than a left turn from her office, then a right turn past the trophies honoring past champions. A few small steps further, the same steps the participants took on the final day, and Jevans finds himself on holy grass.

“Centre Court is such a special place,” Jevans, the first female president of the All England Club, said via video call last month. “The courtyard is pristine, the flowers look amazing, the views of St. Mary’s Church in the background. I feel a tremendous sense of pride and gratitude to the hundreds of people who have gotten us to this point.”

Seeing the elegance and lush lawns on the opening day of Wimbledon is like stepping back in time for players and fans. One of the biggest reasons is that playing professionally on grass is as elusive as a Wimbledon title itself.

I’m going to Swiatek has played 23 WTA grass court singles matches out of almost 400 total in her career. Swiatekthe number 1 in the world, has not advanced beyond the quarter-finals at Wimbledon.

Jannik Sinnerthe newly named world No. 1 in men’s tennis, enters Wimbledon having played in just one ATP grass-court tournament this year – which he won over Hubert Hurkacz in Halle, Germany on June 23 – and just nine in his career. One of those matches was a five-set quarterfinal loss to Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon in 2022.

Carlos Alcaraz won 12 matches in a row on grass last year, including titles at Queen’s Club and Wimbledon, but was surprised about two weeks ago in the eighth finals at Queen’s Club by Jack Draper. Last year at Wimbledon, Alcaraz defeated Djokovic in five sets. He also won the 2022 US Open on hard court. When he won the French Open on clay this year, he became the youngest man to win three majors on three different surfaces.

“Every time I step on a grass court, I have to learn how to move better, how to play better,” Alcaraz said after his first-round victory at Queen’s Club in June. “So I feel like I’m still learning.”

The grass tennis season is dangerously short. This year there are just eight ATP tournaments and seven WTA events, spread over a few weeks.

In 2025, with the dissolution of the Hall of Fame Open in Newport, RI, there will be one fewer ATP week on grass. Pro tennis has been played on grass at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport virtually every year since the first U.S. National Lawn Tennis Championships, precursor to the U.S. Open, began there in 1881. The Hall of Fame Open is the only ATP grass tennis championship. court tournament in the United States.

By comparison, there are 40 hard court tournaments this year out of 70 total on the ATP Tour and 22 clay court tournaments, including the Olympic Games in Paris. The WTA has 56 events at tour level this season, of which 36 on hard courts and 13 on clay. The figures for 2025 are comparable.

Grass is an inherently difficult surface to maintain and manage. Wimbledon’s groundsmen spend most of the year cultivating and seeding the perfect blades. They even employ the English-based company STRI, which was founded in 1929 to help St Andrews Golf Club in Scotland improve the greens, to ensure the grass is as playable as it is pristine.

Maintaining grass courts, which quickly become dangerous when London rains frequently – Frances Tiafoe, Dan Evans and reigning Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova all suffered nasty falls during a tournament in June, jeopardizing their Wimbledon chances – is a challenge, but it also requires a different skill set from the players.

When Martina Navratilova won nine Wimbledon titles from 1978 to 1990 and Pete Sampras won seven titles from 1993 to 2000, the grass was smoother and those with a powerful slice backhand and the ability to serve and volley were rewarded. Then in 2001the tennis club changed the surface from a rye mixture to all ryegrass, which keeps the ground underneath dry and firm, making the court more like a hard court. But since it’s still a soft surface, it can be gentler on players’ bodies than the constant hits they take on the asphalt.

“It would be nice to have more tournaments on grass,” Navratilova said. “Just to extend the lifespan of the bodies so they can stay on those natural surfaces longer.”

Current players agree.

“There is something pure about the grass at Wimbledon,” he said Christopher Eubanks, who won his only ATP title on grass in Majorca last year and then reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon. “Players who like to hit the ball cleanly, who like to serve effectively, are rewarded on grass. If you like to rip the ball or want some variation in the slice, those are good too.”

The problem for players is the constant change of surface throughout the year and so few tournaments being played on grass. Two major championships, the French Open on clay and Wimbledon on grass, are also played just three weeks apart. It’s all part of the game, Eubanks said.

“We all know there are seasons when we start a career in professional tennis,” he said. “You start on hard court, move to clay, then grass and the rest of the year is hard court. We understand that we can only play on grass for four, maybe five weeks, so it’s important to make the most of them. The different surfaces are one of the things that make tennis so cool.”

This year, the tour schedule adds another wrinkle: The Paris Olympics will be held on red clay at Roland Garros, a few weeks after Wimbledon ends. That means giving up the sometimes staccato movements needed on grass and adapting to sliding on clay.

For some, the schizophrenic scheduling comes at a cost. While natural clay-court players like Alcaraz, Swiatek and 14-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal relish the chance to go for clay-court gold, others such as Tiafoe, Aryna Sabalenka, Ons Jabeur, Ben Shelton, Sebastian Korda, Madison Keys and Emma Raducanu have said the risk of injury simply isn’t worth it and are passing on the Olympics.

Fifty years ago, three of the four major tournaments – the Australian Open at Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club in Melbourne, Wimbledon and the US Open at the West Side Tennis Club in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens, N.Y. – were all played on grass. Then the US Open moved first to green clay in 1975 and then to hard courts when the tournament moved to the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows in 1978. The Australian Open moved to hard courts in 1988.

For many, the appeal of Wimbledon is that it is still played on grass.

“No tournament makes you feel more like a champion than Wimbledon,” Navratilova said. “Most kids dream more about winning that than any other tournament. You feel the history when you walk in there. And the grass courts are part of that history.”

When asked if Wimbledon would ever change its surface to hard courts, Jevans, a former tour player who still finds time to play on grass courts, replied without pausing for breath.

“No,” she said, staring out her office window overlooking the grounds of the All England Club. “That’s my answer. Wimbledon remains Wimbledon.”

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