Andy Murray joined a mounting chorus of players raising concerns over Wimbledon’s “extremely” slippery surface on Tuesday night after Serena Williams became the latest tournament injury casualty following a fall.
Williams, the 23-time grand slam champion, is among a host of players to suffer difficulties with the grass this week as she made a tearful exit following what appeared to be an ankle injury.
Her ill-fated match against Aliaksandra Sasnovich took place immediately after Roger Federer’s opponent Adrian Mannarino was also forced to retire after slipping and hurting his knee.
Despite the roof being used above the two showpiece Wimbledon courts, this week’s wet weather appears to have played havoc with the playing surface. On Monday, Novak Djokovic, known for having the best footwork in the game, and his opponent Jack Draper slipped ten times between them.
Djokovic had been first to raise concerns on Monday, saying “I don’t remember falling this many times on the court”.
During an on-court interview, he added that his opening match had been “quite slippery”. “I don’t know whether that’s because the roof is closed or because it rained quite a bit in the last few days,” he added. “Maybe I’ll work on my movement and slide a bit less because it doesn’t seem to be working on this surface.”
After Williams bowed out on Tuesday night following a seemingly innocuous slip behind the baseline, Murray, who features in the second round on Wednesday, tweeted that it had been “brutal” for Williams. “Centre court is extremely slippy (sic) out there,” he wrote. “Not easy to move out there.”
Mannarino, who was forced to retire with a knee injury following a bad slip with the match finely poised at two sets apiece against Federer, was also critical of the surface.
“I just slid down and it was really slippery,” he said. “I heard a big crack and I knew straight away that I wouldn’t be able to do anything any more. I’m not used to playing on Wimbledon Centre Court. It’s tough for me to compare, especially playing last week in Spain where the weather was really dry and the courts were not slippery at all. I didn’t have much time to practice before the match and the court definitely looked slippery to me.”
The All England Club previously came under fire for the state of its grass courts in 2013 after seven players pulled out through injury on just a single day’s play. Maria Sharapova slipped three times and had been heard to mutter “this court is dangerous”
Williams’ first round exit was a desperate blow for her hopes of eventually matching Margaret Court’s record 24 grand-slam singles titles. She was forced to retire injured just six games into her first-round match with Sasnovich.
Crying as she attempted to serve through what appeared to be an ankle injury, Williams tumbled to the ground and, with a shriek, had no option but to throw in the towel. A sad end to a quest that was eagerly anticipated to be one of the storylines of the tournament.
Williams had entered the match with hefty strapping on her right thigh, but the freak injury was unconnected. Just after gaining the upper hand to move 3-1 up with an early break of Sasnovich’s serve, Williams slipped while hitting an innocuous forehand midway through her own follow-up service game, prompting an immediate grimace.
Speaking on court immediately after her sudden triumph, Sasnovich, the world No 100 from Belarus, said: “I’m so sad for Serena. She’s a great champion. It happens sometimes in tennis but all the best for her recovery.”
Coco Gauff, who had been playing an outdoor Court Two, also slipped over countless times but escaped injury during her victory against Briton Francesca Jones. She said it had been difficult to later see her idol Williams get injured on Centre Court. “With Serena… it was hard for me to watch that,” she added. “I’m a big fan of hers, even though I’m a competitor now. But she’s the reason why I started to play tennis. It’s hard to watch any player get injured, but especially her.”
She added that her coaches were telling her during her own match that “the ground was super wet in the back so it was causing my shoes to get wet; therefore, I was slipping a little bit”.
However, she said: “No one is really used to moving on grass because the season is so short. People are bound to have slips and falls. Gauff was then watching Williams’ match on the TVs in the gym after her match. “I turned away,” she added. “Stuff like that makes me, like, really emotional….Nobody ever wants to retire, but especially at a Grand Slam, a place as special as Wimbledon after waiting two years to come back.”