Bock’s Score: Get Down to Grass Tacks

Rob Prange/DPPI/Icon Sportswire

Homeowners are fussy about the condition of their lawns and the same can be said of the All-England Club, the shrine to lawn tennis and home of the iconic Wimbledon Championships.

It is a challenge for players to adjust from the usual hardcourts to grass and try to conquer the different surface. It has been harder this year than usual. Just ask Serena Williams.

Williams, perhaps the greatest female athlete of her generation, was slipping and sliding on the slick grass surface in her first match of the tournament. She finally tumbled, injuring a hamstring that forced her to withdraw and put an end once more to her quest for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles championship. At age 39, there may not be many more opportunities for her to reach that mark.

She left in tears because Wimbledon’s Centre Court has been extraordinarily kind to her over the years. Her resume includes seven singles titles, six women’s doubles and one mixed doubles on Centre Court. Not this time. Not in her return after the pandemic canceled last year’s event.

It did not begin badly for Williams. With her right thigh tightly taped, she won three of the first four games against Aliaksandra Sasnovich. It was vintage Serena with her signature powerful serves.

And then the grass sabotaged her.

While serving, she slipped on a change of direction. It cost her the point and soon the game. After leaving the court for treatment, Williams returned with a noticeable limp. She tried to play on but she was clearly hampered, missing points that once were easy for her. Finally, the slip-sliding caught up with her and she tumbled to the grass on her knees. And after 34 minutes, it was over.

Williams left the court with cheers ringing in her ears, a tribute from the fans to who she has been to the sport. She had withdrawn from the Olympics before Wimbledon began. There is no telling how many tennis tomorrows she has left.

The Williams mishap occurred immediately after Adrian Mannarino slipped and injured his knee, forcing him to withdraw from his match against Roger Federer.

Back-to-back matches, back-to-back injuries. Could the grass be at fault?

The custodians of the All-England Club were outraged that the condition of Centre Court had been called into question. In a statement, officials said, “The preparation of the grass courts has been to exactly the same meticulous standard as in previous years.’’

Sadly, Serena Williams’ hamstring was not.

About the Author

Hal Bock

Hal Bock covered sports for 40 years at The Associated Press including 30 World Series, 30 Super Bowls and 11 Olympics. He is the author of 14 books including most recently The Last Chicago Cubs Dynasty and Banned Baseball's Blacklist of All-Stars and Also-Rans. He has written scores of magazine articles and served as Journalist In Residence at Long Island University's Brooklyn campus where he also served on the selection committee for the George Polk Awards.

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