Serena Williams goes down injured after slipping at Wimbledon

Credit: PA

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, was 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.

“This is obviously terrible that it’s back-to-back matches and it hits Serena as well,” said Federer on Tuesday night. “Oh, my God, I can’t believe it.”

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 being the smoothest mover in the game, and his opponent Jack Draper slipped more than ten times between them.

After Williams bowed out following a seemingly innocuous slip behind the baseline, Murray, who features in the second round today(WEDs), tweeted that it had been "brutal" for her. "Centre court is extremely slippy [sic] out there," he wrote. "Not easy to move out there."

Mannarino – who was unable to recover from a sprained knee after losing his footing midway through the fourth set 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 was 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.

Weather conditions make an impact on the way the grass feels underfoot, and Federer pointed out last night that a closed Centre-Court roof can also create a sense of humidity and moisture.

“It feels a tad more slippery maybe under the roof,” said Federer after moving through to the second round for the 18th consecutive time at this event. “I don’t know if it’s just a gut feeling. I do feel it’s drier during the day. With the wind and all that stuff, it takes the moisture out of the grass.”

The All England Club had not responded to the multiple comments from senior players last night, but this feels like a more concerted series of criticisms than we heard in 2013. In both cases, the epidemic of on-court accidents came after a cold spring and a bout of showery, humid weather.

Coco Gauff, the 17-year-old sensation who beat Britain’s Fran Jones on Court 2, was another player to address the issue last night. “I think everybody saw me slipping and sliding out there on the court,” she said. “I didn’t realise this till after the match, but my coaches were telling me when I was going to get my towel, the ground was super wet in the back so it was causing my shoes to get wet; therefore, I was slipping a little bit.”

Showing typical maturity and insight, Gauff also pointed out that the players are unused to moving on grass because the season is so short – an issue that has been exacerbated this year by the French Tennis Federation’s decision to move the recent French Open back a week because of the pandemic.

Many players become used to sliding during the clay-court season, which comes shortly before Wimbledon. But sliding on grass is a dangerous business, and even Djokovic – the master of balance who is also an expert skier – admitted after Monday’s first-round match that he might have to change his approach.

"I don’t remember falling this many times on the court,” said Djokovic in his on-court interview. “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. Maybe I’ll work on my movement and slide a bit less because it doesn’t seem to be working on this surface.”

Federer and Murray are the best exponents of a grass-court movement style that involves smaller steps and thus keeps their body weight under closer control. “If you push too hard in the wrong moments,” said Federer, “you do go down.”

Gauff also admitted that she had been forced to turn away from the television on Tuesday night when Williams fell to the ground in tears, and then waved a poignant farewell to the crowd.

“I was in the gym actually stretching,” said Gauff. “I turned away because stuff like that makes me really emotional. She’s the reason why I started to play tennis. It’s hard to watch any player get injured, but especially her.”