Germany’s Mischa Zverev took a tumble in his loss to Roger Federer. (AP: Kirsty Wigglesworth)
With a week still to go, Wimbledon’s grass courts are already not the lush lawns players and TV viewers are accustomed to seeing early in the tournament.
Novak Djokovic noticed the ball bouncing differently in some patches.
Roger Federer and his opponent slipped during their third-round match.
The two past champions are wondering what sort of work can be done on the middle on Sunday — when there is no competition — so the court conditions improve when action resumes with all 16 fourth-round singles matches scheduled for Monday.
“The first two matches, I didn’t see any significant difference but I was hearing a lot of comments from the other players,” Djokovic said after beating Ernests Gulbis in straight sets on Centre Court on Saturday.
“They were complaining, especially on the outside courts.
“Today, I could see there is a difference in grass, in [the] turf itself. It was a bit softer, I would say, especially around a couple of feet inside and outside, around the baseline area.
“I haven’t had that kind of experience before in Wimbledon, to be honest. I mean, the courts are always perfect here.”
Federer followed Djokovic on Centre Court and described it as “a tad slippery” after losing his footing during one point in a victory over Mischa Zverev, who also took a tumble.
Kristina Mladenovic slipped on the outside court against Alison Riske, who also came up short on the turf. (AP: Alastair Grant)
“But I didn’t feel like it was unsafe,” said Federer, who has won seven of his record 18 major titles at Wimbledon.
“Maybe you don’t want players to feel that way, because the moment you become scared of moving properly, it’s really difficult to play, I must admit. The last thing we want to see is horrible injuries.”
The most high-profile slip so far saw American Bethanie Mattek-Sands stretchered off court, screaming in pain after suffering a horrific knee injury during her singles match against Sorana Cirstea.
Lying on the ground, after a moment’s silence, she suddenly screamed out in pain, then repeatedly shouted “help me”, clutching her right leg.
Some players voiced concerns about the court conditions over the opening week, including Kristina Mladenovic of France and Alison Riske of the United States, who each fell early during their second-round match on Court 18 on Thursday.
Riske, who won the match, said afterward the dirt “is like ice.”
Measurements taken throughout Wimbledon’s first week showed the grass courts were as healthy as they had been in recent years, according to Neil Stubley, the head of courts and horticulture at the All England Club.
“We looked at the baselines and the areas that they thought there was an issue,” Mr Stubley said.
“We didn’t feel there was. The Grand Slam supervisor and assistant referee didn’t believe that there was either. When you look at the comparisons of other courts … they were in or around the same condition as the other courts.”
Germany’s Andrea Petkovic looks on after slipping during her match against Dominika Cibulkova. (AP: Alastair Grant)
Very little rain fell over the first six days of the tournament, which Mr Stubley said led to more wear on the courts.
Still, although he acknowledged the courts were under stress, he said there was “not a doubt” they would hold up throughout Wimbledon’s second week.
“Because we have daily monitoring, we can keep a very tight rein on everything,” he said. “It never gets to the point where it’s ever going to get away from us because we’re on top of it every single day.”
Still, Djokovic was sure something was not quite the same as in the past.
“I’m sure they know what they’re doing. They know their job the best in the world. But you can see that there is a slight difference in the quality of the grass,” he said.
“This year seems like it’s a bit softer.”
Federer said: “They have time to figure out how they’re going to prep [the courts] for Monday.”