Casper Ruud, the three-time Grand Slam tournament finalist, has taken an unconventional approach to preparing for Wimbledon, which is widely considered the most prestigious tournament in tennis.
It included attending more concerts featuring his favorite singer, the Weeknd, than playing actual tennis matches on grass.
Unsurprisingly, Liam Broady, a 29-year-old journeyman from Great Britain who is ranked 142 in the world, beat Ruud in the second round on Thursday. Ruud, ranked number 4 in the world, was fine with that. “He’s a much better grass player than myself,” Ruud said of Broady.
There was a time when many of the best tennis players made succeeding at Wimbledon the focus of their seasons, and some considered their careers incomplete unless they won in the cradle of the sport. Everyone from Rod Laver to Martina Navratilova said they came to Wimbledon to connect with the roots of the sport.
These days, with the rise in prominence of the other three Grand Slam tournaments and the grass court season developing into a curious, roughly one-month detour from the rest of the tennis calendar, many top players can’t find the time or the headspace. make being good on grass a priority. If it costs them tennis immortality, so be it.
No matter how blasphemous, for many players, even great ones, Wimbledon has become just another Grand Slam tournament.
“I don’t know if winning Wimbledon is, in my opinion, bigger than winning the US Open or winning the Australian Open,” former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka said. “They’re all very important tournaments.”
In part, Wimbledon has itself to blame. In the early 2000s, with ever-improving racket and string technology helping players hit the ball with newfound power, Wimbledon began seeding its courts entirely with perennial ryegrass instead of the mixture of ryegrass and red fescue it had been using. The switch made the courts more durable and delivered cleaner, higher bounces, allowing the surfaces to play much more like a hard court than a ruddy rink.
Around the same time, the French Open made its courts harder and faster, which essentially led to the extinction of the clay court specialist who had won in Paris but nowhere else. Within a few years, play at the four Grand Slam tournaments became more similar than different. The same players starting to win almost all of them, and the accumulation of Grand Slam tournament titles during a career became the dominant tennis story, rather than who could win that august title in front of members of the British royal family in their court. a box
However, it remains true that lawn tennis is different from all other tennis, and the All England Club still has many fans.
They include almost all the British players, many of whom grew up chasing tennis balls on grass at their local clubs, and Novak Djokovic, now considered the greatest player of the Open Era, which began in 1968. He marks the beginning of his tennis. life with watching Wimbledon on TV as a small boy. Frances Tiafoe and Sebastian Korda, both top Americans, said they wished the grass court season was longer because it suited their styles and had a purity to it.
Bob Bryan, the US Davis Cup captain and the winner of four Wimbledon doubles titles, said nothing gave him goosebumps like walking through the wrought iron gates of the All England Club.
“It’s the Holy Grail of the sport,” Bryan said. “There’s nothing like it.”
Yes, but that cursed grass – that classic surface on which three of the four Grand Slam tournaments used to be contested – has all but disappeared from the sport.
Russia’s Daniil Medvedev said he always appreciated so much about Wimbledon — the flowers, absolutely perfect color and in just the right place; the meal; the luxurious changing rooms. But then you have to play on grass, which can make even the best of the best feel like they’re terrible at tennis.
“You lose, you go crazy,” Medvedev said. “You’re like, ‘No, I played so bad.'”
Stefanos Tsitsipas spent part of the interregnum between the French Open and Wimbledon posting on social media of luxury spots with his new “friend,” Spain’s Paula Badosa, a star of the women’s tour, rather than exercising on grass.
He said winning on clay, especially at the French Open, left him feeling gritty and dirty and spent in the best way. On grass, he said, it can feel clean and a little empty, although he looked a far cry from that Friday after he beat Andy Murray, one of the game’s grass greats, on Center Court.
For the men, it’s another matter. Djokovic has been so good here for so long, winning the last four Wimbledon men’s singles titles, seven in total and 31 consecutive matches – that the rest of the field sometimes figures out, what’s the point?
“He looks like he’s getting better,” said Lorenzo Musetti, the rising Italian who has only recently started winning on grass – somewhat to his surprise. He said he struggled there because everywhere else he could stand and whale away on the ball. At Wimbledon, even with the new grass, the ball remains low enough to make players essentially squat for three hours and use their feet and their calf and thigh muscles to propel their movements, like cross-country skiers coming down a slope. That may be one reason Djokovic excels – he was an outstanding skier before he went all out in tennis – and many tall players don’t use the demands of grass.
Women struggle too. Iga Swiatek – the world No. 1, who has never made it past the fourth round at Wimbledon – said her deep runs at the French Open, which she won the past two years, prevented her from having enough time to rest and play enough. matches to acclimatize to the unpredictable bounces on grass. She said she considered training on grass in the off-season in November and December but decided it would leave her unprepared for the Australian Open in January.
“Throughout the year, I don’t really think about it,” she said of herbal preparation.
Alexander Davidovich Fokina, a Spaniard who is promising and dangerous on clay and hard courts, said he struggled with his confidence as soon as he stepped on grass.
“Just very, very hard,” he said.
Then there is Andrey Rublev, another Russian, who described grass as a crazy, disturbing form of tennis, with short rallies and results that could seem illogical.
“You feel so confident, and then you go on court and the guy, he makes four aces, two returns, unreal – out of nowhere, he breaks you, and the set is over,” Rublev said. “And maybe sometimes you feel really tight, like, I can’t move, I can’t put one ball in the court. And then the guy makes two double faults, and the ball hits the frame of your racket and goes in, you break him, and then you win a set.”
Medvedev doesn’t even think that playing the preliminary grass tournaments makes much difference, because grass is different in Germany, the Netherlands and the various places in England. He said the field courts at the All England Club played extremely fast and the stadium courts were slow.
Will he ever feel at home on the grass? After his second-round win on Friday, he said he might come close.
“Perhaps at the door,” he said. “Not inside, but at the door.”
As for Ruud, he said after his loss that he would keep trying but that winning Wimbledon might not be in the cards. Every time he cuts loose on his killer forehand, he feels like he’s going to fall and get hurt because of how he lands and then has to push away to chase the next shot.
He did enter the men’s doubles tournament, which allows him to stick around for a bit before he returns to some clay court tennis in Europe later this month.
He may have motivation outside of tennis. The Weeknd was scheduled to play in London this weekend.