Wimbledon's 'wee bit slippery' courts prove a test for tennis Olympians

 

The venue was the same, but Wimbledon this was not. Even before the Olympic tournament got under way, a “flash mob” of 50 young dancers performed a 15-minute routine on Henman Hill before giving way to the Pet Shop Boys, who sang three songs.

Any watching All England Club members must have spluttered into their Pimm’s, or “No 1 Fruit Cup” as the Olympic branding authorities have insisted the drink should be called at the vending stalls.

When play began, the differences with the Wimbledon fortnight were equally apparent from the moment Tomas Berdych, wearing bright red and blue, played the opening match on the traditionally sober Centre Court, decked out on this occasion with its backdrops of London 2012 mauve. The perils of best-of-three-sets tennis were also clear as the world No 7, a potential quarter-final opponent for Andy Murray, was beaten 6-4, 6-4 by Belgium’s Steve Darcis, the world No 75.

Worryingly for tournament organisers, the state of the courts, which have been reseeded since Wimbledon ended three weeks ago, also gave concern.  Players often find them slippery at the start of the tournament here, but Ryan Harrison, who smashed his racket in frustration after losing to Santiago Giraldo, fell several times on Court 14, which he said was “a lot slippier” and “not in the condition it was at Wimbledon”.

Roger Federer, returning to Centre Court just 20 days after beating Murray in the Wimbledon final, said after beating Alejandro Falla 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 that the court was no different to how it played at the start of every Wimbledon, while Serena Williams, who was watched by Michelle Obama as she beat Jelena Jankovic 6-3, 6-1, said diplomatically that the grass was “a wee bit slippery”.

The new grass is not as deeply rooted as it normally is and the fact that the courts have already started to break up along the baselines could cause increasing problems before the end of the week.

“I think the grass is breaking a little faster than during Wimbledon,” Kim Clijsters said after her 6-1, 6-4 victory over Italy’s Roberta Vinci. “There are some chunks, bigger chunks, flying off very early on in the match, which is not the case during Wimbledon, but then again that's behind the baseline so it doesn't really ruin the court.”

Murray plays his first-round match against Stanislas Wawrinka this afternoon, but the Scot and his brother, Jamie, went out of the doubles, beaten 5-7, 7-6, 7-5 by the Austrians Jurgen Melzer and Alexander Peya. There was also disappointment for the other British pair in the men’s doubles, Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins losing 7-5, 6-3 to the Frenchmen Julien Benneteau and Richard Gasquet.

Elena Baltacha was the only British winner on the first day, beating Hungary’s Agnes Szavay 6-3, 6-3 to earn a second-round meeting with Ana Ivanovic. Baltacha revealed afterwards that she is set to have ankle surgery immediately after the tournament, which will keep her off the court for six months. Having suggested in the past that she might retire following the Olympics, the 28-year-old did not rule out such an outcome, saying it would depend how she felt following her rehabilitation.

Anne Keothavong was unable to build on a promising start and was beaten 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 by Caroline Wozniacki. Heather Watson and Laura Robson had a similar experience in the doubles and lost 1-6, 6-4, 6-3 to Germany’s Angelique Kerber and Sabine Lisicki.

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