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Have the hard courts of the US Open and Australian Open slowed down over the past twenty years?

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Have the hard courts of the US Open and Australian Open slowed down over the past twenty years? Empty Have the hard courts of the US Open and Australian Open slowed down over the past twenty years?

Post by Guest Sat Oct 29, 2011 10:09 am

In the Greatest Career Achievement thread I posted the following comment:

Nore Staat wrote:Ps - of course the other factor that has been raised is the slowing down of the fast courts (whether due to the surface or the size of the balls) and the advances in racquet technology (larger heads, more light weight, better string grip etc). In the past top level players were sometimes "bombed out" in an early round due to brilliant serving from a player having his one day wonder where all his serves go in etc. Nowadays this doesn't seem to happen.

But have since thought that I may have been overgeneralising. So my question for this thread is:
Have the "hard courts" of the US and Australian Opens become in any way "slower" over the past years?


The slowing down of the Wimbledon grass surface has been much discussed and I think that is a certainty. However has there really been any slowing down at the US Open / Australian Open - either due to changes in the surface or due to larger balls being employed (but I think the size of the balls has remained the same?) I recall a while ago a few comments arguing that the "speed" of the hard courts has not changed but I can't remember what the overall conclusion was. I seem to recall this year Roger Federer and a few others "complaining/commenting" that the speed of the US Open court has slowed down. Some have suggested it is due to the paint applied to the surface - which perhaps gives more grip to the surface than in the past*.

What does seem certain is that there has been a decline in "serve and volleying" and a dominance of the baseline game, with longer rallies on the hard court. Nowadays it seems the passing shot is dominant, effectively reducing opportunities for coming into the net. Now the question is - is this partly due to any slowing of the conditions on these hard courts (either from the surface or from the balls themselves)?

Perhaps this is more to do with the development in racquet technology plus the increase in fitness and mobility levels in todays players at the very top level.


* If the surface has more grip this would reduce skidding of the ball on the surface but would make it more difficult to explain Novak Djokovic technique of sliding on the hard courts which seems to aid his mobility.


Last edited by Nore Staat on Sun Oct 30, 2011 9:35 am; edited 1 time in total

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Post by Tenez Sat Oct 29, 2011 10:36 am

Size of the balls from USO 09 to USO 11 has increased. That's a fact I checked. I don't know about the USO 10 as I don't have any sample. And I think all players agreed that there was even more sand in the paint this year than in previous years.

Any subtle change has a big impact on the pace, especially now that teh strings allow for much more spin.

Take an example. Slightly added sand (grip) on teh surface, make the bounce more vertical, instead of shooting through. That means the ball is more difficult to time and invites to hit with more spin. Both factors (vertical bounce and spin) contribute to slowing of the pace and make the next shot even more spinny, therefore more vertically bouncy, everytime slowing the game down further which is of course compensated by players able to swing more freely with more topspin. That extra spin really slows the (bigger) ball down towards the baseline allowing those fast players to be on teh ball and ..guess what...hit with big topspin. That's why we end up with absurd long rallies and lungs become the main battle ground.

Remember not so long ago Nadal did not have time to inject his spin in the USO versus guys like Blake or Youshny. The change of pace has shifted the balance. It makes me laugh when people say that Nadal adapted to surfaces...The fact, as proven by this year's final, is that it's the surface that adapted to Nadal's game.

Whatch the 2000 final between Pete and Pat at Wimbledon and you see how balls fly by the player with the player not even attempting to put their racquet on it.


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Post by Calder106 Sat Oct 29, 2011 11:21 am

Having seen comments regarding the slowing down of courts on various threads I was actually thinking of raising a thread similar to this so I'm glad it has come along.

I was reading this article yesterday which I found quite interesting.

http://www.economist.com/blogs/gametheory/2011/10/evolution-tennis?fsrc=scn%2Ftw%2Fte%2Fbl%2Ftradingaces

I am admittedly not an expert on these things but having looked through a number of other articles/comments there definitely appears to be agreement that the courts have slowed down.

So I have a couple of questions. First why. According to the article above it was to negate the big servers of the 90's as people (including a number of ex top players) thought that the constant short rallies were bad for the game. So do people prefer the tennis of the 90's and early 00's with short rallies to the longer rallies which we are now seeing. Personally I prefer the latter but know it's a matter of opinion so can see the other point of view myself.

The other question is that assuming the courts have slowed down and this has been to Nadal's advantage why have we not seen more clay courters at the top of the game.


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Post by bogbrush Sat Oct 29, 2011 11:36 am

What's a clay courter now? Almost all the players at the top play a game you'd have associated with clay in years gone by.

You can't see the clay courters for the... clay courters.
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Post by Guest Sat Oct 29, 2011 12:34 pm

bogbrush wrote:What's a clay courter now? Almost all the players at the top play a game you'd have associated with clay in years gone by.

You can't see the clay courters for the... clay courters.

This.

The clay game prototype is ubiquitious across all surfaces, with just a few minor adjustments.

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Post by Calder106 Sat Oct 29, 2011 12:36 pm

What I was trying to ask was that Spaniards and South Americans were the dominant clay court players in the late 90's early 00's. So if the courts have been slowed down and Nadal has been advantaged why are we not seeing more Spanirds and South Americans at the top of the game now.

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Post by bogbrush Sat Oct 29, 2011 1:21 pm

How many Spaniards would you like to see to convince you? They're all over the Davis Cup these days.

And a S American recently won the US Open.
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Post by laverfan Sat Oct 29, 2011 1:54 pm

Calder106 wrote:What I was trying to ask was that Spaniards and South Americans were the dominant clay court players in the late 90's early 00's. So if the courts have been slowed down and Nadal has been advantaged why are we not seeing more Spanirds and South Americans at the top of the game now.

There are. Take a look at this list....

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tennis_in_Spain#List_of_Spanish_tennis_players_.28Open_Era_only.29

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Post by legendkillar Sat Oct 29, 2011 2:10 pm

Very thought-provoking topic NS. Though what I find amusing though yes the Slams have slowed down, the events leading into them haven't as drastically. Take Queens which plays extremely fast and yet when Wimbledon rolls in, it plays much slower. Take Rome that played slow, then Roland Garros played the fasted I have ever seen it. To me it is a testament to the players to be able to adjust to such deviations in court speeds. I think Washington plays quite fast as well, so with Flushing Meadows with a slower court will make it more interesting for players making the adjustments.

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Post by laverfan Sat Oct 29, 2011 2:36 pm

Regarding court speeds...

Aug 2011...

"The issue for me is maybe did they make a mistake? Maybe they did paint the court a bit too rough.
It's just unfortunate, I think, that maybe all the slams are too equal. I think this should feel very different to the Australian Open, and now I don't feel it really does."


http://www.theage.com.au/sport/tennis/federer-unhappy-with-us-open-court-speed-20110830-1jjqz.html

It is perhaps possible that as the tournament nears the end, it does get faster, and the players can tell the difference between the beginning and the end of the tournament.

Sep 2009...

"It seemed like they were less gritty," said Gilbert, who works for ESPN. "It felt like there was less sand mixed into the paint.

"On the faster surface, it's a fact. The big hitters, the ball goes through the court more quickly."


... which contradicts the following official piece of information,

The answer, according to Chris Widmaier, managing director of communications for the USTA, is no.

"When Jim Curley became the tournament director in 2001, we tweaked the speed, making them slightly slower. After 2002, we did it again.

"Since 2003, we've been using the exact same formula. They have been designed to be played at the same speed for the last six years."


Regarding Sand mixing....

"The amount of silica mixed with the paint determines the coefficient of friction, or the resistance the ball encounters when it meets the surface. DecoTurf uses 60-mesh silica mined from a quarry and sometimes, even 80-mesh, which is finer."

...but...

Since the center court at Arthur Ashe Stadium handles five matches a day -- and the courts are washed when action ends -- the sand tends to wear down as the two weeks progress.

"At the business end of the tournament," Gilbert said, "when they've been played on for so many matches, they quicken up even more."


http://sports.espn.go.com/sports/tennis/notebook?page=notebook/tennis09032009


This article from Sep 2011, seems to address and understand the issues very well....

Miller’s team of five scientists and engineers tests whether rackets, strings, balls and court surfaces conform to the rules of the game. The commission recently tested acrylic courts used for Davis and Fed Cup matches to ensure that the speed rating fell inside an acceptable range of between 24 and 50, in which zero represents the slowest possible court and 100 the fastest possible. On the scale, which takes into account both friction and bounce, Miller said, an average clay court is about 20 and a very fast court is about 50.

“It shows you the extent to which the pace of an acrylic court can be manipulated,” he said. “Varying the friction and bounce can affect play.”


http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/08/sports/tennis/us-open-speed-bumps-on-a-hardcourt.html?pagewanted=all


Tenez wrote:The fact, as proven by this year's final, is that it's the surface that adapted to Nadal's game.

“At the moment, there’s a balance between strikers and receivers,” Miller said. “So we’re not seeing serves dominating the game such that all rallies are serves and then move on to the next point.”

It is both, the players adapting a little, and the courts adapting a little. See the NY Times article.

The one thing that is obvious is that there is definite manipulation of surfaces. Rolling Eyes


Last edited by laverfan on Sat Oct 29, 2011 2:42 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Post by time please Sat Oct 29, 2011 2:40 pm

The tournament officials were claiming at the beginning of the tournament that it should speed up towards the end - did the rain help or hinder that process?

I thought one of the issues this year was that they resurfaced the courts so close to the tournament?

In any event, it seems a very strange thing for an American tournament to wish to slow down their premier hardcourt tournament to the detriment of their own players.

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Post by laverfan Sat Oct 29, 2011 2:51 pm

time please wrote:The tournament officials were claiming at the beginning of the tournament that it should speed up towards the end - did the rain help or hinder that process?

Gilbert does confirm that (from the ESPN article). Also, ...

Might the water that has drenched the courts the last two days, with more rain forecast, speed up the surface and satisfy some of the complaints?
For the water itself to wash away enough sand to appreciably affect court speed, said Daniel Zausner, the managing director of facility operations for the U.S.T.A., it would have to rain for two straight weeks.



time please wrote:I thought one of the issues this year was that they resurfaced the courts so close to the tournament?

For its part, the U.S.T.A. says its DecoTurf surface hasn’t changed since the decision was made in 2003 to slow the courts a little. It’s the same mixture, resurfaced at the same time as last year, said Tim Curry, the director of corporate communications for the U.S.T.A. “We like the court speed the way it is now,” he said.


From the NY Times article.

time please wrote:In any event, it seems a very strange thing for an American tournament to wish to slow down their premier hardcourt tournament to the detriment of their own players.

ITF does have some requirements, that USTA must adhere to. But you are correct, there is some 'wiggle' room.

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Post by Guest Sat Oct 29, 2011 10:16 pm

Interesting comments OK

So the US Open courts were slowed down during the period 2001 - 2003 and have remained the same since according to the tournament director. So Federer made the comment that he thought they made a mistake in 2011 in applying the surface coating - suggesting they laid it on too thick implying that that somehow slowed the courts down more than usual. Perhaps in future they could measure the court speeds before and after the tournaments (using their 1-100 rating system) and publish them. Shame there is no internationally binding freedom of information ruling. Interestingly the speed of the courts at the US Open generally speed up as the tournament progresses (whereas the opposite is the case at Wimbledon).

Any further information regarding the nature of the balls used and their changes? Type 2 is the standard tennis ball size but in 2002 they introduced two new balls Type 1 and Type 3. Type 1 is "faster" than the Type 2 balls while Type 3 balls are "slower". The "speed" is associated with the nature of the bounce (associated with ball deformation) but the Type 3 balls also have a greater diameter than both the Type 1 and Type 2 balls (which have the same diameter). Consequently the Type 3 ball is also called the "oversize" ball.

So does the US Open use the Type 2 balls or have they switched to the Type 3 balls (which I think would make a big and noticeable difference - they were originally intended for learners).

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Post by lydian Sat Oct 29, 2011 11:01 pm

I never quite trust the official statements from the majors, for example they said it wasnt their intention to slow Wimby down, only to make it harder wearing - yeah right! USO has noticeably slowed down in recent years - when you have Ferrer getting to the semis you know something is going on! But what do they think they're going to achieve? HC is already tough on the body, the last you want is massively long ralleys on a slowed down decoturf for player longevity. And the cruelty, and irony, for Federer is that the slower conditions have been harming his overall slam haul potential - like they did to Sampras. For example, had the Fed-Djok SF been played on USO courts 5 years ago (never mind 10yrs) would Nole have beaten him? I dont believe so considering how close it still has been at USO 10 and 11.

The problem is that courts and balls are being constantly changed - even within a players career. Its getting ridiculous and is a threat to the fabric of the game.

BTW, LF - I know you like stats (I'm not impartial to them myself), you might enjoy this article:
http://bleacherreport.com/articles/916232-what-we-learned-from-grand-slams-in-2011#/articles/911819-the-best-returners-of-the-last-twenty-years

Agassi has to be the man!
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Post by laverfan Sun Oct 30, 2011 2:35 am

Nore Staat wrote:So does the US Open use the Type 2 balls

It is the Type 2 Wilson XDuty at USO.

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Post by Guest Sun Oct 30, 2011 9:22 am

Thanks LF - so the US Open has always had Type 2 balls, which makes sense as switching from Type 2 to Type 3 (the oversize ball) would have made an enormous difference and there surely would have been an "uproar" or at least a huge discussion amongst the players and all those concerned. The information that Tenez has about the "Size of the balls from USO 09 to USO 11 has increased", is perhaps associated with changes within the Type 2 tolerance limits. So if there was a measurable change within the tolerance was it really that significant?

I have now the impression after reading the comments and the links that the official line from the US Open tournament director is that although there were some change in 2001-2003 to slow the courts down there has been no purposeful changes since. Of course we still don't know by how much they slowed the courts down in 2001-2003 (presumably it was by a measurable amount). However the official line was that there were other changes in the game elsewhere - racquet technology plus changes in the tennis players themselves (size and training etc), that served to negate that effect - so people didn't notice the changes at the time.

Yet there is the sense from players (Roger Federer plus ... ?) that this year it has played slower than usual. Could this be due to the temperature and the playing conditions? Presumably the courts play slower when the air is humid and colder (and consequently at night compared to the day)? Surely if the courts have really slowed down so much there would have been a lot of noise from Andy Roddick who won the US Open in 2003. Surely he would have commented if the courts had slowed down in 2004 etc.

Now when I look at tennis matches today (involving the top players) and those say of the top players in the Lendl era (using youtube) I get the impression that todays game is both slower and faster. Slower in between points (the players take longer rests between points - toweling down, ball bounces etc) but faster during the points. It seems to me todays top players run around like crazy power hitting the ball in longish rallies during the points, whereas in Lendl's era they look positively pedestrian by comparison. Maybe I haven't watched enough tennis - but that's my impression.

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Post by Guest Sun Oct 30, 2011 9:43 am

PS: In the same game, i.e. the same conditions including court speeds etc, playing further away from the tennis net gives the players "more time" to work out where the ball is going and hence to track the ball - so longer rallies (but exactly the same conditions).

The fact that the modern game favours the baseliners means that this in itself will lead to longer rallies without anything else having to change.

Now it seems to me the biggest reason for the move to baseline hitting is the change in racquet technology and the use of heavier top spin ...

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Post by Tenez Sun Oct 30, 2011 9:51 am

Yes NS, it doesn;t matter whether it's type 2 or not cause a type 2 ball is comprised between a range of diameters. And that range was defined in 2001, implementation in 2002, but we have no record of what the balls' size really were prior to 2001, so we can't quite say officially whether those balls have increased or not unless you have samples and you measure it yourself. This is what Woodford did in his 15 years of playing at Wimbledon. He said he sees a signinficant increase in ball size increase year in year out. (He said that in 2005 I believe).

All the balls played on the tour are type 2. Including Wimbledon's. But what they won't tell you is that :

1 - The Wimbledon slazenger are now, at the highest limit of type 2 whereas in the past they were simply smaller.

2 - As soon as they get through a few rallies, they fluff up above the type 2 range and become essentially type 3 balls.

3 - The core (rubber) of the ball is extremely important as we saw at the FO, when teh Babolat were reproduced exactly with the same size and weight of the Dunlops of the previous tournaments, yet, the harder rubber made the ball faster.

So they have many factors to affect the pace of play one way or another. It's simply obvious that the conds have slowed down to make the spectacle easier to appreciate to a larger crowd. The technique and timing required to pull a SHBH winner is essentially appreciated by those who have tried to play such a shot. Someone climbing the tribune after a 20 shot rally to retrieve a smash can be appreciated by all.

As simple as that.

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Post by Tenez Sun Oct 30, 2011 10:04 am

Nore Staat wrote:PS: In the same game, i.e. the same conditions including court speeds etc, playing further away from the tennis net gives the players "more time" to work out where the ball is going and hence to track the ball - so longer rallies (but exactly the same conditions).

But players can only stand further back now cause the ball is slower. Had the ball been as fast as in the 90s, they would have had to stand closer to the baseline if they did not want to see the ball past them. This is why Agassi was, like all other players of the time, returning close to the line cause the ball wasn't slowing as much after the baseline. In a rally nowadays the speed drops considerably in the last 2 meters after the baseline. It slows so much that you can even get a ball past you with a squash shot. No way you could play that shot in the past. One of the first to play that shot was Federer...on clay. Now everbody does it on all surfaces.

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Post by Guest Sun Oct 30, 2011 10:15 am

Hi - more good comments OK

I'm having to go out now but you're highlighting the importance of the "rate at which the ball slows down" in flight as well as after the bounce (skiddy versus gripped contact), and that the slow down is quite dramatic in the last two metres after the baseline - something that is very difficult to spot if you are viewing the action on a small television screen or far back in a spectator gallery.

ps: I assume that the measures of serving speed and ground shots represents the early part of the ball motion and hence fails to "show" the slow down of the ball towards the back of the court.

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Post by Tenez Sun Oct 30, 2011 11:35 am

Nore Staat wrote:Hi - more good comments OK

I'm having to go out now but you're highlighting the importance of the "rate at which the ball slows down" in flight as well as after the bounce (skiddy versus gripped contact), and that the slow down is quite dramatic in the last two metres after the baseline - something that is very difficult to spot if you are viewing the action on a small television screen or far back in a spectator gallery.

Yes. I have watched enough live tennis at Wimbledon to know how much the ball slows down the further it goes. The ball leaving the racquet from a serve or a simple FH is almost impossible to track with naked eyes but the ball passing the baseline is quite easy to track and one can even see the spin slowing and even read the brand of the ball on it without too much difficulty. You may notice players have little problem timing the ball....the challenge is getting to the ball.

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Post by laverfan Sun Oct 30, 2011 2:31 pm

http://www.usta.com/2011_tennis_ball_specifications/

This is the USTA specifications, which is the same as ITF.

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