That court is coloured green but it is breeding yellow. They are all afraid of embracing the net now.
When the world No.1 player wins on grass without following his first serve to the net and when drop shots and volleys pop up to knee height allowing for a vicious topspin reply, then there is surely nothing to watch for those who preferred the sleight and guile of serve and volley to the guttural slam of heavily spun ground strokes countered by another.
Getting high has become suicide on Wimbledon grass. The ball no longer skids as much on the under-spin approach and the big serve is coaxed to bounce higher than it did before, making for better odds on the return. Players are plain scared to venture to the net.
It all began in 2001 when the brains-that-be dulled the edge of Wimbledon by changing the very blade in the thick of the battle. From a 70% to 30% ratio of a straight-standing to flat-lying grass, the Wimbledon courts went to 100% of the stiff upright stuff. This made for drier, bouncier lawns while reducing the skid factor. Since the new turf is more resistant to the enhanced attrition of the modern game, the blade does not splinter as much and, as such, bad bounce is reduced.
From the thrust and parry of the net game, we now have long rallies on grass with the heavily spun ball being traded till one party makes or forces a mistake. It is incredible to watch the top two players of the world roll a short ball on the backhand instead of that darting slice to race behind to the net. It is agonising to watch the feline potential of Roger Federer graze at the baseline for he knows that the grass is really far too green on the other side of the net – it no longer favours the brave.
"Serve and volley is not dying, it is dead," says Leander Paes who epitomises the craft. "If Federer is playing from the baseline, forget anybody else going up. I remember when a slice approach at Wimbledon would hardly rise above the knees. Now, the ball is anywhere between the knees and the hip."
Baseliners have held their own on the green stuff earlier too. Bjorn Borg to mention one and then there was Andre Agassi. These men, however, were exceptional for they could dig out the dying ball and still manage to rip consistent passes.
"Now, the surface plays almost like a hardcourt," says Paes. For those of us who looked to the balm of Wimbledon after the sear of clay and hard court drudgery year-around, it’s just no fun anymore. Sigh!