The science behind tennis grass and the dozens of people needed to care for it | Relevo

The science behind tennis grass and the dozens of people needed to care for it | Relevo
The science behind tennis grass and the dozens of people needed to care for it | Relevo

What is considered spring in Spain, let alone summer, is not a real option in London. Here the sun is slow and the threat of a downpour is constant. It is true that it rains less than it seems, and it has a worse reputation than Paris, for example, even though the French capital has more days with rain per year.

In any case, this climate that locals are fleeing in retirement is the main reason why Wimbledon can be played these two weeks. Grass is making its way, it is not an expensive and enslaved luxury but a natural component of the landscape. This does not mean that it does not require intense care if you want it to be ready to play tennis on it.

On the central track they are sown 54 million seeds of a Dutch grass that changed in 2002 with dramatic consequences for the history of the tournamentSince that edition, the composition has changed from 70% lolium, a type of grass known in English as ryegrass, to 100% of the same variety.

The change was made because it would be easier to maintain the grass, as it is a somewhat harder variety and the soil on which it sits is also somewhat more stable. The problem they faced was that players were getting taller and stronger, and therefore heavier, so it was a good idea to give the grass a little more oomph.The fact is that the change also influenced the game and the tournament went from being dominated by deadly serve bombardments and short points to much more complete players. The grass continued to be different from everything, but a little less different than it was before.

If in 1997 the server played 66% of serve and volley with his first serve, in 2002 it was 39% and in 2017 it had already dropped to 10%. It is not just a question of the surface, on hard courts the game has also evolved in this way because players today return better and are able to defend themselves better. of a good serve. The rackets and the materials they are made of have also been protecting the receivers. But, in any case, the grass does its part.

16 people work on the lawn throughout the year, but from April to October the number doubles. The team that takes care of the grass is different from the one that takes care of the flowers in the enclosure.a spectacular English garden where ivy climbs the walls of the central court and there are many, many flowers.

The boss of it all is called Martyn Falconer, he is a tall guy with short hair and a bushy beard. “We take everything except the grass on the 42 acres [17 hectáreas]all the trees, the plants, we are a group of 20 people at this time of year to carry everything,” he explained in a huddle with journalists during the tournament.

We have around 28,000 plants and that doesn’t include the petunias you see in the baskets.“he explains. He does not include in his calculations what is perhaps the most present flower in the enclosure, omnipresent on all the paths. Later he also puts a figure on that, between 9,000 and 12,000 more flowers.

The level of detail is extreme. For example, next to track five there have been new developments this year.From the photos we have added many golden orangesto give it a more orange tone. It’s something a little bit outside of what an English garden is, so here they are less known flowers,” he explains.

The physics of the boat

Back to the courts. Science has an explanation for every tennis shot, and of course also for the surface and bounce. A Grantland article a few years ago explained why there are slow courts, like clay, and fast ones, like grass.

It’s all a problem of friction on the bounce. When the ball hits the ground, the brick dust cushions the ball. The ball is spinning and finds a rough surface, each of the specks of sand tries to slow the ball down a little.. In addition, when hitting that surface, the angle of the bounce changes, so the ball comes out a little higher, giving the tennis players a few more moments of time to attack it.

The speed at which the ball leaves the bounce on hard and grass is essentially the same according to different studies. That is, the ground does not cushion more on grass than on cement.What happens is that the exit angle of the ball on grass is lower, the ball rises less and that makes the perception of ball speed greater.

This also explains why Wimbledon players spend the entire match crouched down. The iconic image of tennis here includes a wide spread of legs and the hips as low as possible. Adapting to grass is probably the most complex for a tennis it also involves getting used to a very peculiar way of moving around the track, especially when turning.

Jaume Munar explained this a few days ago after a victory: “It’s very difficult to move in terms of explosiveness and placement. You can move well two, three balls, no more because what’s very difficult is braking. Once you’re taken off the court it’s very difficult to get back on the court because obviously it always takes you one step longer than on another surface. You can’t slide like on land, you can’t stay stuck like in rapids and to brake your body you have to use a few extra steps. “These are those tenths of a second that make it impossible for you to be on the other side and it means taking a little more risk when you are racing.”

Part of this explanation can be easily seen from the frequent crashes that tennis players take here. Some of them are so used to sliding on clay that they arrive here and, almost without realizing it, continue with that routine. Although you can also slide on grass, and the most adapted take advantage of is not advisable to do it without changing anything in the movement.

This difficulty was explained these days by the current champion, Carlos Alcaraz. “I I’m a player who slides a lot and there are players here who do it as if it were dirt. I still don’t dare to do it. That’s a big change for me, mobility, being more crouched, not getting up and being focused on every step you take,” said the man who is one of the big favourites here to win the title.

Lots of grass and flowers, a different, peculiar and unique tennis. All that is Wimbledon.

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