Should pro tennis be played on faster courts?
Nov 27, 2023
Recently, the tennis world was buzzing about the court speed at the ATP Finals. Carlos Alcaraz complained, "This surface is the fastest of the year, that’s for sure." Jim Courier called the courts "greased lightning." And, according to the game's official Court Pace Index, it was the fastest court on the ATP Tour this year.
Could that a good thing? Peter Bodo argues (convincingly via tennis.com) that the court speed in Turin "turned out to be highly entertaining and somewhat unpredictable" producing "intense rallies" along with "artful volleying and spectacular point-ending strikes from anywhere on the court."
Nick Kyrgios commented, "It’s good to play on [fast] courts like these, where aggressive tennis gets rewarded a little bit more. I want to see some bang-bang, one-two tennis—and a lot of those Federer fans still out there want to see that too. I loved watching that Federer one-two.”
According to Bodo, "All this should be enough to wake up a tennis establishment that for a long time has turned a deaf ear to entreaties calling for at least some faster courts. Despite a few outliers, on slow courts the players pursue a style that makes tennis less dimensional, if often majestic in its brutality."
He's right. ATP data collected by The Athletic this year concluded that the average length of a men’s Grand-Slam match has increased from 2:21 in 1999 to 2:54 this year. It's slowed the game down and increased injuries. Meanwhile, the days of serve-and-volley have become a distant relic of the past.
In fact, according to Bodo, the slow-court boom was actually a direct response to a slew of "devastating servers including Boris Becker, Goran Ivanisevic and Pete Sampras. On surfaces other than clay (hard courts were fast back then), those men all but killed the rally game."
The lack of rallies "reached a fever pitch right around 2000" when Wimbledon, the US Open, and most lower tier tournaments slowed down their court surfaces. Meanwhile, super-fast indoor "carpet" courts completely disappeared. To accommodate the demand for longer rallies, slow courts are now the norm.
"[Perhaps] the pendulum has swung too far in that direction," writes Bodo. Former big server Andy Roddick seems to agree. He joked, "God forbid we have a tournament on something fast every once in a while."