Wimbledon breaks 115-year tradition: dates changed to avoid French Open

Sport

On the 12th July 2015, a new set of Wimbledon victors will be decided and declared. If you’re an eagle-eyed reader, and a big fan of tennis, you might be puzzled by that sentence. Previously, it’s been impossible for the final to happen so late in the year because – for a scarcely believable 115 years – the Championships have started on the Monday lying between 20th-26th June. This year, however, the All England Club is, after such an enormous length of time, breaking that tradition, and starting a week later.

That might sound uninteresting, especially to those who put little stock in the importance of habits. But don’t underestimate the effect this could have and the change it represents.

Some of the customs that persist at Wimbledon will irritate many regular viewers. For example, umpires continue to refer to women as “Miss” or “Mrs” X, even though they almost never refer to men as “Mr” X – a discrepancy that seems to have undertones of sexism. Moreover, the organisers still insist on its competitors wearing entirely white clothing, which isn’t much of an issue in itself except for the fact that, as claimed by Pat Cash amongst others, tournament officials actually checked some players’ underwear last year, to make sure it conformed to the dress code.

The organisers insist on its competitors wearing white

Furthermore, the “Middle Sunday” convention remains a feature – only three times in the Wimbledon’s history have matches been played on the first Sunday, i.e. the seventh day, of the tournament. This is despite its peerless potential to cause scheduling havoc, in best evidence during the 2007 tournament. Then, despite a fixture backlog, the organisers nonetheless decided not to play on Middle Sunday. Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic had to play four gruelling matches in four days in the following week as a result. Unsurprisingly, this culminated in Djokovic breaking down with injury.

So, now that the organisers have shown themselves prepared to break with a 115-year old tradition, we might be on the verge of seeing even better things to come. Perhaps we’ll even live to see the day when they abandon Robinsons Squash.

The ball moves faster and bounces lower on a grass court than it does on a clay court

In addition, the decision to push Wimbledon back a week is a good thing in its own right. Until now, there had only been a two-week gap between the end of the French Open – played on clay – and the beginning of Wimbledon, which is played on grass. Clay and grass are very different surfaces. The ball moves faster and bounces lower on a grass court than it does on a clay court. The texture of clay also allows players to safely slide around quite a lot, making it relatively simple to avoid twisting muscles. Conversely, grass – if it’s been raining recently – is often slick and at other times is quite hard, and as such it is notable for John-Isner-and-Nicolas-Ma-006having great capacity to cause injury.

So it’s very welcome that players will now, we expect, find the Wimbledon surface less perilous now that they’ll have an extra week to train on grass surfaces and re-acclimatise to the differing conditions. Judging by recent evidence – in Wimbledon 2013, seven players dropped out through injury on the one day – that’s a change that is desperately needed.

One player that may particularly hope to benefit from this shake-up is Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard has won Wimbledon twice, in 2008 and 2010, but his previous three showings have been poor. They’ve comprised, respectively, a second-round defeat by Lukáš Rosol, a first-round defeat by Steve Darcis, and a fourth-round defeat in which Nadal was so unintimidating that his opponent, Nick Kyrgios – no shrinking violet, admittedly – won a point by playing a shot through his own legs.

The Spaniard has won Wimbledon twice, in 2008 and 2010

(Picture credit//PBA)Nadal has been in bad form in most of his tournaments over the past 10 or so months, and he recently fell to fifth-place in the world rankings – with great potential to fall further in the coming months. However, his terrible recent record at the All England Club might have arisen partly because his body, rendered fragile by tendinitis in his knees and generalised injury problems, needs more time to get to grips with grass after the long clay season.

As such, we can legitimately hope that the extra week will help him re-establish his past, glorious mastery of SW19. If there’s one tradition that Wimbledon needs to re-establish, rather than abolish, it’s the tradition of Rafael Nadal playing inspirational tennis – before time runs out, or his body gives up.

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