Faster Tennis Courts at the 2017 Australian Open
written by Fabio Valente
A “baseline slug fest”. That is how Roger Federer used to describe today’s average tennis matches on medium speed surfaces. Therefore, is easy to understand why the 35 year old swiss looked very happy to play on Melbourne’s courts this year: thanks to a plexicushion surface faster than last years’ ones and lighter, quicker balls, attacking, old-school players like Roger Federer and Venus Williams and a serve and volley specialist like Mischa Zverev felt very comfortable while playing at the AO. Quoting Federer again after his match vs Zverev, “courts at the AO became faster and faster during the last years which helped any player who grew up playing tennis before tennis shifted towards slower courts and longer rallies”.
Shorter points to be played and faster balls to deal with were obviously the first explanation behind some unexpected results like Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray’s defeats, but also Angelique Kerber and Agnieszka Radwnaska’s losses in the women draw. The biggest advantage from speeded-up courts was taken by aggressive players used to win points at the net and play short points but high-paced shots: this veterans of the game, the “older generation” as Roger called it, stepped up and took the chance to shine once more, in this unexpected comeback to the fast era.
Looking at some interesting stats, we can see how players like Zverev, Federer, Raonic, Rogers (who defeated Halep), Vandeweghe (winner vs Radwanska and Muguruza) and the surprising Lucic- Baroni are amongst the players with the highest percentage of points won at the net and net attacks. Just to make a quick comparison, players like Djokovic, Murray, Nishikori, Berdych have a percentage of net attacks of barely 15-16%. On the other side, Federer has 21%, Zverev 27% and Raonic 24%. Another useful stat is the aggression score, which measures how many times a player ends a point with a winner: Vandeweghe has the 4th highest WTA score, Lucic-Baroni is 8th and Rogers comes in 19th place. On the other side, Radwanska (94th), Halep (72nd) and Kerber (41st) all lie way behind.
Finally, another interesting conclusion about this year’s faster courts at the AO is about the backhand. New-generation players on top of the rankings (like Murray, Djokovic, Nishikori, Cilic, Monfils) all play an average two-handed backhand and are all out from this year’s QF at the AO. Old-style one-handed backhands of Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka and Grigor Dimitrov made their way into the SF, where Nadal is the only player left with a two-handed backhand in the draw. This can be explained since the one-handed backhand, in spite of being sometimes less precise and reliable, can generate more power on faster surfaces, becoming a lethal weapon if joined by an attacking style of playing, as in the case of the two Swiss players.
Faster courts, quicker balls, shorter points, old champions. Murray, Djokovic and many other players could maybe disagree, but once in a lifetime, as Roger said, we can do without a well-known, less-entertaining baseline slug fest.