With the Australian Open tournament starting tomorrow, Australasian Leisure Management has learned of a number of issues relating to the surfaces being used for Tennis Australia’s summer events.
Key is that many of the court surfaces used for the first Grand Slam of the year and the recent ATP Cup are not an all-new surface as Tennis Australia has seemingly implied, but are merely a coating over pre-existing surfaces that could have a significant impact on playability, behaviour of the ball and player comfort.
In July last year, prompted by inquiries from Australasian Leisure Management, Tennis Australia revealed that, following a tender process, it had appointed Spanish company GreenSet Worldwide as its “official court surface supplier, beginning this summer”.
It advised that, notwithstanding the change, “the Australian Open court surface and colour - the iconic blue cushioned acrylic hard court - will remain the same” and that “the GreenSet Worldwide team of international experts in process and application will work with Tennis Australia to ensure a successful rollout for Australian Open 2020 and events around the country.”
These events have included the new ATP Cup in Brisbane, Perth and Sydney, the new ATP/WTA tournament in Adelaide, and the Brisbane International and Hobart International.
While Tennis Australia’s July 2019 announcement would seem to suggest that GreenSet surfaces would be used for all of Australia’s ‘summer of tennis’ events, laying multiple new surfaces at half a dozen locations in a period of less than six months was clearly an impossibility.
The reality in many cases has seen GreenSet operatives apply acrylic coatings on top of the existing surfaces with the first all-new GreenSet surface having been the temporary court installed - by an all-Spanish team - for the Fed Cup final at Perth’s RAC Arena in November.
Temporary GreenSet courts are also understood to have been installed at the show courts at Melbourne Park for the Australian Open: the Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne Arena and Margaret Court Arena.
However, in some case the application of the coating has proved problematic. In advance of the recent ATP Auckland Open/ASB Classic, at the ASB Tennis Centre, an Australian Open lead-in series event, the acrylic coating lifted from the previous surface, requiring on-court repairs.
In addition, during the ATP Cup, Australian star John Millman fumed about the state of the court at the Queensland Tennis Centre, when he felt it caused him to take a tumble during his ATP Cup clash against Michail Pervolarakis of Greece.
In an incident dubbed ‘sandgate’, Millman called for officials to check sand near the baseline after he slipped over and could be heard saying to himself “there’s sand there, there’s f***ing sand there.”
In use at Melbourne Park since 2008, for the Australian Open, Australasian Leisure Management understands that the Plexicushion surfaces remain in situ on many courts to be used for the Australian Open, but that they now seemingly sit beneath a new acrylic coating from GreenSet.
Whether this is appreciated by tennis stakeholders and fans remains to be seen, but it does have wide implications.
First is safety. In the way that Lleyton Hewitt (now captain of Australia’s ATP Cup team) was a repeated and vocal critic of the Australian Open’s former surface as a player and John Millman was unhappy during the ATP Cup, will incidents and possible injuries tarnish the reputation of the Australian Open and all associated with it?
Second is consistency. In the way that the Australian Open’s use of Plexicushion from 2008 has seen tennis centres and clubs install the familiar blue surface for uniformity, will all these surfaces now be replaced by GreenSet surfaces?
Then there is the issue of cost. Over recent years courts at Melbourne Park have been replaced on a court-by-court basis, with courts used for the Australian Open at the Melbourne Tennis Centre having been through a rolling program of replacement.
This has also ensured that the Melbourne Tennis Centre has never been completely closed to users – other than during the Australian Open.
However, if there is to be an accelerated total replacement of Melbourne Park’s tennis courts within the five-year duration of the Tennis Australia/GreenSet partnership, then additional costs may well have to be factored in.
GreenSet Worldwide, which won the contract to provide court surfaces after, what Tennis Australia called “an extensive tender process”, is owned and operated by former Spanish player Javier Sanchez Vicario.
Neither Tennis Australia or GreenSet Worldwide have responded to requests for comment on this matter.
Note: In cushion tennis surfaces, ‘playability’ should be consistent regardless of surface, with cushioning being about shock absorption of players’ movement thus providing more ‘comfort’.
Images courtesy of Tennis Australia/GreenSet Worldwide/Facebook. Lower image shows a GreenSet court in use for Les Petits As - Le Mondial Lacoste European Junior Tour event in France.
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