Carpet courts used to be all the rage in tennis – until tournament directors figured out they wanted Roger Federer more.
Once upon a time, tennis had four main surfaces rather than just the clay, grass and hardcourts seen around the Tours today. Back in the day, we had carpet too.
It wasn’t dissimilar to the stuff you might have in your living rooms today. It was, to give it its official description, “textile surface of woven or non-woven nylon, or a polymeric or rubber material, typically supplied in rolls or sheets.”
There were, though, two major problems with it. The first was how susceptible players were to injuries when playing on it. Increased friction meant abrasions and burns were a real danger, and there was also significantly greater risks of suffering knee strains.
The other major problem it had was that the top players, the modern ones at least, didn’t like it. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal didn’t like it one bit, and they didn’t make a secret of it.
There were plenty of reasons for that. Firstly, it really suited big servers. The bounce was low and inconsistent, meaning rallies were low. It was the kind of surface upon which Greg Rusedski could beat Pete Sampras in a best-of-five final in straight sets – which he did.
One person who really hated it, though, was Roger Federer. In fact, he hated it so much, that he leveraged his enormous draw and prestige to get rid of carpet from the Paris Masters.
“It was the year 2007 and since 2003 Federer hadn’t played the tournament,” former Paris Masters tournament director Jean-François Caujolle recalled to L’Equipe. “Then we put in contact with his team and asked them why he wasn’t coming.
“It turned out that he didn’t like the [carpet] surface we had then at all and advised us to contact an Austrian company which designed a type of resin similar to that of Vienna.
“We did and fulfilled his wishes. We got in contact with the company and changed the surface.”
That still, though, wasn’t to Federer’s liking. The bounce was now too high and the speed too slow. It favoured Rafael Nadal’s notorious high-bouncing top-spin forehands that exposed the one-handed backhand of Federer by bouncing up over shoulder height.
“When he came to Paris he noticed that there wasn’t much of a difference among surfaces in the circuit and told us that it felt like the ones in Indian Wells and Miami, where he had lost twice against Guillermo Cañas”
“I started looking for materials to give a lower bounce and turn the game faster. In 2010 we managed to build the fastest court in the world. That one clearly suited a lot better Federer’s game than Nadal’s.
“The curious thing was that that year players like Ivan Ljubicic (Federer’s future coach) and John Isner lost in the first round. The court didn’t seem to favour the big servers but the best volleyers.
“Finally, in 2011 Federer was able to win the tournament.”
In 2009, the ATP banned carpet surfaces. The reason given, according to communications director Kris Dent, was to “standardise surfaces and reduce the risk of injuries.”
The players, though, some of them at least, mourned their loss, and there was blame aimed at Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
“It is a pity that these super-fast surfaces disappear,” said Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. “We are going to play tennis where the most important thing will be to have four lungs and not the variety of strokes.
“It is said that this is given at the request of Federer and Nadal. It is incredible. So, yes one day Nadal [might] ask that all tournaments be in brick dust, then what will we do?”
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