Wimbledon tests plastic grass in bid to take lawn tennis global

Wimbledon is testing the use of grass containing plastic fibres in an attempt to bring lawn tennis to the world, an expert has said.

Neil Stubley, Wimbledon’s head of courts and horticulture, said officials were piloting the “stitching” in of artificial fibres with real grass to be able to recreate the surface in different climates. It would also extend the season in the UK.

Hybrid grass has been used in professional football pitches for years but it is being newly tested by Wimbledon, with trials taking place at the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club’s Raynes Park grounds two miles away.

Stubley said artificial solutions were needed for Wimbledon-style grass courts to be viable out of season and in varied climates. Wimbledon’s clay soil is ideal for grass courts, but other parts of the world are dominated by sand or chalk.

Stubley said using the “stitching” system with sandier soils helps make the structure of the playing surface more stable and resilient. “So you can actually have a more free-draining surface but you can still get the hardness on the surface as well. You can then go to a place like Australia and create good grass courts,” he said.

Hard courts are used at grand slams in the US and Australia, and clay at the French Open. Exporting the technology around the world would stop grass courts from dying out.

He said the club was harnessing modern technology for “the betterment of grass court tennis globally”. It was hoped that trials would be carried out in Australia, he said.

“We’ve been researching for three or four years but at the moment it’s going well. We’ve got some trial courts now and we’re just getting players and members to play on it and feed back,” Stubley said.“We, as in the All England Club, want to champion global grass tennis not just for the championships but hopefully you can have potentially tournaments in any country in the world – whether it’s a warm season or cool season grass,” he said.

“We’re doing a lot of research in southern hemisphere grasses … so we’ll naturally end up with a product where we can have the right heat zones and the right grasses on top to give us the same characteristics as a court at Wimbledon.”

Wimbledon began trials with the Sports Turf Research Institute on small plots of grass at its Yorkshire headquarters in 2016. The club began building the hybrid courts at Raynes Park in 2020 and they have been played on since 2021. The hybrid court is 95% real grass with the additional plastic fibre reinforcement.

Stubley, who has worked at Wimbledon for nearly three decades, said other sports, including cricket, were looking at cross-stitching synthetic grass with real grass to get a longer season.

“Historically in the UK, a grass-court season runs from May through to September, so one of the things we’re looking at is, if we could have a more free-draining soil, could we extend a grass court season by four to six weeks and make it more appealing for the general public to play grass court tennis,” he said.

“The grass court season is so small that the first experience for some juniors is a pre-Wimbledon event.”

He did not rule out using grass-stitching on Wimbledon’s courts but added: “I’m not so sure at the moment what benefit it would bring because there’s such intense play in such a short period of time. I’m not so sure that any grass will ever kind of get to the end of the championships and look like it has not been played on.”