Tim Henman believes the proliferation of slow courts is making tennis less exciting.
The United States Tennis Association admitted it made the courts at this year’s US Open slower following feedback from players and conditions at Wimbledon have also become much slower in recent years.
Juan Martin del Potro raised an eyebrow when the subject of court speed was mentioned following his final defeat by Novak Djokovic in New York, with the Argentinian unable to hit through his opponent with his huge forehand.
Henman fears the net-based game he played is dying out, telling Press Association Sport: “The pace of the court is one thing but for me the bigger picture is how similar all the surfaces are.
“When we have contrasts in styles, that for me is when the game is most attractive, and if everything is on fundamentally a very slow hard court, it gives very little option for styles of play.
“When you look at the grand slams now, if you looked at the US Open, the Australian Open and Wimbledon, which is the fastest conditions? I don’t know, they’re becoming more and more uniform, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing for the game.
“You don’t see many people moving forward and looking to finish the point at the net, and you certainly see fewer and fewer people serving and volleying. So if you make the courts more and more abrasive and slower and the balls heavier, then it’s going to die out altogether.”
The US Open was one of the most eventful grand slams in living memory, with arguments about umpiring, clothing and the way tennis copes with extreme heat.
A heat break was introduced during men’s matches for the first time at a slam while players including Roger Federer and Djokovic complained that the roof structure on Arthur Ashe Stadium had increased the humidity on court.
Henman admitted the tournament has made him question his views on heat policies, saying: “I’ve always been against the heat rule because I feel the physicality is an important part of a player’s armoury, and the ones that have prepared better, trained better, will reap the rewards.
“But when you hear the dialogue that’s coming from the players and someone like Federer saying he got to the stage where he was happy the match was over, then that raises alarm bells for me.”
Federer made that comment at the end of his shock fourth-round loss to John Millman, which again resulted in pundits discussing his future in the sport.
Henman, a former rival and good friend of the 37-year-old, does not believe too much should be read into the result.
“I didn’t see the match but I was certainly surprised to see the scoreline,” said Henman, who will be picking up his racket again for the Champions Tennis event at the Royal Albert Hall in December.
“When he’s set the bar as high as he has, sometimes these things happen. Knowing his mentality, he’s not going to dwell on it.
“There are three elements: technical, physical and mental. The two most important elements are physical and mental. As long as he’s healthy and he wants to keep playing, he’s always going to play at a high level.
“If he starts getting injured or he doesn’t enjoy the travel or the training, then you’d say is it time to do something else? But that’s not the case because he still has the passion and hunger and desire. For me, he’s got plenty of time to keep playing.”
:: Tim Henman will be competing at the Champions Tennis event from the Royal Albert Hall in December. Tickets are still available at https://www.championstennis.co.uk