Wimbledon Diary

A terrific bit of sports writing by Asad Raza in n + 1:

ImageThe giant stadium screens you see at sports venues are another of the omnipresent, light-emitting diode displays that now accompany us on our walks and escalator rides; that keep us company as we loiter around bus stops, hotel lobbies, subway cars, and at home; that warm our ears as we speak on phones. Although LED-based video, with its hyperreal colors, is pretty new, it uses the same trichromatic system as a tube TV, a Kodachrome snapshot, and Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky’s 1908 color photo of Leo Tolstoy: a red, a green and a blue image are superimposed to create the full spectrum. Unlike all previous color systems, stadium screens designed for sports have a curious genetic modification: their pixels are made up of one red, one blue, and two green LEDs. Why two green ones? Because grass is green.

Three weeks ago, the first Wednesday of Wimbledon, the specialty pixels combined to display the familiar, near-fluorescent hue of ryegrass, expertly clipped and rolled. Until 2001, the tournament’s tennis lawns contained only 70 percent rye; the remaining 30 percent was the gothically named, but less resilient, creeping red fescue. But throughout the ’80s and ’90s, a phalanx of serve-and-volley players left the grass courts worn down to a T-shaped pattern of bald, baseball diamond-like dirt. This created a vicious cycle in which the more worn down the grass became, the faster players had to get to the net and keep the ball from bouncing erratically off the footprint-scalloped dirt. The exile of creeping red fescue was also part of a sport-wide attempt to slow down play on all surfaces in the wake of huge servers—Boris Becker, Goran Ivanisevic, and above all, the metronomical Pete Sampras—along with heavier balls and more sand mixed into hardcourts’ green paint. One way you know someone hasn’t been watching much tennis is if they trot out the old saw about the sport having become a serving contest. Since the switch to 100 percent ryegrass, no player who serves and volleys has won Wimbledon.

More here.