In the Open Era of tennis (starting in 1968), strategy at Wimbledon has moved from many players approaching the net with a serve-and-volley style to the almost exclusive strategy of staying back, power shots, and engaging in long rallies.
The impact of the change in style can be seen on the wear patterns of the grass over the fortnight, and that change in the grass has affected how the ball behaves, which further impacts strategy.
Below, we collected images from match point of various Wimbledon finals over the past 50 years to show just how much strategy and the grass have changed.
1970 (Margaret Court defeated Billie Jean King) — There is almost no pattern as wear can be seen everywhere and the players utilized the entire court.
1975 (Arthur Ashe defeated Jimmy Connors) — The dead spots are still widespread, but we start to see some small area of grass where it is not worn down.
1980 (Björn Borg defeated John McEnroe) — The wear pattern is still widespread, but in the area between the baseline and the net, the dead spots are more centered as players typically rushed the net up the middle before moving side to side.
1985 (Boris Becker defeated Kevin Curren) — Players are still approaching the net, but we can start to see the wear pattern take an "I" shape with wide areas only at the net and the baseline.
1990 (Martina Navratilova defeated Zina Garrison) — Some players who did not serve and volley would take advantage of the worn down grass by playing shots with spin. The impact is that the dead spots of grass would make the bounces nearly unpredictable.
1995 (Steffi Graf defeated Arantxa Sánchez Vicario) — By the mid-1990s we can start to see more concentrated dead spots along the baseline although the evidence of the serve-and-volley style can still be seen.
2000 (Pete Sampras defeated Pat Rafter) — By the early 2000s, approaching the net was no longer a primary strategy, but was still often used by players as a change of pace or as a surprise. As a result, the bounces on shots from the baseline were more predictable.
2005 (Roger Federer defeated Andy Roddick) — While we still see some wear near the net, the big change in the mid-2000s is how much deeper the dead grass is at the baseline. Instead of dead grass on both sides of the line, it is almost entirely behind it.
2010 (Serena Williams defeated Vera Zvonareva) — As fewer players approached the net, the amount of ground they had to cover decreased.
2015 (Novak Djokovic defeated Roger Federer) — Interestingly, even though players were covering less area, at the same time, as players became stronger, they started playing deeper and the size of the court effectively increased.
2018 (Novak Djokovic defeated Kevin Anderson) — In 2018, we saw a bit more wear near the net as players were charging more often. While we are still far from the days of the serve-and-volley strategy, it has seen a bit of a renaissance in recent years.