How Fast is the Ice Rink in Sarajevo?

The Sarajevo challenger is considered to have one of the fastest surfaces on the tennis circuit.  James Cluskey, playing doubles there this week, tweeted, “fast is being very kind. Soo fast!”  Last year, some fans got the point across by calling the surface an ice rink.

The raw numbers agree.  In 13 of the 31 main-draw matches last year, aces made up at least 18% of all points.  Champion Jan Hernych won both his semfinal and final matches against players who scored aces on more than one in five service points.  Two years ago, titlist Amer Delic recorded a 21.6% ace rate for the entire tournament. That’s fast.

Here’s how fast.  The average player who competed in Sarajevo in any of the last three years hit 50% more aces in Sarajevo than his season average.  That’s higher than any other European challenger, a tick above Ortisei (+46%) and well ahead of the third-place fast court, the carpet in Eckental (+31%). (For more on methodology, click here.)

These numbers probably understate just how speedy the Sarajevo surface is.  The players who show up for events like this generally have a game to match–they may not all know about the “ice rink” reputation, but they know it’s indoors.  That’s how you end up with Dustin Brown, Ilija Bozoljac, and Hernych in the late rounds last year.  Jerzy Janowicz was there as well.

Thus, the guys who play in Sarajevo are generally choosing fast surfaces.  So Sarajevo isn’t 50% faster than tour average, it’s 50% faster than the faster-than-average event that these types of players choose.  This is a much bigger factor on the challenger tour than at ATP level, because lower-level guys don’t all play the same events.  Clay-court specialists may show up for Valencia and the Paris Masters, but you won’t find a single South American playing in Bosnia this week.

So we can’t compare Sarajevo to Sao Paulo or Medellin.  (Due to the altitude, those are fast as well, but probably not to the same degree.)  But by any reasonable comparison we can calculate, Sarajevo is as fast as it gets–at least until some savvy promoter puts a tennis match on a real ice rink.