Laying the Wimbledon seeds

From choosing the right grass to looking after it all year round, Wimbledon’s courts undergo special care and treatment.

Infographic: Wimbledon Championships 2015 - TOURNAMENT
How the grass and the courts are taken care of [Al Jazeera]

A lot has changed since Novak Djokovic won his second Wimbledon crown last year.

The Serb got married, became a father, won another Australian Open and the grass he so fondly nibbled on after winning the title last year, has completed its annual makeover.

In the days following the world number one’s triumph last July, the ground staff at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC) took on the task of sowing 72 kilograms of ryegrass seeds on Centre Court.

Each year, the 41 courts at the AELTC are shaved off, the soil re-cultivated and grass reseeded. The work starts when the Championships end.

“As soon as the Championships finish, we start looking towards the next one,” AELTC head groundsman Neil Stubley told Al Jazeera.

Wimbledon uses around 10 tonnes of grass seeds for all the courts annually. The blend of ryegrass varieties brings an international flavour to Wimbledon – quite literally.

The Sports Turf Research Institute, which works in collaboration with the AELTC, has chosen three cultivars this year: Melbourne, Venice and Malibu.

[Al Jazeera]
[Al Jazeera]

All three are grown in the Netherlands and have been chosen after a series of tests and thorough evaluation for this year’s tournament. 

“The reason we pick these ones is that they’re very drought and wear-tolerant,” added Stubley, who is in his third year at the job.

“There’s a lot of intense play in such a short period of time so we need to make sure that the grass we choose is the best for tennis.”

The 100 percent perennial ryegrass route was taken in 2001 after the previous mix of 70 percent rye and 30 percent creeping red fescue had become increasingly vulnerable to wear and tear.

The team evaluates the courts’ performances over the course of the tournament in the form of various data collected: pressure of the soil, surface stability, firmness of the court, surface temperature, court wear and moisture levels. 

Based on the readings, necessary adjustments are made for the following year.

“We might put a bit more grass down one year or slightly change our fertilizer regime. We’re constantly looking at how to improve and we never sit still.”

Wimbledon, meanwhile, is not granted the luxury of hosting an inert surface, unlike the other three Grand Slams, which play the same on day 13 as they did on day one. 

[Al Jazeera]
[Al Jazeera]

The courts change every day of the Championships due to the weather so the players, as well as the ground staff, are forced to adapt.

Besides dealing with a natural, living surface, whose characteristics change with the environment, Stubley needs to act according to the unpredictable UK weather.

“No two tournaments, weather-wise, are ever the same. Each year, you start from scratch and it’s a new challenge because you don’t know what weather is going to come up with and because of that the characteristics of the grass may slightly change.

“It’s down to our skill to ensure it stays within the parameters that we set for ourselves.”

The evolution

The physical abilities of the modern tennis player are increasing and matches can stretch to four or five hours at Wimbledon.

This, according to Stubley, places greater amount of stress on the grass which then calls for greater attention.

The revolutionary advancement in technology is reflected not only in rackets, players’ diets and training but also in grounds-keeping.

From grass selection and machinery to line marking, a lot has changed in the 21 years that Stubley has spent on the courts.

“The more we can understand the grass, how it grows and how it lives, the better we can then present that grass.”

Like each year, the grounds team will be under immense scrutiny over the course of the Championships with plenty of sleepless nights for Stubley.

Despite the stress, he would not have it any other way.

Source: Al Jazeera