Tales from the Wimbledon groundstaff – September

We caught up with Head Groundsman designate Neil Stubley to learn about what’s been going on around the Grounds at the AELTC this September… 

September is about renovation, and the closing of the grass courts. The Members will have their end of season grass court tournament which they had last Saturday, so now officially the grass courts are closed. But because we’ve still got a little bit of time, we’ve still got some of the practice courts open.

A recently renovated court

The courts that have been renovated through August, are now ready to be top-dressed. We also prick the top of the courts, to let the air in there. There’s a team out top-dressing getting the levels back, and a team doing the renovating. By the end of October, we’d want to have top-dressed all the practice courts then too. Once the first frosts start coming in, which is early November, the surface becomes very soft, and the machines that you need to do the top-dressing don’t work so well.

Centre Court, for example, has been renovated and top dressed, so it is what we would class as being ‘put to bed.’ So we’ll manage it from now until the spring, and then the natural April/May spring flush of growth will thicken it up to the thickness that we want for the forthcoming season. From now until the spring it’s a case of man-managing the courts so they’re healthy. Keeping the air in the surface, making sure they have enough food to last them for the winter.

A court ready to be top-dressed

The practice courts operate on a slightly different schedule. Two of the blocks of courts, at the College, are turned into croquet lawns after The Championships, and they stay in until October. The rest of them, we split into two, and we renovate half one year, half the next, because we can’t fit them all in every year.

We haven’t lost that much play because of the weather. But it’s when you start to renovate, that’s when it gets wet and it doesn’t dry out very quickly. We’ve had one of our worst-case scenarios of a wet, not particularly warm summer. When we get to renovation time, it’s always better if it’s warmer and drier, because we can control how much water we put on. But if you’ve got a lot of rain, you get restricted on what you can and can’t do. As long as we get a two-three week dry window that gets us back on track.

Centre Court ready to be ‘put to bed’

What else has been going on?
We went to our annual trade show, touch base with our current suppliers, and take a look at what’s new, just to make sure we’re still getting what’s best for this club. Down to the marking compound, it’s evolving all the time. A brighter line, longer-lasting line, for example. Machines that will give you a crisper edge to your line. Every single part of it is changing all the time.

Is there anything changing around the Grounds?
There’s only a few bits of enabling work going on, so it’s the first time since I started that it’s not been noisy.I started in 1995 so they were already a year into construction for No. 1 Court, then the Millennium Building, the roof, No.2, No.3. On and on. So we’re getting a bit of a break this year.

Has this year taught you anything as far as preparing for the Olympics?
Pray for dry weather! We’ve done some trials this year, renovating the baselines in a 20-day window, and they worked ok, which given that it was the worst-case scenario, it was wet and cold, we hit our targets. So we know it will work. Best case scenario is that after next years’ Championships it will be dry and warm, which means we can control the irrigation, and everything will be even better than it was this year. As groundsmen, it’s a once in a lifetime experience for us.

 Follow one of the Wimbledon groundsmen on twitter

Alexandra Willis

Tales from the Wimbledon groundstaff – August

Interspersed with several grass court tournaments and a lot of play for members, August sees the continued renovation of the grass courts at the All England Club. Head Groundsman designate Neil Stubley updates us on what’s been going on around the grounds…

Grass court seminar

“We had about 22 people here over two days to discuss all the ins and outs of keeping grass courts. One of the guys was from Boston, he runs a tennis club there that the US team are going to use as their base camp for pre-Olympics, so he’s been sent to have a look at what we do here. We get together with grass experts, soil experts, Scott’s fertisiler company to discuss good or bad fertiliser regimes, what seeds are best, what soils are best for tennis. We do demonstrations, how we renovate the courts. Queen’s Club come in and practically demonstrate their spring preparations, it’s not all about what we do here.

Court 12 one week after being renovated

I’ve always preached that this is what we do here at Wimbledon, it’s not the right way or the wrong way, but it’s how we do it and it’s how it works for us. Everyone has their own site, so there is no should and shouldn’t be doing. For example, Centre Court and Court 12 have completely different dynamics, which will be different to the tennis club down the road. At the end of the day it’s growing grass, and you can either make it very, very complicated, or very, very easy. And we make it very easy. If you are a good groundsman, you know when your grass needs something.”

The renovation process

“Centre, No.1, No.2, No.3 Court and Court 12 have all been renovated, which means we’ve shaved all the grass off and re-planted it. Hopefully by mid-August, all bar three of the southern courts will be done. They’re being kept for the Antiques Roadshow. Next will be the Northern courts, we’ll work on them until the Antiques Roadshow, and then we’ll do the practice courts. It’s a bit of a balancing act, normally you’d want all the Championships courts done by the end of August.

We shave them, let the grass grow and thicken up, and then it’s time to top dress with five to six tonnes of soil them to correct the nutrients levels. You can do that 5-6 weeks after it’s been renovated, and it takes 3-4 weeks.

No.1 Court five weeks after being renovated

So No.1 Court for example will be top-dressed by the end of this week.   Then they’re ‘put to bed’ and we just cut them and manage them over the winter.”

Closing the grass courts

“August is also when we start to close the grass courts. From now on the agreement with the members is that we take out courts as and when we are ready to take them out. There is a tournament on the 17th which is the closing of the grass courts for the members at Aorangi. But we only close them a little bit at a time so the members can play for two weeks after that, effectively.

The Road to Wimbledon tournament is taking place at the moment, which requires 18 courts. We’ve also given them the use of some of the Championships courts as well, subject to what members need.

We’ve got a trade show coming up in September, so that’ll be the subject of next month’s blog!”

 Follow one of the Wimbledon groundsmen on twitter

Alexandra Willis

Just another day in stats at SW19…

Our Australian visitors, David Steed and Rowena Rosales, who worked on the IBM statistics team for Wimbledon 2011, give us their take on a typical day working at The Championships…

 

8:00am Wake up. What, no Vegemite for breakfast!? A cup of tea will suffice (English Breakfast of course!).

10:00am Stroll through Wimbledon Park on the way to the courts. Disappoint the crowd of hundreds queuing for a ticket, “Sorry mate, I don’t have any free tickets.”

10:30am Meet the IBM team at the rooftop garden of the broadcast centre. Check the draw, schedule and court allocations for the day. The wallets come out to pay the 50p fine for yesterday’s misdemeanors (damn, I wish I hadn’t lost the court radio!).

10:45am The groundsmen are hard at work. Catch up on the daily weather forecast; partly sunny, with a chance of rain, and sun, but then rain followed by sun and an afternoon sun-shower…with the possibility of evening storms? Crikey London!

11:30am Grab the laptops and other equipment and head to court. Meet with the IBM Tech Trojans to get the green light ready for play (by the way, what is a tech trojan?…I thought they spoke English here?!

12:00pm Crowds build and the players arrive on court. “Ready? Play.” Wide serve in, backhand drive return in-play, point, forehand pass winner, player at net. 15-0…Scoreboards and TV graphics come alive. Millions of web-users log on to IBM PointStream at Wimbledon.com. And check out SecondSight; some great technology here at The Championships.

Highlights from the stats team at Wimbledon 2011

1:30pm Grey clouds roll in overhead. The umbrellas open and here come the court covers. “Ladies and Gentlemen, play is suspended.”

2:00pm While the laptops dry, it’s a perfect time for a lunch break. Indulge in Wimbledon’s most iconic off-court tradition: strawberries and cream…but demonstrate restraint on the Pimm’s!

3:30pm The rain stops and the covers come off. Back to work…forehand, backhand, pass, error, ace, volley, smash, approach, drop…wait, was that a serve and volley? We must be playing on grass! The match heads into a fifth set…

4:30pm Grab another quick break. Head across to Henman Hill, or is it Murray Mound? As Aussies, let’s instead claim this grass as Tomic’s Turf! “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi Oi!”…oh dear, too good Nole.

5:00pm Back to work; a new court and a new match. The sun is out…in fact, hang on, I think we’re sunburnt! All four seasons in one day at the AELTC.

5:05pm Struth, spoke too soon. The heavens open and it’s back to the control room to wait-out another rain delay. Take advantage of this break in play to catch up with some of our Australian Open colleagues and umpire mates. Love the uniform guys.

6:30pm The rain eases enough to go exploring around the picturesque grounds of the All England Club. Looking good Wills and Kate! Time also to collate all the orders for tournament towels and hit the gift shop.

7:30pm Still raining, the referee calls it a day with all matches rescheduled for tomorrow. A throng of spectators and staff make their way to Wimbledon Village.

9:00pm Off to the Tennis Australia house for a BBQ (and no, there are no shrimps on the barbie here!). Congratulations to John Newcombe on 40 years since his third and final Wimbledon title. What a great speech.

11:00pm Home time, ready to do it all again tomorrow.

The 2011 Championships in stats…

  • Fastest Serve (Gentlemens’ Singles) – A. Roddick 143mph
  • Fastest Serve (Ladies’ Singles) – S. Lisicki 124mph
  • Ace Leader (Gentlemens’ Singles) – J. Tsonga 108 (6 matches)
  • Ace Leader (Ladies’ Singles) – S. Lisicki 44 (6 matches)
  • Total Points Played (Main Draw Singles) – 45,464

(including 10,432 unforced errors and 15,314 winners)

  • Double Fault Leader (Gentlemens’ Singles) – J. Tsonga 27 (6 matches)
  • Double Fault Leader (Ladies’ Singles) – M. Sharapova 38 (7 matches)
  • Correct Player Challenges (Gentlemen’s Singles) – 28.61% (103/360)
  • Correct Player Challenges (Ladies’ Singles) – 32.96% (59/179)
  • Retirements (Main draw singles) – 7
  • Balls used – 54,250
  • Height of grass on match courts – 8mm
  • Total prize money – £14.6m
  • Strawberries consumed – 28,000 kg (112,000 punnets)

Thanks and goodnight Wimbledon, you put on a great show. Bring on New York and, of course, see you all at Melbourne Park for AO 2012!

Tales from the Wimbledon groundstaff – July

Head Groundsman designate Neil Stubley updates us on what’s been going on around the Grounds in July…

“The Championships was very good from our point of view. Exactly what we wanted. A bit of rain, a bit of sun, and it finished on time.
We got some good feedback on the courts, and about the roof as well. All the players that played under the roof were really happy, Federer played under it for the first time and said it was good. So if it’s good enough for him we’re more than happy.

Centre Court

A closer look at Centre Court

Once the final had finished, we had 24 hours grace where we collect players chairs and just make sure that all the covers have pulled off irrigation heads, and then on the Tuesday, for 2pm we had to have grass courts available for members. So within 36 hours of The Championships we had 10 courts cut and marked and prepped ready for the members. The only thing is, once The Championships has finished, we are governed by the weather. We don’t cover the courts for the members. So if it rains, the grass courts are out of action. The members put in the odd request but they tend to be happy with any of the courts.

Centre Court isn’t used by the members. We weed killed it, which took a week to take effect, and then we start on the renovation programme, growing the grass from scratch. It’s a total weed killer, it will kill the grass and everything, and then we start from scratch. We do the same to No.1 and No.2 Courts maybe No.3 Court. Given the choice we’d do them all. But because you have to leave it 10 days, we don’t really have that window of opportunity to leave them before we have to work on them.

Centre Court

The grass being removed from Centre Court

Aorangi Park though is closed. As soon as The Championships is finished, Aorangi is closed down and we renovate the baselines, get some seed down, cover them up. Because in August we have seven weeks of tournaments at Aorangi – the Vets Championships, which is a 22 grass court tournament, and then the HSBC Road to Wimbledon. There’s also the Inter-services competition between the Army, Navy, RAF, and then plus members courts and matches at weekends.

But we’ve also got the hard courts back in action once all the marquees were taken down, so there are plenty of options for the members to play on.

As far as our team goes, we’ve still got 26 guys working, which will startdropping off slowly from August onwards. The Aussie guys have to go back for 1 September because it’s their season starting there. We get them for their close season. And then we have college students. We normally keep hold of two-three until the end of October.

Alexandra Willis

From Paris to London in stats

June is a slightly terrifying time at the All England Club. Structures and edifices are rising at a rate of knots, in places you did not know even existed. What was once a car park is now the Long Bar, mere patches of grass are being transformed into fully-fledged tennis courts complete with seats, lines and even the shell that covers the scoreboard.

It has been an equally busy time for the team of IBM data collectors, whose very important job it is to collate statistics during the matches which are used by the players, the BBC and other journalists and are sent all over the world. So it’s no small task for the team of tennis-minded experts.

We caught up with David and Rowe, our visitors from Australia, who are working on the IBM data collectors team this year.

What have you been up to in the past month?

“Travel was the flavour of the month. Initially during our training week we took the opportunity to explore not too far from home, checking out some lovely towns around the UK including Bath, Windsor and Oxford. After our training, we continued onto central and eastern Europe for two weeks. A few of our favourite cities included Berlin, Prague and Venice. I then went to work at Roland Garros,” says David, “while Rowena ventured to the Greek Isles.”

David and Rowe at the French Open

Not bad at all! How was the French Open?

“Springtime Paris was the perfect setting for the second Grand Slam of the year, and the climax of the clay-court swing. Although we’d hoped for more Aussie success in the singles draw, there were some great match-ups and memorable moments on court, particularly Novak Djokovic’s first loss of the 2011 season to Roger Federer. The WTA kept us guessing as well, with seeds falling early to open the draw for some genuine battles. Also it was great to see Casey Dellacqua’s return to tennis with a championship win in the mixed doubles!”

“As a tournament, Roland Garros offered a great blend of history and contemporary ideas for fans and players. It’s an event that the locals are very proud of, and enjoying sharing with their guests. The Roland Garros stadium is an elegant venue, full of beautiful people, boutiques, gardens and an attractive style of tennis. Although the fans loved their tennis, I still got the impression they also just loved to be seen at the French Open! Even so, Roland Garros is one of the best stops on tour, both as an event and a tournament.”

Now what about Wimbledon – have you had to come in for much training with the rest of the team?

“We attended two training sessions last month where we learnt about the similarities and differences in collecting data between our two Grand Slams. Striking contrasts for us were workstation locations, the number of courts covered, terminology, the appraisal process and the different team roles.”

“Whilst on site, we also explored the Grounds and stadiums as well as visiting the Museum. Training was a nice opportunity to meet a few of the team supervisors and operations staff, some of whom have been a part of Wimbledon for decades! Next week we will meet the full squad of statisticians at the pre-tournament dress rehearsal, many of whom study and play tennis abroad. This time will also be a great opportunity to touch base with some familiar faces from Melbourne Park – those officials and broadcast partners who work at both Slams.”

Who are you looking forward to watching?

“It will be great to support many of the Aussie players at The Championships, particularly our top-ranked female Sam Stosur, who will surely be looking to build a record on grass this year. In recent times however it has been the ATP that has offered some great match-ups, both in Paris and at earlier Masters 1000 events; particularly between the top three ranked men. So we are looking forward to seeing how Federer and Nadal fare, as well as following Djokovic’s win-loss record. We also enjoy watching Murray play, and it will be great to be amongst his local fans during matches at his home Slam.”

What will you be doing between now and when the Championships start?

“We are keen to continue to explore London a bit more, but also rest well before moving into Southfields for the start of qualifying and the dress rehearsal next week.”

Tales from the Wimbledon groundstaff – June

June has arrived, and with it, 19 immaculate grass courts, nipped, tucked and ready to go for the commencement of The Championships, 2011 in seven days time. For Eddie Seaward, Neil Stubley and the eager team of groundstaff at the All England Club, much of the hard work has already been done in preparing the courts – each member of the staff has been assigned a specific court to take care of, meaning that most people are well into their daily routine.

Cutting and marking, are the watch words, as the grass is mown every day, the lines re-painted, all to ensure they are in the best possible condition for when the hundreds of players start hitting their first balls in competitive anger on Monday 20 June.

“We’re pretty much there,” says Stubley, for whom this is his first Championships as Head Groundsman Designate. “We’re just tidying up the courts now, making sure all the furniture is there, maintaining them, doing a bit of spraying here and there.”

The recent wet weather conditions have prompted Seaward and his team to do a bit more rolling than usual, to make sure the courts are nice and firm, and from last Friday, the courts began to be covered overnight.

“It’s a case of managing the moisture,” explains Stubley. Seaward and Stubley also have the full complement of groundstaff to manage – 26 at the moment, with four more to come this weekend, and the army of Court Coverers who start when The Championships begin on Monday.

But aside from the final preparations, the groundstaff have another big task to manage during the weeks before The Championships: the arrival of the players.

Those such as Lleyton Hewitt and Maria Sharapova, who are members of the Club, have been around for a couple of weeks, so making sure there are courts for them to use, and maintaining those courts, is another thing to think about.

Practice for the rest of the players competing in The Championships officially opened at the Aorangi courts on Saturday, and so from now up until The Championships, they’ll be chockablock with players getting in as much last-minute preparation as possible.

Novak Djokovic, Marin Cilic, Hewitt, Richard Gasquet, Sharapova and Jamie Murray are just some of the famous faces trying out forehands and backhands on the Church Road turf. And from Wednesday, players will be allowed onto The Championships’ courts themselves.

“Seeded players are allowed to practice for half an hour a day, while other players in the draw are allowed one half an hour slot before The Championships, which most of them will take up on Saturday.”

A video of some players in practice action…

By Alexandra Willis

Tales from the Wimbledon groundstaff – May

The activity around the Grounds during the month of May at the All England Club ramps up several notches, as the furniture is assembled around the courts, and the numbers of people on site go up and up and up. With just a month to go until The Championships, May is about cramming in as much as possible, so that the finishing touches can be made in June.

Contrary to popular belief, The Championships is not the first time that the grass gets played on. The majority of the courts, bar Centre and No.1, are open to the Members ahead of The Championships, with the first day of play usually taking place in mid May, which is an added task for Head Groundsman Eddie Seaward and his team.

While the sward has been mowed regularly, reducing by a mm each week to get it down to its playing height of 8mm, the next step is adding the lines. This is not, as you might think, a case of a few dudes wandering around with pots of paint. In fact, marking out the court is a practised art that requires patience and skill. And a bit of maths.

Marking out the court

Here’s a basic guide to marking out the court, the Wimbledon way:

    • Start with your two post sockets. The distance between them is 42 feet. Measure between them and mark the middle – that is the centre of the court.
    • Measuring from the centre in each direction, mark out the outer box of the court with string (the Wimbledon groundsmen use a special orange one). The width is 36 foot, so insert two pegs, A and B, 18 foot either side of the centre mark. Measure 53’1” from A along the diagonal, and 39’ as the length, pulling both tapes taught  – these will meet at C, the corner of the court. Reverse to find point D. The length between C and D should be 36 foot. You now have one half of the box. Repeat on the other side. The groundsmen always double and triple check.
    • You can now paint the lines of the box. But, and here’s another thing you might not have known, it’s not actually paint! The groundsmen use a transfer wheel marker (or roller) to apply a white compound that contains titanium dioxide to make it durable. All the lines are 50mm wide, except the baseline, which is 100m. As you can imagine, they get through a lot of this stuff – about 500 gallons each year!
    • Depending on personal preference, the groundsmen use the string as a guide, walking along with the wheel marker slowly and carefully either to the left or right of the string. Each line is rolled just once, they don’t go over and over.
    • Then it’s time to measure and mark the singles tramlines – 13’6” from the centre.
    • Then measure and mark the service lines.
    • Then measure and mark the centre line (18’ from the centre), and the ‘toe’ – the funny jutty out bit where you serve from.
    • And that’s it! Phew.

 

The finished article - Centre Court

At this time of year, the courts are usually re-marked every two to three days, depending on the weather. But during The Championships, they are re-marked every day. In fact, the whole process is repeated 41 times for each court.

So with exactly a month to go until The Championships, the various groundsmen are allocated their specific jobs during the tournament, which courts they will be responsible for mowing and marking, and that’s all they will be doing between now and July.

It’s just around the corner!

 Follow one of the Wimbledon groundsmen on twitter

Alexandra Willis

Notes from some statistically-minded visitors

Ever spotted someone sitting on a computer at the end of a Wimbledon court? They are the famous IBM-ers, a group of tennis-mad youngsters who gather together for each Grand Slam to chart the statistics of each match. Those serve percentages you see on the TV? Those numbers reeled off by commentators? They all come from the IBM data collection team.

This year, The Championships has two new faces in the IBM team, who’ve hopped across several ponds, all the
way from Australia. Alongside their normal jobs, David Steed and Rowena Rosales have worked on the team at the Australian Open for many a year (11 for Rowe, 7 for David), and, this year, had a little brainwave. Why not try it out at Wimbledon? So, they put forward an application to IBM, given their interest and passion for Grand Slam tennis, and the opportunity to learn from Wimbledon, and, two plane journeys later, here they are.

The journey

This is Rowena’s second visit to the UK, where she arrived in late April to attend the IBM pre-tournament training. Rowena is also looking forward to traveling around Europe prior to the commencement of The Championships.

David arrived in London this week from the Mutua Madrid Open in Spain, and prior to this, the United States, where he was involved with the scoring operations teams at both Indian Wells and Miami – March madness in America! Prior to the tournament, David is
also looking forward to working at Roland Garros with fellow Tennis Australia colleagues.

The 2011 tournament will be the duo’s first visit to the Wimbledon club.

Time to hear what in particular they are looking forward to…

Rowena and David at Melbourne Park

Comparing Melbourne Park and Wimbledon

We are excited to contrast these two great tournaments. But not only the weather, grass and the Australian Open mustard
uniforms! For us, we are looking forward to experiencing how Wimbledon blends tennis tradition with technological innovation – something very important when it comes to powering a successful Grand Slam.”

“Back home, the great thing about Australian Open tennis is the fans. They are excited about their tennis, and have an insatiable appetite for the information that tells the story of the match. We expect Wimbledon fans to be just as knowledgeable and passionate
about their event, and we look forward to seeing how they consume and engage with the information we serve up here at the AELTC.”

The role of data collectors and statistics…

“Data collectors both here and in Melbourne are responsible for driving the tournament’s scoring network; providing detailed
point-by-point match information in real-time. Statisticians work as a courtside team to collect up to 15 different statistics per point – such as, double faults, service speed, unforced errors and shot selection. This information is captured on IBM systems in an accurate and timely fashion, requiring great concentration, attention to detail and tennis knowledge.”

“IBM has been in a glorious relationship with worldwide tennis for decades. And it’s a perfect partnership for us as statisticians, where collecting data is just the beginning. Thanks to IBM, this information is disseminated to players and fans in a variety of ways – certainly, the savvy tennis community is hungry for information in many forms. With our data, you can interact with scores
courtside and venue-wide, as well as through television broadcasts and of course, via the web and mobile/tablet apps. Players and trainers also draw upon our collected information as a coaching tool.”

“Thus, whether you are onsite, or perhaps on the other side of the world, everyone has access to Grand Slam tennis, and is able to engage match analysis in real time. Certainly for us, capturing data that creates this deeper and personalised fan experience is part of the job we really value…and watching tennis isn’t too bad a perk either!”

Challenges…

“There are many universal concepts and definitions in regards to tennis statistics. However, there are also some intricacies in software usage and workforce policies that are unique to each tournament. Currently, that’s the challenge for us – to learn and adopt these new practices here at Wimbledon, ensuring that we can best contribute to the team and the tournament. Importantly though, helping us prepare is a series of pre-tournament IBM training sessions held at the Club throughout May.”

Watch this space for further updates from David and Rowe in the coming weeks as The Championships draws ever nearer…

Alexandra Willis

Counting down the days to Roland Garros

If you’ve been mulling over the recent results on the clay, then you’ll no doubt be extremely excited to know that the Roland Garros 2011 website has just gone live, meaning there’s just 14 days till the year’s second Grand Slam kicks off in Paris.

So get out your croissants and cafe cremes, your garlic and baguettes, because here’s our  guide to this year’s French Open…

1. The clay court swing started off by the turquoise Mediterranean sea at Monte Carlo, and five weeks later is reaching its culmination, by the slightly less picturesque waters of the Seine. Having begun as a national tournament in 1891, the French
Championships opened itself up to international competitors in 1925. Back then the tournament was played on (would you believe?) grass, at the Stade Francais club. But in 1928, the Stade Francais offered three hectares of land at Porte
d’Auteil to the tennis authorities, with the condition that the new stadium be named after a certain World War I pilot. Thus Roland Garros was born. In 1968 the French tournament became the first of the four Grand Slams to go ‘open,’ allowing amateurs and professionals to compete together. Earlier this year, the French Tennis Federation agreed to keep the French Open at the Roland Garros site, and instigate a whole host of building work to extend the tiny site.

2. Roland Garros has 20 outdoor red clay courts, including the three show courts. The main court (the Philippe Chatrier court) can accommodate 14,884 spectators, No.1 court (Suzanne Lenglen) holds 9,983 people, while Court 1 has room for 3,792. Our personal favourites, though, are courts No.2 and No.3. Designed much like the new court No.2 at Wimbledon, these two are sunk into the ground, creating an amphitheatre-like atmosphere. They’re great for getting up close to the action. If you’re interested in doing a little star spotting, the best place to hover is by the players’ entrance under Tribune J. Brugnon in the Court Philippe Chatrier. You might get lucky.

3. From the ‘four musketeers’ (four French men – Jean Borotra, Jacques Brugnon, Henri Cochet and Rene Lacoste – who reigned supreme in the 1920s and 1930s) to Bjorn Borg and Chris Evert’s domination of the 1970s and Ivan Lendl and Steffi
Graf’s ruling the roost in the 1980s, Roland Garros has a rich and varied history of champions. The person everyone’s eyes will be on, is of course, Rafael Nadal. Can the defending champion notch up his sixth Roland Garros crown? Or will something, or someone get in the way. A certain Roger Federer maybe? On the women’s side, with the likes of Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters likely to be absent through injury, it’s very much up for grabs. Will one of the young femmes fatales such as Caroline Wozniacki or Victoria Azarenka triumph in Paris? Or someone completely different, of the ebullient Francesca Schiavone mould.We shall have to wait and see..

4. There should be a healthy contingent of Brits in action. Andy Murray will be attempting to go a little further than his fourth-round appearance of last year, while Elena Baltacha will be straight into the main draw, possibly joined by Heather Watson. Brits such as Anne Keothavong and Katie O’Brien should feature in the qualifying tournament (which takes place a week before the main event) and the junior competition, where the likes of George Morgan and Oliver Golding should be making an appearance.

5. Unsurprisingly, the French Open offers many  opportunities for fine dining. There’s a plethora of eateries around the event, from sarnies to salads to good old fashioned chips. Further afield, Richard Gasquet recommends Le Murat, while the women’s champion will often eat at the world-famous Brasserie Lipp after the final (but they don’t take bookings so you’ll have to queue). Meanwhile, a certain Spaniard likes to celebrate his victories at Café de L’Homme, which has stunning views of the Eiffel Tower.

6. Tickets for the tournament went on sale at the beginning of March, but don’t worry if you haven’t got any yet as there is an official channel for buying and selling tickets on Viagogo. If you don’t manage to get to Paris, you’ll be able to keep in touch with all the action through the fabulous mediums of twitter and Facebook, and right here on Wimbledon.com as well. Get ready now…aaaaaalllllleeeeeezzzz!

Alexandra Willis

The faces behind Wimbledon’s flowers

Wimbledon is now less than two months away, and behind the scenes Emma Smyth and her merry band of gardeners have been furiously weeding, watering, digging and planting.

As general manager of Natural Green, the creative design and landscaping firm which has a year round contract with Wimbledon, it is Smyth’s job to ensure the grounds are as immaculate on the last day of every Championships as they are on the first.

It takes a lot of hard graft to achieve those perfectly manicured hedges, trimmed topiary, well-groomed borders and glorious green, purple and white floral displays, which create the beautiful English garden backdrop that epitomises Wimbledon. And while the gardening and maintenance is a non-stop job, it is April when their green fingers start to work overtime.

Pink roses outside Centre Court

“From mid-April onwards everything has started to grow,” explains Smyth. “There’s lots of weeding, hedge-cutting and grounds maintenance. Every autumn we put a bedding scheme together for autumn and winter. We like to clear those out and the beds are made ready for the summer tournament planting. May is when the plants start to come in and it snowballs up until The Championships open. It’s a bit frenzied.”

A team of eight gardeners lovingly tend to the grounds throughout the year but during the tournament extra cavalry – four part-timers – is drafted in to cope with the greater volume of plants and shrubs that arrive.

There are over 200 individual flowerbeds to maintain and 650 hanging baskets – usually planted with surfinia (a trailing petunia) in sky blue, white, blue vein and blue. Add to that the 1,500 flowering UK-grown hydrangea plants, 29,960 flowering petunia, surfinia, salvia, campanula, digitalis and geranium, and 360 planted containers with buxus balls, kentia palms, weeping ficus and orchids and you begin to get an idea of the workload.

Planning for the succeeding year’s championships begins just a month after the tournament ends and Smyth liaises with growers explaining which plants worked well and where improvements could be made. High-profile areas – such as the members’ balcony under the clubhouse and the colourful, floral Wimbledon logo on Henman Hill – are scrutinised. Most orders are set by Christmas and, during the cold winter months, the team turns its hand to the bread and butter gardening and maintenance of the All England Club, which is of course a private member’s club and used as such when The Championships are not in play.

The AELTC, too, sets out any landscaping desires it has. “The club will throw new stuff at us,” explains Smyth. “This year Court Three is new and there’s a planting scheme for that. No.1 Court also has  a new debentures balcony.” However it works both ways. “We go to them and say this is what we would like to do and this is where we can make an improvement. This year we have a new hedge at the practice courts and have replaced the bed in front of the Aorangi pavilion.”

Planting schemes must reflect the club colours of purple/blue, white and green. Tradition is everything at Wimbledon and change can only be
gradually phased in. This will be Smyth’s third Championships, and while she will continue with tournament traditions, she also has an eye on future planting styles and trends.

“You have to be gradual when you introduce change and let people chew over it. Previously under the balcony the bed would have had a block of hydrangeas. Last year there were hydrangeas, salveas and shaped topiary under there. The whole areas was dressed, there was more design. We’re always looking to brighten an area and make it as pretty as possible.”

Some of Wimbledon's famous flower boxes

Wimbledon spectators are not the only ones to benefit from the pretty floral displays. Beautiful splashes of colour in the form of hanging baskets and window boxes line Church Road, Wimbledon Village and Southfields during the tournament – again the work of the gardening team. “It’s a gift from Wimbledon,” explains Smyth.

One might wonder what happens to the plants once the tournament ends. Some are sold to the public with the proceeds going to charity, while the planted containers, many of which are hired in, are returned. Meanwhile, hydrangeas are replaced in areas that need ‘va-va voom’.

With such a prestigious event, the pressure is on to keep the gardens and grounds looking flawless no matter what stage the tournament is at. “Whether it’s day one or day ten the visitors have to have the same experience and it has to look as good on day one as it does on the day of the finals,” says Smyth. “I do say to the lads it’s important we are here all the time.”

But the long hours are worth it and the end results could be described as ‘blooming’ marvellous. “I feel proud and it’s fantastic when we send photos of the grounds home and it looks amazing,” Smyth says, but quickly adds: “It does bring a tear to your eye when you see people standing on the plants.”

 Helen Gilbert

Tales from the Wimbledon groundstaff – April

Wimbledon comes round every year, and every year, as if by magic, players and public are treated to the sight of 19 immaculate grass courts, trimmed and toned to perfection. They are the best grass courts in the world. But, how do they get that way?

You may think that a whole load of new turf is brought in each year. You may think they just sort themselves out on their own. Not quite. A hardy team of 16 groundsmen, led by Head Groundsman Eddie Seaward, and his No.2, Head Groundsman Designate Neil Stubley, tend to the courts for 365 days a year, so that when June rolls around, they are as prim and proper as possible.

We’ll be bringing you a month by month update on the Wimbledon greensward (or grass, to you and me), so watch this space. First up, April, and Verticutting.

Centre Court at Wimbledon in April

Early spring for the groundsmen is about killing off any weeds that might have popped up in the grass as it’s started to grow again as the weather gets warmer, evaluating its thickness, and starting to trim the grass down from its winter height.

” We put a weed killer down, which will kill any weeds which have come up over the winter period, leave it for about two weeks, then put the scarifiers across them, which are little star blades that just touches the soil. These will pick out all the dead weeds and any debris that’s settled in the sward (Ed: that’s the grass) over the winter. Then we’ll follow up with the mower, and it basically thins out the sward ready for the spring.  So normally we’ll do it on a by eye basis, if we think that one of the courts is a bit thicker, we’ll run over it two or three times, but they’re pretty much all looking the same at the moment. We did Centre and No.1 first, because it tends to stay a little bit colder because of the stands.”

The unwanted grass debris on the left, the cut grass on the right

The result? Two bundles of very different-looking grass. One lot is dry and brown and straw-like, the other is beautifully green…

“The brown stuff in there, that’s the bits of dead grass that sit at the base of the grass. Over time if you don’t take that out, it’ll almost go like a sponge, it’ll sit between the grass and the soil. It then starts getting soft, and when you roll it, it doesn’t go hard, so the ball won’t bounce. That’s about the amount we’d expect from this time of year. But when you cut, it’s all green.”

The second task in April is starting to trim the courts, which is a step by step process of pain-staking precision…

” The courts have a winter height of 13mm, but over the last seven days we’ve dropped it to 11mm. They’ll stay like this for another couple of weeks, and then gradually over each week, we’ll just drop it a mm until it’s down to the playing height of 8mm. To us it looks long, most people probably think it’s short!”

Scarifying on the right, mowing on the left

The process of verticutting takes the groundsmen about three days to do all 19 Championship courts, plus the practice courts in Aorangi Pavilion. They’ll keep an eye

on the thickness of the grass, and if necessary, run the scarifiers and mowers through again. And also tidy up any bare patches at the side of the courts, or ‘tickle the surface,’ as they like to put it.

“For us at the moment, this is perfect, nice 20 degree days, not too cold overnight. Our biggest problem has been when you get sunny days, but frost at night, which keeps the soil temperatues down and means the grass isn’t growing as it should be.”

Next month…getting the courts ready for the Members.

Alexandra Willis

Antiques Roadshow at Wimbledon

The BBC television show ‘Antiques Roadshow’ will be at The All England Lawn Tennis Club on Thursday 25 August 2011 from 9.30am to 4.30pm.

If you are in the Wimbledon area, you can bring your treasures to the experts on the day, but if you have large pieces of furniture and/or bulky antiques you can’t carry, the Antiques Roadshow may be able to help.

Write now enclosing a photo if possible and your address and telephone number. Closing date for letters Tuesday 16 August 2011.

Antiques Roadshow, BBC, Whiteladies Road, Bristol BS8 2LR. email: antiques.roadshow@bbc.co.uk

The BBC Antiques Roadshow is open to everyone but asks for 14 days notice if you need a sign language interpreter.

For more information visit www.bbc.co.uk/antiquesroadshow

Tennis Schedule for London 2012

The schedule for the tennis event at the London 2012 Olympics has been released. Tennis for London 2012 will be played at The All England Lawn Tennis Club and will feature Men’s Singles, Men’s Doubles, Women’s Singles, Women’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles, between 28 July – 5 August 2012.

Tickets go on sale from March 2011. More information is available on the London 2012 website.

View the schedule and ticket prices for tennis at the London 2012 Olympics (PDF)

Nadal voted Sportsman of the Year

Rafael Nadal has been voted Laureus World Sportsman of the Year after his remarkable 2010 season, where he won Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open and finished as ATP World Tour No. 1 for second time in three years.

The Laureus World Sports Awards are among the most prestigious honours on the international sporting calendar with the winners chosen by the Laureus World Sports Academy, comprising 46 of the greatest sportsmen and sportswomen of all time. The awards were announced at a ceremony held in Abu Dhabi on 7 February, hosted by double Oscar winner Kevin Spacey and attended by guests from the worlds of sport and entertainment.

Proceeds from the Laureus World Sports Awards directly benefit and underpin the work of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation which supports almost 80 community projects around the world which have helped to improve the lives of more than one million young people through the use of sport.

This was the second time that Nadal had earned recognition from the jury, having been named Laureus World Newcomer of the Year Award in 2006. He was also nominated for the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year Award in 2009. This year’s honour was in recognition of an outstanding campaign in 2010 where apart from the three Grand Slams, he also won consecutive ATP Masters 1000 titles at Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid and became the seventh man in history to complete a career Grand Slam, the youngest in the open era to win all four majors and the first player to win three consecutive Slams in the same year since Rod Laver in 1969.

The evening was made even more special for Nadal when his friends on the Spanish football team were given the Laureus World Team of the Year Award following their victory at the FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

2011 Australian Open

For Novak Djokovic, his Australian Open triumph could be the start of a new era; for Kim Clijsters, her victory could be the beginning of the end.

As Djokovic hugged the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup for the second time in his career, he felt like a new man. He had not so much beaten Andy Murray 6-4, 6-2, 6-3, he had outplayed him in almost every rally. Coming hard on the heels of his thrashing of Roger Federer in the semi finals, Djokovic could not have been happier.

“Both of those guys play their best tennis on the hard courts, as well as I do,” Djokovic said. “But to be able to win against those players in straight sets is incredible. This final was a great match. From the start to the last point, I did what I intended of doing tactically, what I talked with my coach, what I prepared for. To be able to win in straight sets against a player like Andy Murray in the finals of Grand Slam, it makes my success even bigger.”

When Djokovic won the title in 2008, he was, as he put, just a 20-year-old kid hitting the ball as hard as he could. Three years on, and having led Serbia to victory in the Davis Cup last December, he is a better player and a more experienced competitor. He would not dream of saying that he is better than Federer and Rafael Nadal – or even as good – but now he feels he is ready to challenge the Big Two at every grand slam championship.

“I feel a better player now than I was three years ago,” Djokovic explained, “because I think that physically I’m stronger, I’m faster, mentally I’m more motivated on the court. I know how to react in certain moments and I know how to play on a big stage.

“Still Rafa and Roger are the two best players in the world. No question about that. You can’t compare my success and Murray’s success to their success. They’re the two most dominant players in the game for a while. All the credit to them. But it’s nice to see that there are some new players in the later stages of Grand Slams fighting for a title. That’s all I can say.”

Nadal’s run came to a painful and disappointing end in the semi finals. He suffered a micro-tear in his hamstring as he took on David Ferrer – and against one of the fastest men on the circuit, not even the world No.1 stood a chance with a gammy leg. As for Federer, he took his defeat on the chin but balked at the thought that having Murray and Djokovic in the final signalled a changing of the guard. “We’ll see in six months,” he said, obviously looking forward to his return to Wimbledon and Nadal’s return to Roland Garros.

As for Murray, he was resigned to his fate: Djokovic had been better in all departments and he could not do much about it. It was the Scot’s third grand slam final defeat and after the emotion of last year’s loss to Federer, this time he was just tired and disappointed.

“He played great,” Murray said. “I would have liked to have played better but I think he would have beaten every other player on the tour if he played like that tonight. He served well. He didn’t make many mistakes from the back of the court. He moved really, really well. He hit the ball very clean. That was it.”

If Clijsters played the way she played through the two weeks of the Australian Open, she, too, could beat anyone on any day on any surface. But she does not want to.

Her impressive 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 win over Li Na in the final earned her her fourth major title but her first in Melbourne. Now, after years of being called Aussie Kim (on account of once being Lleyton Hewitt’s girlfriend), she felt like she really belonged in one of her favourite places in the world. “I finally feel like you guys can call me Aussie Kim now because I won the title,” she said.

While she said she would be back next year to defend her trophy, she thinks this is probably her last full year on the road. She would like to play at the Olympics in 2012 and then she wants to have another baby. Tennis is a great way to make a living but being a mum is a more attractive prospect in the long run. When she left tennis in 2007 to have her first child, she never thought she would be back. This time, she knows she will be hanging up her racket for good when she leaves to have another baby.

“When I started again, I kind of had the Olympics in my mind” she said. “I wanted to try to keep going till then. I obviously never expected things to be going so well so quickly. I thought it was going to take a little bit more time to get back into the rhythm or get back into my routine of traveling with a family and everything. But I do think this is probably my last full season that I’ll be playing. I would like to try and keep going until the Olympics. I’ve never played the Olympics, which is in a year and a half time, or a little under a year and a half. Yeah, so and then we’ll see after that.”

Li, meanwhile, was enjoying every moment of her time in Melbourne, even if she had just lost the final. She had scythed her way through the draw to become the first Chinese woman to reach a major final and, throughout, she had cracked jokes, made fun of her husband and coach, Jiang Shan (apparently he snores too loudly and only lets her use the credit card when she wins), and become a superstar in the space of a fortnight.

But after two weeks of teasing and mockery, Li finally gave her husband a break. “You see that guy in yellow shirt,” she said to the crowd in the Rod Laver Arena after the final. “He’s my husband. I make a lot of jokes on him this week but I want to tell him – doesn’t matter if you fat or skinny, handsome or ugly; I always follow you and I always love you.”

Few women can play tennis better than Li when she is on song – Clijsters is something of a rarity – but absolutely no one can make a runner’s up speech like the lady from Wuhan.

Review of the 2010 US Open

The king is dead; long live the king. As Roger Federer left New York on Saturday night, beaten in the semi finals of the US Open, it seemed that an era was drawing to a close. The Greatest Of All Time was not the man he once was.

However, with Rafael Nadal’s 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 rain-affected victory over Novak Djokovic in the final, the Spanaird completed his career Grand Slam and proved that he is now unstoppable on all surfaces and in all countries.

The cement courts of New York used to hurt his knees and stymie his plans but now, with a reworked serve and with his injury problems solved – for the moment, at least – he has mastered the hard courts just as he mastered clay and grass.

He won the title for the loss of just one set and over the course of seven matches, he dropped serve just four times (and two of those times were in the final). Only Djokovic managed to make him sweat and work but, even so, it was not enough to stop Nadal. The forehand that had crushed Federer in the semi-finals only bruised Nadal, and then only sometimes. Djokovic was playing his heart out but Nadal was always going to win.

For Nadal, it was a dream come true. On the final point, he fell to the ground and burst into tears. He was sobbing again as he tried to applaud the crowd for their unstinting support. And then, when he finally got his hands on the trophy, he could not stop smiling.

“That’s more than what I dreamt,” he said. “Just to arrive to the final was amazing. To have the trophy in my hand is unbelievable. I think for the first time in my career I played a very, very good match in this tournament. That’s my feeling. I played my best match in the US Open at the most important moment, so I am very, very happy for that, for sure.”

Nadal was only the seventh man to complete the career Grand Slam and, even if he is still seven titles short of Federer’s record of 16, Djokovic thinks that the Spaniard is on his way to true greatness.

“Each year he’s getting better – that’s what’s so frustrating,” Djokovic said. “He’s getting better each time you play him. He’s so mentally strong and dedicated to this sport. He has all the capabilities, everything he needs, in order to be the biggest ever, in my opinion. He has lots of time to come if he physically holds on the next five, six, seven years.

“He has the game now for each surface, and he has won each major. He has proven to the world that he’s the best in this moment, so there is no question about it.”

Meanwhile, Kim Clijsters was doing what she usually does at the US Open – winning. No one has beaten her at Flushing Meadows since Justine Henin shattered her dream in the 2003 final. Since then, she has only played the event three times due to injury and a two year break to start a family but every time she has been back, she has collected the trophy.

A year ago, she was the talk of the town as she held the trophy aloft in only her third tournament back after coming out of retirement. This time she was back as an established player with a reputation and a title to defend. And defend it she did, walloping Vera Zvonareva 6-2, 6-1 in the final.

Poor Zvonareva was felled by nerves and, despite having demolished Caroline Wozniacki in the semi final with a remarkable display of control and accuracy, she could so nothing right against Clijsters. It was Wimbledon all over again – she had done all the hard work to get to the (and at Wimbledon, she beat Clijsters in the quarter finals) but when she got to the final, she could not make so much as a dent in the champion’s defences.

With no Henin or Serena Williams to face this time – both were sidelined with injuries – Clijsters’s biggest threat was Venus Williams but she was dispatched in three sets in the semi finals.

Clijsters, being one of the nicest people you could hope to meet on the tour, was quick to comfort Zvonareva. She, too, had been through some horrible losses in major finals and she knew the Russian was going through.

“I told her, too, it took me five or six times before I won my first one, and I know exactly how she feels,” Clijsters said. “That was probably one of the most frustrating things in my grand slam losses in the finals: that I wasn’t able to show my best tennis out there. That’s how she was feeling afterwards, as well, is what she told me.”

That said, it is unlikely that Clijsters will be offering any favours to Zvonareva should they meet in another major final – Clijsters appears to have developed the winning habit.

Road to Wimbledon Blogs

Updates on the 2010 HSBC Road to Wimbledon Finals are available at: http://www.hsbcroadtowimbledon.com

LOCOG announces details of 2012 Olympic tennis at Wimbledon

LOCOG (London Olympic Committee of the Olympic Games) announced further details of the London 2012 Olympic Games tennis due to be held at the All England Lawn Tennis Club.

Outlining the event , LOCOG Director of Sport Debbie Jevans spoke of the following, highlighting how Wimbledon is going to alter for the Olympic period, with competition planned from 28 July to 5 August – (these dates are expected to be confirmed in November).  

  • There will be competition on twelve courts, with seven others given over to practice and warm up.
  • There will be five Olympic events — men’s and women’s singles and doubles and mixed doubles. The men’s singles is over the best of three sets and the final will be best of five sets. In the mixed event, there will be a ten point tie break at set all.
  • Play will start at 11am and the daily crowd capacity  will be fixed at 26,000. The big screen at the Aorangi Park terrace end of the grounds will be available for use.
  • The condition of all of the courts and the quality of the grass is already part of the planning. Wimbledon  began testing immediately  after this year’s Championships  and within two weeks  were  happy that the surface on Centre Court was ready for play once more.
  • The Olympics will bring their own colour scheme which means an alteration in some of the traditional views of  Wimbledon from the Centre Court onwards.
  • Players will not have to wear White and will wear national colours as appropriate.
  • The Olympic family will have the use of the Royal Box  and the medal ceremonies will take place on the Centre Court.

As part of the planning for the event  LOCOG are about to enter into consultations with local residents, community representatives, and other key stakeholders from now until the end of September  after which planning applications will be submitted by LOCOG to  the London Borough of Merton.   Planning consent is needed to install the temporary  facilities to stage the Games at Wimbledon starting in January 2011 – with the main part being post 2012 Championships. All of the temporary structures will be removed when competition is over in August 2012.

As Ian Ritchie, chief executive  at  Wimbledon, pointed out: “Players are already planning their schedule around  this period  when unusually they will be playing at Wimbledon twice in three weeks. The use of this iconic  venue adds lustre to the Olympics and to tennis as  a sport.”

There was a record participation in tennis in the 2008 Games in Beijing. In 2012, countries can enter a maximum of four players in the singles events and many of them will be more than familiar with the territory, if not the Olympic challenge.  As six times Wimbledon champion Roger Federer, a doubles gold medallist in Beijing, observed: “The history is already here and it is fantastic that the Olympics are going to be here. Maybe this is the chance to pick up a singles gold medal.”   

There will be an exhibition on the plans at the Wingfield Restaurant at Wimbledon on 19 August (4-8 p.m.), 20 August (noon-4 pm) and 21 August (11am.-3 pm)

The plans can also be viewed online at london2012.com/wimbledonconsultation . Other information can be obtained on 0800 198 2012 or by writing to Freepost 2012 Games. The deadline for feedback on the plans is September 30 2010.

Blogs for the 2010 Wimbledon Championships

Blogs for the 2010 Wimbledon Championships are available at the official tournament website at http://2010.wimbledon.org/en_GB/news/blogs/index.html

Rain halts Wimbledon wild card play-offs

Heavy rain showers have delayed the start of the 2010 Wimbledon wild card play-offs tournament.

The three day event, which gives British players the opportunity to compete for a wild card into the qualifying event for The Championships, was due to kick off at 11am at Aorangi Park this morning.

However, the unsettled weather means play is unlikely to begin until later this afternoon and the forecast over the next two days is also bleak.

Referee Peter Finn said: “There will come a point when we consider going indoors but at this point we are hoping the players will play on the grass courts.”

There are two wild cards available in each event. These are decided by 16 male and female competitors contesting a knockout draw.

The two sets of finalists will progress to next week’s qualifying event, which takes place at the Bank of England Sports Ground, Roehampton.

Lisa Jane Whybourn is the top seed in the women’s event, while Daniel Evans heads up the men.