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