How long have you been looking after The AEGON Championships grass courts at The Queen's Club?
Since 1986, so 26 years. My Dad, David Kimpton, started in 1966 and I've continued it on so between us we've clocked up more than 70 years! I grew up here (at The Queen's Club) from a baby. The area that is now the tea-room for the Groundsmen team used to be our family lounge! When I left school I was more interested in engineering, but I liked sport and wanted to be outside more so I did four years here working with Dad, then did some traveling for a year and then went to study at Horticultural college. Many of the top groundsmen in the world have come through it. I've carried on since being an examiner and assessor to give something back. A couple of the lads on my team are studying it now.
What is the most important thing about being a Groundsman for grass court tennis?
It sounds corny but you have to have respect for nature. There are so many things to consider - the weather, turf pests, diseases. And it's all about timing. This Club and its courts have got to be ready for the tournament in June. Not a week early, not a week late. It has to be right, every year.
You mentioned the weather. What challenges does the weather provide?
Groundsmen are never happy! If it's hot we're moaning that we need some moisture for the grass. If it's raining we're not happy with that either. Humid weather is one of the worst conditions for the courts because it can develop funguses. The fact is that whatever the climate throws at us, we can deal with it. We've got to be able to. By making full use of aeration programs, our irrigation system and court covers (both pre and during the event), we can accurately control moisture levels. The last few years the tournament has had a perfect run-up, with glorious dry weather, so preparation has been good, but then rain came at the start of the tournament which makes things difficult. We always get through it in the end though.
What are the players like?
On the whole they are a really good group of lads. I think they respect what we do and they really enjoy coming on the grass after so many weeks and months on the clay. Grass courts are more forgiving on the body and most of the players realise that you can't play until midnight on them the way you might under lights on a hard court. Guys like Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt have always been very respectful and understanding of what we are trying to do.
Many of them have said that The Queen's Club's grass courts are the best in the world. That must be nice.
It's great to hear that but it's a team effort, and we're all working hard 52 weeks a year because there's so much to do. The day after the tournament finishes the members are playing on the grass courts through until the first week in October. The courts are then seeded, germinated, spiked, sprayed, fed, you name it. We've then got to watch out for snow in the winter. We couldn't leave them unattended as they would be a real mess. We're forever manicuring them, and so whenever we have the big names like Roddick and Hewitt saying how good the courts are, it reflects well on the tournament and the club.
Ivan Lendl has returned to the game as coach of Andy Murray. Is it true that you played a prank on him once?
Yes (laughs). A couple of years in a row when he was World No.1 he completely sidestepped Paris so that he could come here early with Tony Roach and work on his grass court game to try to win Wimbledon. We got to know him quite well. On the court he was always so focused, but off the court he was nice, polite, interesting, and he was well informed about all kinds of sports - football, cricket, you name it. He was No.1 in the world and he would cycle to Queen's on a bike. Can you imagine that? Anyway, we hid his bike for him. I can't repeat what he said but it was all good fun. He was a very nice, gracious guy, different to the man people imagine. I hope he comes back with Andy Murray this year. It would be great to see him again.A
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