Our editor heads for SW19 to spend the day with the Wimbledon groundstaff as they prepare for the all important World Group Davis Cup tie against Austria
With Wimbledon being the home of tennis in the UK and, some would say, the world, it is perhaps somewhat surprising to note that the recent Davis Cup match between Great Britain and Austria is only the fifth time a tie has been staged here in the past thirty years. More so when you consider that this was the 226th home tie in the competition!
Wimbledon was chosen because it was felt that playing on grass, in front of large crowds, would give an advantage to the home team of Andy Murray, Jamie Murray, Alex Bogdanovic and Ross Hutchins. In the end that plan failed and the LTA's organisation of the three day event was called into question.
Putting all that aside, it was still a very important event for the groundstaff at Wimbledon. The event was televised by the BBC and large crowds were expected, given that this was an opportunity to see the new world number four in action... Andy Murray.
Having secured my press accreditation from the LTA, I set off in the early hours of the morning from deepest Shropshire, arriving at 7.00am. On my way in to the ground I bumped into Head Groundsman, Eddie Seaward MBE. He was all smiles, as usual, and greeted me warmly. He showed me to the press room where I was given my pass to the courtside press area.
Somebody must have been looking down on Eddie as the weather turned out to be absolutely perfect for tennis, quite amazing considering the previous few weeks downpours!
Number 1 Court was being used for all five matches over the three days - four singles and one doubles - with courts 18 and 19 being used for practice and warm ups. Both teams had been practicing on these courts in the days leading up to the tie.
I met up again with Eddie on Number 1 Court at 8.00am. The covers were still on but the groundstaff were beginning the process of removing them. This takes around twenty minutes to complete and, once removed, match preparations begin in earnest.
Assistant Groundsmen, David Procter, Ben Swidenbank and Rick Street had been given the responsibility of preparing the court under the supervision of Eddie and his deputy, Mark Sheather, who, this year, had worked on his 38th Wimbledon Championship!
|Friday 8.00 am Covers still on|
|Covers coming off|
|Mowing & overmarking begins|
Court preparations for the Davis Cup began immediately after the Championships had finished. Each court to be used was watered, lightly scarified and overseeded, with the work centred on the worn service lines and ball boy areas. Germination flat sheets were used to aid growth, followed by feeding and watering to bring the courts back into condition.
Within a week the seed was up and ready for its first cut with Hayter pedestrian rotaries set at 14mm. After a couple of cuts using the rotaries the courts were then mowed with Toro Greensmaster 1000 cylinder mowers, gradually reducing the height of cut down to the tournament height of 8mm.
The final preparations for the Davis Cup had begun two weeks prior, with the then pristine courts being mown daily, watered and covered as necessary.
David and Ben had prevously marked out the court with two transfer line markers (50mm and 100mm width), setting the four corners, marking tram lines, service lines and finally centre lines.
The preparation work in the days leading up to the event meant that Eddie and his team only had to carry out their tried and tested tournament routine ... and keep an eye on the weather. After all, this is Wimbledon!
Dateline 19th-21st September • BNP PARIBAS Davis Cup Match • Great Britain v Austria •
I guess there are many who think that, after the Championships, Eddie and his staff have little to do other than return the courts to good condition by carrying out renovation work. Nothing could be further from the truth. Since the Championships, the All England Club has hosted the Seniors Tour, the 'Road to Wimbledon' junior event, an Inter Military Tournament between the RAF, the Army and the Royal Navy and then, of course, the Davis Cup.
Each year, a few weeks before the Championships, Eddie employs additional staff to work alongside his permanent team of fourteen. In total he has about thirty people to supervise, who are responsible for court preparations, maintenance and repairs. The majority of them remain after the Championships, until all the end of season renovations have been completed, usually in mid to late September.
Eddie has to meticulously plan his renovation programme around the busy fixture schedule.
Of course, on some of the unused courts, work will have already begun, whilst other courts remain open up until the last minute for use by members.
It is important to get the renovations completed as soon as possible while weather and soil conditions remain favourable. It will be all hands on deck to get the remainder of the courts completed. Once done, they can all get a well-earned rest and recuperation.
Once the final tournament is over, Eddie and his staff finish off their end of season renovation works. Most courts are renovated in exactly the same way, with the exception of one or two that may need some deeper cultivation work to restore levels.
With the courts at around 10mm, they are aerated with a Soil Reliever and Koroed off to 10mm in two passes. This cleans off the surface vegetation. Each court is then heavily scarified using a tractor mounted Graden. The courts are then re-sown using a Perennial ryegrass seed mixture containing 50 % Jessica and 50% Pontiac. The seed is sown in four directions applying about two bags per court.
Germination sheets are used to speed up germination rates. The grass is usually up within seven days, and gets its first cut when at a height of 14mm using pedestrian rotary mowers. Once the sward has thickened the height is reduced to around 6mm.
They are then topdressed with four tonnes of Surrey Loam which is dragged into the court using a 2 metre levelawn. This will restore any slight loss of levels.
During the winter months the staff carry out a number of cultural practices to keep the courts in prime condition. These include brushing the surface to remove dew, aerating as required, mowing to maintain a winter height between 10-12mm and the occasional application of iron to maintain colour and harden the turf.
Somewhere in amongst all that, Eddie and his staff will take a well earned holiday to recharge the batteries before it all starts again!