1 Preparations for Wimbledon 2004

Preparations for Wimbledon 2004

By Editor

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Tim Henman's form in the French Open is whetting our appetites for the tennis calendar's showpiece event - the All England Lawn Tennis Championships at Wimbledon, due to start on 21st June.

As ever, Wimbledon Head Groundsman, Eddie Seaward, and his team have been planning meticulously to ensure the event is the best it can be, and so far the preparations are going well despite the slow start due to the cold, wet weather experienced in April and early May. In fact, it prevented a spring fertiliser being applied this year.

The Wimbledon season starts with the preparation of the grass courts for use by the club members who this year started to play in mid May. A programme of rolling and reducing the height of cut was undertaken, and this has continued with the aim of producing firm playable courts. On average, the members use between 7 and 11 courts per day with play starting at 11.15am and finishing at 8.15pm. However, the use of courts is rotated to minimise wear.

In addition to the daily preparation of the members' courts there is also the job of preparing the grass courts in readiness for the Championships.

From the start of June companies are busy erecting the grandstands, seating and marquee areas so familiar to visitors to the event. This involves shutting down all the artificial tennis facilities and dismantling the fittings to allow access for the contractors to complete their works.

In total, 41 grass courts are prepared for the Championships, all of which are maintained in the same manner using the same materials and maintenance regimes to ensure total consistency and uniformity. This court consistency has continued for a number of years because of the use of the same perennial ryegrasses, AberElf and AberImp, on the courts. These species are very dominant and have helped control the poa grasses which, in turn, has reduced the susceptibility to turf diseases. Since the last Championships only two applications of fungicide to control fusarium have been necessary, with no other turf disease being prevalent.

Eddie is always looking for ways to improve his surfaces. Recently, he was out in Australia looking at some new grasses at a breeding station. However, there was nothing better than what he is currently using. The production of new grass material can take a long time, in some instances up to ten years or more. However, if and when any new material comes onto the market, Eddie will always be interested to see if it would be suitable for Wimbledon.

The club's policy on grass being the No 1 surface for tennis is paramount. The grass surfaces are the most important element of Wimbledon, and will remain so.

The ongoing improvements to the site, including the future project of installing a new roof system over Centre Court, will still be secondary to the importance of the grass court surfaces. As Head Groundsman, Eddie's role is to ensure that the grass surfaces remain the focal point of Wimbledon and that any changes to structures within the site are to enhance the performance and playability of grass tennis courts.

Eddie has been involved right from the start, working very closely with the architects to ensue that the new roof design does not compromise light, air movement and moisture contents within the new stadium environment. His inputs have been fully supported by the club and recognised by the developers. One of the strengths of Wimbledon is the professional support received by the Head Groundsman in promoting and maintaining the reputation, standards and traditions of the club.

Going back to this year's Championships preparation programme, it was difficult to roll early on due to the very wet spell in April. The combination of the rolling and the condition of the top 100mm of rootzone produces the playability of the surface. With an improvement in the weather, the courts started to dry out enabling the team to get the rollers on and produce the consolidation needed for Championship courts.

Six 1200mm wide rollers are used with the same width front and rear rollers to prevent overlapping problems. The courts are rolled when the soil is at its optimum moisture condition, enabling maximum consolidation of the top 100mm to be achieved. A number of tensiometers have been installed on one of the practice courts. These measure soil moisture content. The data produced will ensure that the courts are rolled in the optimum conditions.

A Clegg hammer, a testing device that measures the hardness of the courts, is also used. The aim is for the Clegg hammer to be reading 150 gravities two days prior to the Championships, and then maintain this level throughout. There is a continued improvement in the bounce on the courts now they have begun to dry out. Eddie is pleased with the way they are performing. The courts are getting harder and drier and are expected to peak for the Championships.

Watering, however, is still very important when preparing the courts. The rootzone needs to be wet uniformly with the water reaching below 100mm to encourage deeper rooting of the sward. When rolling, Eddie and his team can then be confident of consistent consolidation at a depth (100mm).

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Staffing levels are now up to 29, the full complement for the event, with a number of regulars who come back each year. According to Eddie, having staff who are familiar with the pressures of the Wimbledon fortnight is critical to the success of the event. Not only are they competent in what they do, preparing the courts etc., they are also very familiar with all the protocol that goes with the event.

As soon as the Wimbledon Championships have finished the renovation programme begins, with the renovation of Centre Court and No 1 court being completed first. The remaining courts follow, bearing in mind that the club members still require courts for play. By late August, all being well, the programme will be completed.

NB

The Annual Grass Court Seminar has now become a well established event in the tennis calendar and is to take place this year on Wednesday 4th and Thursday 5th August 2004. This is the thirteenth year the seminar has been run by The All England Club, Wimbledon in conjunction with the Lawn Tennis Association, and promises to be as popular as ever.

The Seminar is aimed at Groundstaff and officials responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of grass tennis courts at clubs, parks and tournament venues. The event will consist of a two-day course covering all practical aspects of grass court preparation, maintenance and renovation. In addition to practical demonstrations on maintenance procedures, other subjects to be included will be irrigation, court performance, measurements, the use of chemicals and calibration.

The Seminar is now part of a structured approach to the development of tennis Groundsmen - a scheme set up between The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) and the Institute of Groundsmanship (IoG). It is part of an initiative that provides practical courses for all tennis court surfaces. The Seminar at Wimbledon is available for Groundsmen to study more in-depth science and technology of the preparation and maintenance of grass tennis courts.

The programme of demonstrations and presentations will be led by Eddie Seaward, Head Groundsman at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, supported by experts from the Sports Turf Research Institute, Cranfield University, Toro Irrigation, and senior Groundstaff from The Queen's Club, West Kensington.

The cost of the seminar, including all tuition and meals is just £75.00 for the two-days. Accommodation on a bed and breakfast basis is available at a local college for £40.00 per night.

Early application is advisable as this event is always oversubscribed. Booking forms are available from :

The Institute of Groundsmanship
19-23 Church Street
Wolverton
Milton Keynes MK12 5LG
email : iog@iog.org Website :http://www.iog.org

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