There are two questions I'm currently being asked. Firstly "Are you going to rip the courts up this year?" a question that warrants its own blog. The second, quite understandably is, "How does it feel not having The Championships this year?". Well the short answer to that is …… strange.
I have been on the Groundstaff at The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in various roles for 15 years. In that time, I have been involved in 15 Championships, 2 Davis Cup ties and the Olympics, along with other tournaments and matches at the club. One thing that has been a constant is tennis is not only played here but there is a serious competitive edge. So yes, we still have tennis this year in the form of members playing but it is all social tennis currently.
Since lockdown started on 23 March the team has been in preparing and maintaining the courts and grounds, all quite normal with the exception that we were split into two groups to ensure social distancing was adhered to and as a safety net so that in case one person did contract coronavirus, the other half of the team could continue working.
Fortunately, none of the team have been unwell, and we've been able to carry on as usual
The Club was closed to members and all staff who could work from home were told to do so. This meant that the Club became a ghost town: the only people on site were security, cleaners, occasionally a member of the Estate Management team on call to deal with an emergency repair and, of course, the groundstaff.
In the past we have said "grass doesn't know what day it is" and this could not be truer of this time. If we had been forced away due to lockdown the grass would not have just stopped growing until we returned to work and that thought was devastating to the team. The work that had gone in since the end of The Championships 2019 with renovations and maintenance over a difficult wet winter alongside an upgrade to the irrigation system could have all been undone so easily had we not been able to carry on working.
I know that that could seem quite a derisory concern given the global situation at hand, but for a team who put their time, effort, heart and soul in to producing what we feel are the best grass courts in the world then it would have been a big hit to moral. Just that uncertainty on one day when lockdown was announced was enough to tell me a whole lot more about the team. There is a huge amount of pride carried throughout and coupled with a self-criticism that nothing is ever quite right and there is always an improvement to be made lets me know that this team will never let us down.
So, after a while in lockdown the announcement that The Championships 2020 would be cancelled came, on Wednesday 1 April but this was no April Fool's joke, it was inevitable. That did not make the news any easier to take. We work to provide the best courts for the biggest annual sporting event, and at that point there was no members' tennis either. But once the initial feelings of disappointment subsided, aided by the realisation that the right call had been made and with a new sense of opportunity to do things we could not normally in the summer months, the whole team rallied. The work undertaken on the courts since has been of the highest level and we'd expect no less. Ideas are being thrown around and, alongside the change in weather from winter into the spring, the courts are in the best shape I've seen in my 15 years. Going in to what would be the tournament time, that is a little bittersweet.
The announcement that tennis could be played again meant members returning to site albeit in a limited capacity and so from 23 May we opened nine Championships courts for play. The feedback has been immensely positive, and the weather has meant that for the most part there has been play every day since. More courts are now being made available on the Aorangi Park practice courts too. Having courts to prepare does give us some semblance of normality in what is clearly not a normal time for most people across the UK and around the world.
And so here we are, what would have been, the first Monday of The Championships, and I refer right back to the beginning of this blog that it feels strange. But it also feels like we are in a great position to deliver the best courts for 2021, our passion and the loss of this year's tournament will drive us on through the next 12 months.