British Travel Journal
The Championships, Wimbledon
Welcome to Wimbledon – one of the world's most prestigious British sporting spectacles
EVERY SUMMER, MORE than 470,000 tennis fans descend on London SW19's hallowed turf for the annual Wimbledon Championships. The iconic British tennis event is broadcast to millions and is rooted in quintessential tradition and pageantry. Dating back to the 1870s when the inaugural tournament was held in front of a crowd of 200 spectators, today the annual sporting spectacle is held at Wimbledon's All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) and attracts Hollywood stars and royalty alike, with Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge a passionate patron of the AELTC.
In the run up to the tournament, the All England Club is, not surprisingly, a hive of activity. The courts, where all eyes will soon be fixed, are the responsibility of the fastidious grounds team, headed up by Neil Stubley. As head groundsman, it is Neil's responsibility to ensure the 40 courts are in perfect condition when the gates open.
“There's definitely pressure. It's arguably one of the top three sporting events in the world,” Neil explains as he walks alongside the immaculately manicured edge of Centre Court. Neil began working at the All England Club on a work placement in 1995 and has risen through the ranks. He has a rather modest team of 15 full-time groundsmen, which doubles in size during the summer
“With this July’s tournament on the horizon, the grounds staff will work day and night to ensure every painstaking detail is perfect”
and is “responsible for everything that grows”. This includes the 50,000 plants that adorn the club, the iconic Boston Ivy which clads the famous clubhouse, and every millimetre of the 100 per cent rye grass that is laid on each court.
“We measure the courts every day for hardness, moisture, chlorophyll content and so on. The grass is cut to 8mm for The Championships and each court has a tailored irrigation system run from a centralised computer.”
The aim, Neil says, is for absolute consistency. “In theory, anyone like Roger [Federer] or Andy [Murray] should be able to go onto any of the match courts or practice courts two hours before heading on to Centre Court or No. 1 Court and they should all play exactly the same”.
“These days tennis players don't leave anything to chance. During the Championships, we'll get players like Djokovic asking what yesterday's weather might have done to the court, or what time we cut the courts that day and if it was the same time as yesterday because they're always looking for that extra one per cent,” Neil explains.
Since 1922 there have only been seven tournaments without rain interruptions recorded and in recent years, Neil and his team have dealt with heatwaves, hail and everything in between.
“In 2017, two heat-waves struck London just before The Championships opened. We were getting 40c temperatures on the playing surface. So two weeks before the tournament we were trying to manage grass that pretty much shuts down above 28c.”
While Neil and his team tend to the courts, a rather unusual member of the Wimbledon grounds team takes to the skies. Rufus the Harris Hawk has been working at Wimbledon since 2007, and has his own AELTC security pass with his job title detailed officially as `Bird Scarer'. Rufus usually starts flying around 5am during The Championships and patrols the courts until 9am to ensure that the iconic ivy-green seats remain unsullied for spectators.
Rufus's handler Imogen Davis explains: “We visit most weeks of the year as a pigeon deterrent. Rufus even has a purple and green coloured hood to wear at Wimbledon and his own social media accounts.”
With the courts maintained to exacting standards and even the resident hawk in uniform, it goes without saying that the same degree of precision is applied to every other facet of the tournament.
Around 54,250 balls are used during The
Championships every year with each ball kept at 68°F before use; the stringing team work night and day and string over 2,000 rackets, equal to over 40 miles
of string; and the traditional strawberries and cream devoured by so many visitors – 166,055 portions during 2017's Championships to be exact – are usually Grade 1 English strawberries from the `The Garden of England', Kent. The strawberries are picked daily at 4am, collected from the packing plant at 9am and are delivered to the Club by 11am for inspection and hulling, for guests to enjoy on the same day.
New for 2019 will be the retractable roof on No.1
Court – the completion of a three-year build, which also includes refurbished hospitality suites; two more rows of approximately 900 seats; the creation of a two-level public plaza named the Walled Garden; and a larger big screen for the famously atmospheric outdoor viewing hill, which in recent years has coined the moniker of Murray Mound.
As Wimbledon has grown, so too has its influence and impact on the local community. The Wimbledon Foundation, the charity of the AELTC, has awarded over £1.75 million to local projects since the Foundation began in 2013 and plays a pivotal role in opening up the complex to schools and charities. After each Championship, the Foundation also helps redistribute unclaimed lost property and resources. “In 2018 we donated 2,500 plants to local charities, sent camping equipment left behind to the YMCA Wimbledon, donated IT equipment to local charities, unclaimed spectacles to Vision Aid Overseas, and donated unwanted clothing items to local night shelters and the Red Cross Refugee Centre,” explains Helen Parker, head of Wimbledon Foundation.
The Championships' impact both at grass roots level and on the world stage continues at a pace but if you don't have a golden ticket to the on-court action for this year fear not as The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum and tours of the All England Club are open year round and offer visitors a glimpse behind-the-scenes of this historic site, with access to Centre Court, the BBC TV studio, the members' balcony and the iconic players' entrance.
With this July's tournament on the horizon, the grounds staff will work day and night to ensure every painstaking detail is perfect. And the last job to do? Changing the scoreboards on Centre Court, which remain as they stood at the final `Game, set, match' at the Ladies' and Mens' finals until the new action kicks off for this year's Championships.