FOX Sports Exclusive
Wimbledon hustles for Olympics
It was 7 a.m. on Saturday, the day Serena Williams would beat Agnieszka Radwanska to win the Wimbledon women's singles title, and Eddie Seaward and his ground staff were already hard at work on the famous Centre Court.
- Federer wins 7th title
- Serena wins 5th title
- Williams sisters win dubs
- British man wins doubles
- Photos: Men's final | Women's final | Men's semis | Late rounds | Early rounds | Celebs
- Recaps by day: 11 | 10 | 9 | 8 | 7 | 6 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 2 | 1
- Draws: Men | Women
- Follow the US players
- Traditions at Wimbledon
Even in a normal year, the 30 staff members who work under Seaward’s direction would have been on duty at that hour, but this is not a normal year. Exactly 20 days after the final ball was hit on Sunday, the courts will need to be ready for the Olympic Games.
Looking at the vast, worn, grassless patches around each baseline, it seemed an impossible task. But Seaward was the first person the All England Club and the Olympic Committee turned to when the decision was being made as to whether tennis at the Games could be staged at the 144-year-old club.
“Yes, we can do it,” was Seaward’s firm reply. It was no different when I put the question to him again on Saturday after two of the wettest weeks the Championships have had to endure in years.
“Yes, we’ll be fine,” said the man who has been tending to the world’s most celebrated grass courts for almost three decades. “No. 1 Court is a bit less worn because there has been so much play on Centre."
A retractable roof over Centre Court was installed in 2009, allowing play to continue when it would have been washed out in previous years.
"It’s not the roof itself that causes any problems, just the extra amount of time that there was play on it," Seaward said.
With a couple of evenings that saw play finish at 11 p.m., the Centre Court grass was given an unusually long work over. But preparations have been ongoing, and Seaward insists they have done nothing special.
“We’ve been reseeding as we go along,” Seaward explained. “We’ve been using pre-germinated seeds on the 12 courts that will be used for matches and the seven practice courts. They’re coming along fine.”
With one ton of grass seed used during the tournament, they will not lack for nourishment, but it still seems a very quick turnaround. However, Seaward, a jolly man with receding grey hair who walks the three miles from his home to the club every day, is not one to become fussed. Like his deputy, Neil Stubley, who will be taking over once the Olympics start as Eddie begins his retirement, Seaward knows his grass as well as he knows his English weather. Rain is not a problem for the grass, but the hardness of the soil could be.
As the weight, height and athleticism of the players has grown the past few years, Seaward has realized the grass needs a firmer base to prevent tearing. The speed of the old grass courts, which were allowing for fewer and fewer rallies, was also a concern, which is why the courts were scarified in the early 2000s. This means the moss was drawn out from under the grass, which created a higher bounce.
Lleyton Hewitt, with his backcourt game, was the first beneficiary. He won the title in 2002, and proof of how the pattern of the game had changed became readily visible after a few days play. Instead of a furrow to the net, large worn patches appeared behind the baseline — telltale signs of how playing strategy had changed.
So hardness is still an issue, which was why I watched one of Seaward’s assistants walking up and down the court with a yellow painted instrument called a Clegg Impact Soil Tester. It is an Australian-manufactured device consisting of a vertical guide tube through which the operator drops a metal hammer to get a reading on his meter. The weight can vary, depending on whether you are testing a tennis court, a golf green or your back yard. For tennis, it weighs 2.25 kilograms.
“This enables us to discover if there are any soft spots that could produce bad bounces,” the groundsman explained.
Given the rain, the roof and the ever-changing conditions — there even was some sunshine on occasion — Wimbledon’s courts offered up very few bad bounces this year. Everyone will be hoping that holds true for the Olympics.
“It will be fine,” Seaward said with a smile.
More Stories From Richard Evans