By Mark Hodgkinson
The New York Times once called him 'Wimbledon's Wizard of the Lawn'. If Roger Federer, Pete Sampras and Martina Navratilova are the finest grass-court players of the modern age, Eddie Seaward's work is worthy of a golden lawnmower, or whatever else you give to the man who knows more about the All England Club's turf than anyone else alive.
And yet, before Seaward retires this summer, after more than 20 years caring for Centre Court and the other lawns, he must first deal with his greatest challenge.
Just 20 days after the completion of this summer's Championships, the Olympic tennis event will begin at the All England Club. So this is a long way from being a normal year; he is not being allowed to ease into retirement. As Seaward, the head groundsman, put it, “the small gap creates a big challenge”. They can't just follow the usual post-Championships renovation programme.
"We've had Davis Cup ties before, soon after the Championships, but that's only one court, and there will be 10 match courts for the Olympics. There are fewer matches for the Olympics than for a Grand Slam, and the matches are shorter, but it's going to be very high profile," Seaward said, chatting in the spring sunshine on Centre Court.
But do not be alarmed. The quality of the grass will be as high as ever on the match courts when the Olympic rings are in town. Seaward said he was sure that his staff could meet the challenge. He is not about to sign off with some sub-standard lawns.
"We have 20 days between The Championships and the Olympics, and we're confident that we can get the grass back on the baselines. On the practice courts, it's a different issue, as the players will start practising about a week after The Championships finish, and we won't have time to do much in that time. The practice courts will be as they are at the end of The Championships. At the end of the Olympics, my successor will have a month's less time to prepare the grass for the 2013 Championships, and to do the renovation programme," Seaward said.
The ground-staff are not going to use different grasses this year. But they are going to be sowing pre-germinated grasses. “We're using the same grasses. Between the two events, we're going to be sowing grasses which are pre-germinated - in other words, they would have already started to grow. That should take about three days. In a normal year, we would soak the courts at the end of The Championships, because they're usually very dry, and then leave them for about a week. Also, the ground-staff usually need to recover as they will be tired after The Championships,” Seaward said.
“Then, in a normal year, we would take the top off the courts. Then we would aerate the grass, seed it down, and start to get it ready for the next year. At the end of The Championships, we usually rip it all out and then put it back and start again. In very basic terms, that's the normal programme for a normal year. And that programme will continue, it's just that we have to condense it after the Olympics.”
Find out more about what goes into preparing the grass courts at Wimbledon.