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A different experience for Wimbledon

Rafael Nadal wins gold in Beijing.
by Ron Atkin
Friday 1 June 2012

"A tennis tournament with a difference" is promised for the event being staged at The All England Club as part of the 2012 London Olympics. For nine days (from Saturday 28 July to Sunday 5 August inclusive) the premises of the world's greatest tennis competition will be the setting for the 14th Olympic tennis event, the planning for which is in the expert hands of the 44-year-old Clare Wood, a former British No.1 who competed in both singles and doubles at The Championships for a dozen years and who has subsequently served almost as long as Wimbledon's assistant referee.

She was appointed four years ago to the role of Tennis Competition Manager for 2012 by LOCOG, the London Organising Committee for the Games, an honour which she greeted as "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" before settling to the massive task of attempting to ensure as perfect an occasion as possible for competitors and spectators.

That mission is now close to fruition and if her job has proved a strain it certainly didn't show when she addressed members of Britain's Lawn Tennis Writers' Association at an informal lunch in London. A different sort of tournament is Wood's promise and she is confident of delivering it.

There are, of course, basic differences between The Championships and the Olympic Tennis event. Wimbledon is staged over a fortnight, while the Olympics will be compressed into just over one week. Wimbledon's singles draw totals 128, the Olympics half that at 64. The Olympic matches, with the exception of the men's singles final, will be best-of-three sets as opposed to Wimbledon's best-of-five.

And though the setting is at the "high temple" of the sport, there will be other differences from The Championships. Whereas Wimbledon requires "predominantly white" clothing from its competitors, the Olympics participants will be encouraged to wear something "in the colours of their home nation".

Plus, the fact that Olympic Tennis has sold every ticket for every day to people from all over the world will ensure that the spectators will probably have more in keeping with Wimbledon's famous - but rare - Middle Sundays, general sports fans rather than the knowledgeable appreciators of tennis who make up the bulk of Wimbledon's normal patrons.

"We are hoping to deliver the best Olympic tennis event ever," said Wood, "but we are not there to be better or worse than The Championships. Wimbledon is the most iconic location you could wish for. And to win a gold medal on Centre Court, the world's most famous tennis court, as well as becoming an Olympic champion simply adds to the prestige of being out there. It could not be more special."

Wood and her team of 100 LOCOG staff will take over at The All England Club at noon on 10 July, two days after the conclusion of the 2012 Championships. "We have been working very closely with Wimbledon but we will operate the venue in our own way," she said. And if that sounds supremely confident, she explains, "I have spent three years working on this."

The main concern of tennis fans has been about how Wimbledon's grass courts can be refurbished after two weeks of hard wear in time for the Olympics. Pre-germinated grass seed will be used to repair the worn areas, and when Wood asserts "This is the least of my worries" it amounts to a tribute to the skills of The All England Club's head groundsman Eddie Seaward and his staff.

And since the Olympics tennis will mark Seaward's last act before retirement, players and spectators alike can be assured that, in Wimbledon's best traditions, all will be perfect.

Find out more about the Olympic Tennis at Wimbledon

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