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Q&A with Wimbledon's Head Groundsman

Courts 14, 15, 16, 17
by Mark Hodgkinson
Monday 16 June 2014

Neil Stubley, the Head Groundsman at the All England Club, spoke to Wimbledon.com:

How will you feel when Andy Murray walks out to open Centre Court play on the first Monday of this year's Championships?
"That's a proud moment, that's kind of what we work towards. As soon as that first ball is hit, you can relax, but only a little bit, as then you have to worry about the rest of the tournament. I watch a bit of the tennis during the fortnight, but I'm not really watching the matches. I'm watching how the ball is reacting, how the players are reacting to the playing surface. I'm looking at how the court is presented and that it's playing as close as perfection as we can get it."

How did you respond to the small number of player complaints that the grass was greasier than in previous years at last year's Championships?
"There hasn't been a knee-jerk reaction. We haven't made any changes to the courts. We took the opportunity to review what we do, and to make sure that we are producing the best possible courts that we can, and we still believe we are. Our court maintenance during the build-up to this summer's Championships will be exactly the same as what we did last year. Going into day one, the courts will have the same hardness and density as last year. I will be fully confident that the courts will play as they do every summer, and will be at the high standard that's expected.

"We went back and looked at the data that the independent company had collected over the last five years, and they said to us: 'Your courts have stayed the same.' That meant we could disprove the theory that the courts were different. But I've always been fully confident in what we do."

How do you test the surface during The Championships?
"We have measurement tools so that we know exactly how hard the soil is, how much moisture is in there. We make sure that every single court is inside our ranges. All the courts are tested on a daily basis, and that means we can manipulate what we're doing. If we think they're getting slightly too hard, we can put a little bit of water on overnight. If we think that they are too soft or too moist, we won't put any water on overnight. Even during The Championships, we can tweak what we do with each court."

Do the courts change during The Championships?
"The courts are slightly slower on the first two days of the fortnight. As you creep up to the Thursday or Friday of the first week, and the courts are naturally drying out, they slowly speed up, and the ball bounces slightly higher. But there's a limit to how high a ball bounces - once you reach a certain level of hardness, it won't bounce any higher. As it's a gradual process, and it happens over three, four or five days, the players play along with it, so they don't really notice."

Do you get any feedback from the players?
"I always try to get some feedback from the players when they are practising before The Championships. I ask them whether they feel as though the courts are playing differently from the year before. I go to the practice courts and say, 'Hey, how are you? I'm the Head Groundsman. How's the court playing today?' Over time, the players come to recognise your face. Once The Championships start, they will normally get their game faces on, and they become distant and focused on what they need to be doing, and rightly so."

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