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KEY DATES FOR WIMBLEDON 2017

Qualifying begins: 26 June

The Draw: 30 June

Pre-event Press Conferences: 1 & 2 July

Order of Play: 2 July

Championships begin: 3 July

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News
Sunday, 5 July 2015 17:32 PM BST
A day in the life: the grass
Sow some seed, give it a quick mow? Oh no, there's a whole lot more to it than that. READ MORE

Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam that has a day free of play in the middle of the tournament.

Why? It has nothing to do with old-fashioned British decorum. Nor is it a hangover from the days when everything closed on Sundays and everyone, except emergency workers, had ‘the seventh day’ off to recharge. The All England Club is closed on Middle Sunday simply to give the courts a breather. It’s all about the grass.

“People often ask, ‘Why don’t you play on the Middle Sunday?’, but it’s not about having a day off,” confirms Philip Brook, Chairman of the All England Club.

“The main reason is that it gives the groundsmen the only opportunity to put a proper amount of water on the courts to get them ready for the second week.”

So while the players go into competitive 'pause mode', head groundsman Neil Stubley and his team of 28 are in at dawn to tend to the precious grass.

Before the thirsty courts are refreshed and revitalised with a scientifically determined and finely judged amount of water, the ground staff also make the most of middle Sunday to wield a machine known as the Billy Goat over the worn T-shape on each side of the net – predominantly the baseline and the path to the net via the centre service line. This hoovers up debris that has been scuffed up by the players’ feet from the first six days of play.

54m
Grass plants used on Centre Court

Such a show of TLC and pampering is not surprising when you consider it takes 15 months to prepare the dense sward that is a Championships-standard grass court before it can be played on. Only then has the carpet of grass and its seedbed settled to a firmness that can endure the battering a 13-day Grand Slam will inflict.

Last year, for instance, a total of 3,177 hours of tennis from 654 matches were played on all 41 courts (19 Championship courts and 22 practice ones). Centre Court alone – which owes its green surface to 54 million single grass plants - hosted 77 hours of play.

The nurturing of the grass at Wimbledon goes through more phases in a calendar year than Bethanie Mattek-Sands has fashion fads. Like the players on their relentless Tour cycle, the grass needs time to adjust to peak tournament readiness.

From March onwards, the emerald shoots gets trimmed a millimetre a week every fortnight from its luxuriant winter height of 13 millimetres down to the optimum playing level of 8mm. That mark is reached almost four weeks before the first ball is struck to let the 100 per cent rye grass adjust to the stress before the trampling-by-players begins.

The courts are tournament ready with requisite firmness two weeks before The Championships start and held in limbo. Every day during the tournament, the ground staff mow the courts to maintain the height of the grass at exactly 8mm and mark out the lines. An independent turf consultant measures the surface’s hardness, its chlorophyll index and its live grass content. This determines the precise amount of water that gets sprayed on the grass at night to boost its survival process.

And so on until the tournament end. Then there truly is a week of rest before the process of preparing the courts for the 2016 Championships begins seven days after this year's tournament ends. Each Championship court will be skimmed of 12mm of whatever is still growing on its surface. This is to eradicate all weak and weed grasses and re-establish an even level where play has worn the surface.

Ground staff till the seedbed, lay new seed (approximately one tonne per year), feed with fertiliser and cover for up to week to regulate heat and moisture. Autumn mowing helps firm the surface and level the grass growth before each court is treated to a top-dressing of fine soil and dragged to maintain a perfect level.

Preparation re-intensifies in spring with a spraying programme to help with plant growth, durability, colour and root development. And then it’s back to trim, trim, water and rest...