It is Day One and already the Competitors’ Restaurant staff report that players have eaten through an entire 10-kilo wheel of fresh Grana Padana Parmesan cheese.
I was tickled to see the first thing Tomas Berdych showed our reporter on a tour of his Wimbledon house was the fridge. Talk about priorities. Food is not just fuel for the top
players, it’s a carefully calibrated nutritional weapon that maintains the fitness levels of these lean, mean, super-athletic machines.
Over a Grand Slam fortnight, any nuance in fitness superiority can make the difference in a tightly balanced final set. (Parmesan offers good protein and calcium, plus phosphorus, selenium, iron and magnesium, and while its saltiness makes generous portions a no-no for the average person, the sodium content is essential top-up for athletes due to their excessive sweat production.)
ATP and WTA dieticians may advise players about food for vitamins, minerals and blood sugar level consistency, but when it comes to the act of eating – sorry, refuelling – players still want to feel they are in a pleasant environment, not a laboratory. This year the players’ eating area has been refurbished to create a warm, visually appealing, organic Deli look. “The aim is to create a really friendly impact,” says the manager, Melanie Skelton.
Artfully arranged cook books, wooden pallets overflowing with fruit and bottles of oils and condiments sit on shelves behind the design-your-own Smoothie Bar, the Pasta Bar and the Grill area. Strings of chillies and garlic hang above the antipasti counter, vibrant lime-green pots hold abundant supplies of lemons and decorative pots of herbs line up along the top of the salad bar.
“I’ve got my tallest member of staff on watering duties,” laughs Mel. Look through the forest of unnaturally long-limbed bronzed physiques, and you can tick the checklist of superfoods. The Smoothie/Juice bar has introduced Whey protein shots (in strawberry, chocolate and vanilla flavours). The salad bar – undressed mushrooms, spinach leaves, cucumber, red onion, tomatoes, peppers and so on – boasts large dishes of Brazil nuts, walnuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds.
Catering staff reckon a typical player’s portion is four times the size they would serve a regular adult. Every day, up to 400 portions of chicken and 250 of salmon are char-grilled to
order, more than 80 kilos of fresh pasta cooked on demand (the equivalent birth weight of three baby hippos) and 20-plus cases of strawberries devoured. Pasta is enhanced with scoopfuls of Parmesan.
For The Championships, the chef receives more wheels of the fresh Italian cheese than a Formula One driver receives tyres in pitstops during an average grand prix. Each wheel is sliced in half horizontally and one half-wheel, which the players tackle with a shovel-like implement, is scraped empty every 36 hours. There is also an empty half-wheel used as bowl for ready-shaved Parmesan which is refilled five times a day.
Green bananas are the only food item that is sent into the dressing rooms. Players are famously pernickety about their colour. One former catering manager was terrified by the responsibility of providing enough green-of-the-right-shade bananas: “I kept fearing a player would appear in his post-match interview saying, 'I lost because there wasn't a green banana there when I needed one’,’’ he trembled.
Players prefer them to be neither too green nor remotely leopard-speckled brown. The ideal is green at both ends, but generally yellow with green tinges on the ribs of the fruit. These are consumed in enormous quantities, not just for the obvious carbohydrate supply but because greenish bananas contain resistant starch which is better for controlling blood sugar