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Olympic countdown begins for return to grass

Olympic gold medals from the 2008 Beijing Games are shown on display at the Wimbledon Museum.
by Sarah Edworthy
Friday 13 July 2012

Normally, it is ‘So Long, Farewell’ and another whole year to wait before the world’s best players congregate again to play on the prized grass of Wimbledon. But the 20-day countdown now begins until the stars are back again – that is, the 172 players (86 men, 86 women) who will be competing in the Olympic Games Tennis Event 2012, which starts at the All England Club on Saturday, 28 July.

The Olympic tennis lasts nine days, as opposed to the 13 of The Championships. The contest comprises five medal events – men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles, and mixed doubles (which were last held in 1924). All matches will be the best of three sets with the exception of the men’s singles final, which will be the best of five. All mixed doubles matches will be resolved by a first-to-10 tie-break if they reach one set all. Crowd capacity will be 26,000. Sessions will start at 11am and end at 8pm.  The draw will take place at the Club on Thursday, 26 July 2012. Check the playing schedule at the London 2012 website.

The All England Club will provide the venue and essential staff, such as courts and maintenance, but otherwise London 2012 will run the competition. The 168 ball boys and ball girls have been recruited via the Young Games Maker process, and are aged 16-17 and come from the London boroughs of Merton and Wandsworth. The most notable difference between a Championships and the Olympics will be the sight of the players in coloured clothing and the grounds will be similarly adorned in colourful on-site Olympic dressing/branding. All ticketing will be handled by London 2012.

The big comeback story will be the grass. How on earth – or should that be, in earth – do Club Head Groundsman Eddie Seaward and Head Groundsman Designate Neil Stubley and their team get the courts back into the legendary pristine emerald sward? Having conducted two years of successful trials using pre-germinated seed – a process which accelerates germination – the Club is confident of returning the courts as close as possible to the same condition as before The Championships and of ensuring they will continue to play to the usual high standards.

This is how it is done (non-horticulturalists look away now):

To germinate the seed, the seed is placed in a large container and soaked in a warm-water solution. After two hours the water solution is drained. The seed and container are left in a warm room (40C) for 48 hours to ferment. Once the seed has reach germination point (with a visible white tip), it is removed from the container. To prepare the courts, the surfaces are watered to soften at the end of The Championships. The germinated seed is placed on the bare areas. Liquid fertiliser is sprayed over the court and seed. The whole court is covered for four days with a special germination sheet to stop the seed from drying out too quickly. The sheet is removed and – voila! – there will be 5mm grass plants on bare areas. The grass is watered, rolled and cut at 10mm height for 12 days prior to the start of the drying-out process, ready for the Olympics. White lines are repainted five days before the Olympics start. The height of the grass is reduced to 8mm three days before the Olympics start.

Centre, No.1, No.2, 18, 14 (television courts), 7, 11, 12, 15, 16, 17 and 19 will be used for matches. Courts 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 and 10 will be used for practice. The Aorangi practice courts will not be used by the Games.

Welcome back Andy, Rafa, Roger, Maria, Serena, Venus and co.

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