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Groundsman's diary: winter is on the way

by William Brierley
Thursday 10 October 2013

AELTC groundsman Will writes regular blogs about the development of the courts throughout the year at Wimbledon. Here's what he's been up to for the past few months...

It’s been a busy couple of months since the tournament ended with the renovation period to get the courts fit and ready again for next year and so I must apologise for a lack of tweets and blogs. The days have been long and full and so it’s been hard to keep up to date with the social networking side of things.

So let's start off by saying congratulations to Andy Murray on winning this year's Wimbledon; the whole tournament seemed to go by in a blur and it was capped off by a fine performance and result for Britain (though I have to admit my favourite match was the five-hour epic semi-final between Juan Martin Del Potro and Novak Djokovic, that was tennis of the highest quality). Again the courts held up very well and we were all very pleased with the surfaces come the end of the tournament. The day after the tournament Andy Murray was doing a bit of filming for the BBC on Centre Court when he spotted a few of us in there and came over for a chat, which was a nice touch considering how shattered he must have been. (Editor's note: you can watch the video above).

Then it was back to work as normal: courts had to be prepared for Members' and Club matches as well as us starting the renovation works. We also had to get the practice courts baselines back in time for the national veterans and the HSBC Road to Wimbledon tournament for juniors. Due to the Olympics last year, Club matches had to be moved to this year and so we have had a high volume of play on the courts since the tournament and we’ve been lucky that this summer has been considerably better weather-wise than last. This has allowed us to keep the courts open and have very little to stop us carrying out the renovations.

The first courts to be renovated are always Centre and No.1 as they are not played on outside of the tournament. The only exception is the Chairman's match on the Wednesday following the tournament; after that match we had a special guest mower to cut Centre Court: the Chief Executive Richard Lewis came in to give it a try. After a quick run through with Rick Street he was away and his lines were very good and if he fancies a job change we’ll more than happily take him on.

Then it was into the serious work of stripping the court off with the Koro field top maker, which this year we have had a new style of blade on and it has improved the job tenfold which we hope will improve the courts too as we are always trying to. The Koro takes off the top quarter to half an inch of the surface and leaves us with a clean soil surface. This removes any weed grasses that have crept in throughout the season and gets the levels back from where there has been wear on the baselines. This is then run over with a tractor mounted scarifier to tiller the surface and create a seedbed; we then lute the whole area to remove any excess and give a rough level surface.

Then the court is seeded using our 100% perennial rye grass mixture which is blended of three cultivars (currently Pontiac, Melbourne and Venice) fertilized with a pre-seed fertilizer and covered over with a semi-permeable sheet which allows the light and water through but creates a mini atmosphere underneath which helps with the germination of the seed. This whole process can be done in two days and it is then left under the cover for 4 to 6 days depending on certain variables such as weather and rate of germination; we also have to keep an eye on disease creeping in as the mini atmosphere is ideal for disease too.

After Centre we moved onto No.1 and repeated the whole process. This is then carried out on the other 17 Championship courts slowly as we had to keep some courts available for Members and Club matches. Roughly four weeks after the cover has come off a renovated court and it has been mown a few times and the sward density is good we look to top-dress the courts. This is a process of adding about five tons of new loam to a court and then that is dragged in so as to get the levels of the court back to perfection. As I write this we have two Championship courts left to do and eight practice courts; we hope by the end of next week that they will all be completed. Some of the courts that have been top-dressed already are starting to be mown again as it usually takes a week or so for the new loam to bed in properly.

Most of the summer temporary members of staff have left now to go back to university or onto full time jobs and we’d like to thank them all for their efforts this summer in helping us maintain the courts to the highest standard. As we come into winter and the grass courts are out of play we will be continuing to maintain them with regular mowing and some spraying. We will also be getting the frost covers out onto the clay courts so as they can be used all winter long too.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who sponsored me for the Great North Run which I ran in aid of Perennial, the Gardeners' Royal Benevolent Society. Over £200 was raised and if anybody would like to donate still then they may up until December 15th at www.justgiving.com/wimbogroundsman. I was pleased with my final finishing time of 1:51:57 and I must be a glutton for punishment as I am running another 15km this Sunday.  Again thank you very much to all those who donated.

To see what Will and the rest of the groundstaff are up to on a daily basis, follow @WimboGroundsman for updates and pictures.


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