Wimbledon faces challenge

Wimbledon faces challenge

Swifter, higher, stronger — for Wimbledon groundsman Neil Stubley, the Olympic motto is a perfect match for the grass he so lovingly grows.

By (Reuters)

Published: Wed 27 Jun 2012, 1:48 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 2:23 PM

Outer courts are seen between Centre Court and Court One at the Wimbledon tennis championships. — Reuters

Just 20 days after the championships end, the players will be back on the hallowed turf of Centre Court and wear and tear are not acceptable words in the vocabulary of the 35-strong team bringing the grass back to a pitch of perfection for the Olympics.

“It is a challenge but I am surrounded by a team that knows what it’s doing,” Stubley, bathed in sunshine as he sat courtside contemplating the luscious green swathes, told reporters on Tuesday.

He is ashamed to admit that the grass in his own garden has grown shin-high but he has been too busy ensuring that Wimbledon produces the perfect playing stubble, exactly eight millimetres high.

To ensure Wimbledon could provide the Olympics with match-ready courts, the ground staff at the world’s most famous tournament have spent the last two years experimenting with the best way to pre-germinate seeds that can be swiftly put in place. Stubley believes they can comfortably cut it fine.

“The big question is how can you turn it round in 20 days,” he said. “Our answer to everybody is that this process has been going for over two years. What we have in place now, we know it works. This is what we need to do, this is what we are going to do.”

“Turf Man” certainly talks the talk with real passion about the grass that Novak Djokovic was even tempted to eat after winning Wimbledon last year. Stubley’s eyes light up as he contemplates the wonders of 100 per cent perennial ryegrass with its magic combination of Pontiac, Melbourne and Venice strains. The majority is grown in the Netherlands and Wimbledon uses about nine tonnes a year.

He may be a passionate Arsenal fan but he can never watch a match properly until he has spent the first 20 minutes looking at the quality of the Premier League pitches.

The weather gods do not often smile on Wimbledon with ‘rain stopped play’ a familiar mantra boomed out across the court loudspeakers as fans on outside courts scuttle to take shelter.

So what about the grass at the Olympics?

“The only thing that could potentially hinder us would be temperature but it would have to be one of those one in 100 years of the coldest summers on record,” Stubley said. The British love to talk about the weather which is a national obsession and Stubley is no different.

“We have the perfect grass-growing climate in Britain,” he said. “For us it is a constant battle. You will never ever have a baseline that doesn’t wear out. Grass is a living plant and if you kick it on the head enough, the head will fall off. But it’s all about how long you can keep the head on for.”

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