Eddie Seaward, Wimbledon’s longtime groundskeeper, the man who maintains the world’s most famous patch of grass, typically takes a day or two off after the men’s final.
Not this year.
Not with the London Olympics looming and a 19-day turnaround to restore that hallowed perennial rye lawn to its emerald-green perfection. Just three weeks after the end of the Wimbledon tournament, the world’s eyes will be back on the All England Club as Roger Federer, Serena Williams and many of the other top players ditch their whites for their national colors and compete for Olympic medals.
Tennis was among the original Olympic sports in 1896, dropped after 1924 for 64 years, and has been somewhat of an afterthought since its reintroduction at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. But this summer, the sport’s profile is elevated because of the historic venue at which it is being played.
The All England Club is the only 2012 Olympic venue that was also used for the 1908 London Olympics, back when the event was spread over six months, women played in ankle-length white skirts and men in long white trousers.
And that special distinction is why Seaward and his staff want the courts to look perfect. They spent two years experimenting to come up with the best formula to spruce up the scorched patches of grass near the baselines in a few weeks rather than the usual few months. They spread pregerminated seeds over the damaged turf, and covered the courts to create a humid greenhouse effect. The extra rainfall this month should help speed up the process, as well.
The club was founded in 1868 during a croquet craze, and lawn tennis was added in 1875. By the time the 1908 Olympics came around, lawn tennis was gaining popularity around Europe, Australia and the United States. Great Britain dominated, winning 15 of the 18 medals in indoor and outdoor events.
Now, 104 years later, Wimbledon runner-up Andy Murray is the host nation’s only medal hopeful. And the athletes show far more skin. Otherwise, a lot remains unchanged at the picturesque southwest London tennis club.
Although the all-green backdrop will be replaced by more colorful Olympic signage, and fans will not be permitted to queue overnight for tickets, most of Wimbledon’s traditions will remain intact. Yes, there will be strawberries and cream for sale.
“We basically turned the site over to LOCOG [London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games] the day after the men’s final, but they see this as a heritage site and promised to treat it with sensitivity,” Wimbledon spokesman Johnny Perkins said. “There will be different signage and colors to express the Olympic Games, but they won’t be slapping things up all over the place. They respect the history here.”
The same can be said of the 2012 Olympic soccer venues, which include Wembley Stadium (“The Cathedral of Football” in the words of Pelé) and Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United since 1910.
Wembley, Europe’s second-largest stadium with a capacity of 90,000, has hosted the FA Cup final, European Cup finals, the 1948 Olympics, 1966 World Cup final and the Live Aid concert in 1985. Old Trafford was built in 1909, heavily damaged by German air raids during World War II, and was the site of 1966 World Cup matches and the 2003 UEFA Champions League final.