Wimbledon Grounds Crew Working Hard To Fight the Heat
Tennis fans and players are in for an extremely hot fortnight at the All England Lawn & Tennis Club. Temperatures this week alone have reached as high as 32 degrees celsius and the weather forecast calls for more of the same in the coming days at Wimbledon. Sunscreen, hats and plenty of water will be in store for everyone in attendance. The sun is welcomed news for many but not the news the Wimbledon grounds crew was hoping for. Hot weather and bright sunshine are not what the doctor ordered when it comes to maintaining the precious grass on all 19 playing courts during the year’s third Grand Slam.
Canadian born Grant Cantin, the head groundsman at the All England Club, has the task of doing everything possible to keep the grass, known as ryegrass, in the best possible condition and he admits it will be a challenge this year.
“There is nothing we can do about Mother Nature, just pray it cools off,” said Cantin. “Ryegrass doesn’t like anything hotter than 30 (degrees) as it’s a cool season grass”
Ryegrass peaks in growth during the cool season but because of it’s shallow roots historically it doesn’t like the heat and drought.
“Every night we water depending on the hardness reading,” said Cantin, who is working on the lawns at Wimbledon for the 17th consecutive year. “We put just enough on to keep the grass alive. Our biggest concern is heat as it can sunburn the grass and there is nothing we can do about it. The last tourney and this one have been extreme for us.”
One advantage at least is having a roof over Centre Court. The grounds crew can use the roof as a sun shade while no one is playing. It helps keep the grass out of the direct sun. The firmness and moisture levels are still the same as the other courts but the sun protection helps from stressing the grass out.
Creating the perfect courts is a 12 month process. Cantin and his team begin the task of striping each court shortly after the tournament ends. Most of the players appreciate the hard work that goes into making the courts the best grass surfaces in the world. Roger Federer and coach Sven Groeneveld have always been complimentary according to Cantin. Andy Murray among others have also had good things to say over the years.
On occasion, however, a player will complain. Last year Kristina Mladenovic slipped during her second round match on Court 18 and had some critical things to say about the grass surface. “The baseline where we are running, it is very slippery. There is no grass. I don’t know how to describe it. There was a huge hole on one side of the court. “I guess the climate does not help, the fact that it is too nice, too hot, too sunny, makes everything very dry.”
Mladenovic may not have realized but grass is a natural surface. Usually the baselines start showing signs of wear and tear on or about the fourth day of the tournament. There is nothing that can be done about that.
“We have had grass temperatures reach 43 degrees celsius (this past week)” said Cantin, “and are going to have a hot 2 weeks during the Championships.”