Here is the article copied here for your convenience :
This is Wimbledon? You cannot be serious
Each summer, this suburban backwater becomes the Olympus of tennis, where sport’s hardest hitters are preened and pampered before stepping out to hold court. Our correspondent is granted exclusive access to the All England Club as it prepares to serve its ace
Parents and children at the All England Club in April
Image :1 of 7
David White Recommend? (4) At Wimbledon, there is no excuse for a bad-hair day: a team of six hairdressers is on hand to ensure that players look their best before they stride onto court. Often it’s the men who are the most fussy, asking for an exact replica of their existing styles for fear of any change affecting their form, though one female competitor — a Russian — once insisted on having her hair dyed in the traditional Wimbledon colours of purple and green. She never came back.
Next month Wimbledon will attract half a million fans for a single frenetic fortnight. With the championships taking up only two weeks in the All England Lawn Tennis Club’s calendar, the rest of the year is spent preparing for the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world. And players’ haircuts aren’t the only consideration.
The grounds themselves appear functional and largely unused in the 50 weeks that lead up to the start of the championships in June, with many of the rooms used by the players but seldom seen by fans — including the hairdresser’s with its dirty towels — left untouched until play starts again.
Also surprising is the sheer scale of the site — 42 acres in total, which becomes a teeming mini-city for the duration of the championships.
More than anything, the club has to ensure that the grounds look and play their very best; courts must be gleaming, grass is mowed to precise lengths. The foibles and fads of all the players must be pandered to, so backup squads of caterers, bodyguards, chauffeurs, masseurs and hairdressers must all be in place.
These pictures show some of the preparations for Wimbledon 2010, which started as soon as the last ball hurtled across the net in the summer of 2009. The All England Club is famously publicity-shy, but The Sunday Times Magazine was granted unprecedented access to parts of the grounds that are usually off-limits.
We photographed the players’ relaxation rooms and their private gym: our photographer went deep into the bowels of Centre Court, stopping to shoot huge quantities of green paint. (If a seat becomes chipped, paint is dispatched through a complex system of tunnels and it is repaired overnight. Nothing must tarnish the championships’ pristine image.) The championships are an extraordinary exercise in logistics; those in charge must have a forensic grasp of arcane detail and strategy. What can be done to prevent pigeons stopping play? How do you keep 2m strawberries fresh?
The most inner of inner sanctums at the All England Club is the members-only clubhouse, discreetly housed in the south side of Centre Court. Here, behind tightly closed doors, the strings behind every aspect of the tournament are pulled, long before the fortnight beginning in June when the world will be watching.
Detailed planning would amount to nothing without courts capable of withstanding the punishment handed out by the world’s hardest-hitting players during more than 600 matches. Eddie Seaward, head groundsman since 1991, says: “Our courts must not only look the part — people expect to see immaculate grass of even colour or they’d think they weren’t at Wimbledon — but each must ‘play’ exactly the same.
Repairing damage caused by pounding feet and occasional racket abuse calls for special treatment: topsoil is mixed with water into a paste used to fill gaps in the turf. Fresh grass mowings are then sprinkled on top of the paste which sets hard and can then maintain a perfect bounce.
Seaward’s tournament involves getting up at 5.30am and casting an anxious ear to the weather forecast and eye to the sky before making the 10-minute journey from his home to the grounds. “The Centre Court roof proved itself last year, but rain is still a big challenge for other courts,” he says. “We need to be on constant alert to put covers on — and to judge how long after rain stops to resume play. I’m in the grounds until at least 10.30pm — and go to sleep listening for a phone call to dash back in the event of sustained rain or another threat to the following day’s play.
There are days when Seaward might consider he’s doing too good a job. “I was inspecting Centre Court before play when an American tennis fan kept exclaiming, ‘I don’t care what anyone says, that grass isn’t real — it’s just too perfect.’ After trying repeatedly to put him right, I escorted him near enough to lean over a barrier and touch the grass — only then did he admit it was the genuine article.’ Urine, bizarrely, presents another threat. “It kills grass stone-dead,” says Seaward — with ammonia from pigeon droppings also posing problems. The electric fences keep foxes at bay, but Wayne Davis and his hawk, Rufus, are required to deal with feathered threats. Davis also keeps birds away from Westminster Abbey, Canary Wharf and airfields.
Rufus acts as a deterrent by patrolling the skies above the grounds. “He scares away pigeons — it’s a humane solution which allows matches to be played without distractions from swooping birds,” Davis explains. Rufus — a two-year-old Harris hawk with his own photo-ID pass — began work at Wimbledon last year. He’s on tournament duty from early in the morning until just before spectators take their seats.
Those on court may not be troubled any more by dive-bombing birds, but they still have to cope with 140mph serves and angry swipes at balls. That’s why the ballboys and girls (BBGs) are picked partly for their temperament.
Anne Rundle, who has been training Wimbledon’s BBGs for more than 25 years, acknowledges that “steady nerves and ability to deal with the unexpected” are among requirements for her teams, average age 15. Other must-haves include self-discipline, self-confidence, physical fitness and good hand-eye co-ordination.
Rundle recalls an example of “typical dedication” when a ballboy carried on to the end of a match after running full-pelt into a net post. “He appeared to suffer no ill effects and refused to leave the court — it was only later that an x-ray revealed a fractured arm. His concentration was so total there was seemingly no discomfort.
Food and drink at the tournament is supplied by official caterers FMC; its the biggest operation at a sports event in Europe. Staggering quantities are consumed over the fortnight, including 32,000 portions of fish and chips, 22,000 slices of pizza, and 12,000 kilograms of poached and smoked salmon — washed down with 100,000 pints of draught beer and lager, 200,000 glasses of Pimm’s and 20,000 bottles of champagne. Plus 28,000 kilograms of strawberries (8,600 punnets a day) served with 7,000 litres of fresh cream.
All of this is prepared in a hidden world of vast kitchens — some underground — housing 60 large ovens, 50 walk-in fridges, 36 giant dishwashers handling 350,000 items of crockery and glasses a day. Players have their own private restaurant where sushi is the must-have high-protein, low-fat food.
Many of the players bring their own rituals to Wimbledon, and the club’s top brass do their best to accommodate them. Andy Murray often insists on using the same towels (white) and practising at the same time on the same court; Rafael Nadal is obsessive about aligning drinks bottles by the side of the courts in a particular way, which can put off opponents: remarkably, court officials let him get away with it. Lleyton Hewitt refuses to go onto court without first listening to the Eye of the Tiger. Goran Ivanisevic had a set of rituals that involved him repeating the same activities he undertook the previous day.
While hopes remain high once again for Andy Murray to win Wimbledon, the All England Club’s head coach, Dan Bloxham, is doing his best to widen the British talent pool. Since the Wimbledon Junior Tennis Initiative (WJTI) was launched in 2001 to offer local children free year-round coaching at the club, he’s assessed more than 98,000 youngsters, with training offered to those with potential.
“Research suggests that only one in 50,000 people have the ‘super-talent’ needed to reach the very top in tennis — so outreach schemes like this are necessary to identify potential from the widest possible sources,” he says. “It’s also necessary to catch talent early — we are seeing children from age three.
Bloxham is also master of ceremonies for the tournament, escorting players for matches on Centre and No 1 courts. “Escorting the finalists to Centre Court is an experience I’ll never forget,” he says. “Outwardly, both players are always calm… yet both carry a focus and determination to win that tells you why they are the best in the world at what they do.” But Bloxham has a fear of his own. “I have to carry the big trophy for the winner of the men’s final onto court, and one thought is always on my mind, ‘What if I drop it?’”
For all its international profile, the All England Club remains a private tennis club — albeit an exclusive one. It is proud of its independence — receiving no funding from the public purse (unlike the Lawn Tennis Association, the governing body of British tennis) or from shareholders. It feels no need for transparency. It won’t, for instance, discuss money, and it’s pretty cagey about how you become a member.
The club has grown from six members in 1868, when it was founded for croquet (tennis was added in 1877), to 375 full members plus honorary members and some 100 temporary members elected from year to year. Membership requirements seem straightforward: applicants must have the backing of four full members, two of which have known you for at least three years. In practice, it can mean waiting decades with no certainty that you will ever be admitted. Winning a Wimbledon singles title is probably the easiest way of getting in, though that route may be fraught with difficulty. John McEnroe was made to wait a year after first winning the tournament as punishment for bad behaviour on court.
The annual subscription for members and the full list of those belonging are both classed as confidential — although names of the management committee are published: among them the Bank of England governor Mervyn King, not widely known for the quality of his forehand.
All the surplus from the annual tournament goes to the Lawn Tennis Association for developing British tennis. The club may appear elitist but it is hard to argue with its financial success: last year it made a surplus, after costs, of £29.2m — up £3.5m on 2008. The scale of organisation required has grown way beyond what even the most far-seeing club member could have imagined when the championship launched in 1877.
Wimbledon’s popularity — a record 511,043 people attended last year — means that ticket allocation is always an issue. In particular, seats on the show-courts are sometimes left empty by people from the corporate-hospitality tents who prefer to eat, drink and network. The club says that fewer than 10% of tickets are allocated for hospitality use. The chief executive Ian Ritchie says: “The number of tickets allocated to the public is protected to ensure access for genuine fans.
“We could sell every ticket through a centralised booking system, avoiding the expense of a public ballot and stewarding long queues — but the ballot and queuing on the day is part of the unique Wimbledon experience.”
The queues, like everything at Wimbledon, are ordered and policed in a quasi-military fashion. If, however, you can’t face the prospect of camping out in SW19, there is at least one guaranteed way of getting the tickets you want. Perhaps it’s time to get the racket out and have a crack at the singles.