The Groundsman

June 2014

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any observers undoubtedly assumed that the furore of media attention that accompanied the 'slipping courts' saga at last year's Wimbledon tournament represented a baptism of fire for Neil Stubley at his first M Neil courts success – again! Colin Hoskins caught up with Neil Stubley, head groundsman at the All England Club, and IOG Professional Tennis Groundsman of the Year 2013, during the build-up to this year's Championships By: Colin Hoskins All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club (AELTC) Championships as head groundsman. Despite facing 200 press interviews - 75 on the day after "wacky Wednesday" – Neil, however, seemingly took it all in his stride. "I've seen most things in the 19 years I've been at Wimbledon," says Neil, "and media interviewing was thankfully part of the experience of the three years or so while I was head groundsman designate and 'shadowing' Eddie [Seaward]. That said, our saving grace is that we record everything we do so we had the factual evidence to show that the courts were the same as they've always been." (Eddie officially retired as AELTC head groundsman after the London 2012 Olympic Games though for the previous two years he had been accompanied by Neil to the many meetings, discussions and debates that are inherent at such a venue.) Neil continues: "There always has to be a certain level of moisture in the grass; we need that if we are to 'hold' the courts for almost a month to carry us through the Championships and to cope with the intensive practice sessions in the preceding 10 days, when there is intense demand for the grass surfaces. It's a delicate balancing act to 'protect' the main Championship courts. "Importantly, though, our meticulous recordkeeping includes the independently- created STRI data which, of course, enables us to illustrate the courts' hardness readings, for example. These showed how the playing surfaces last year were within a very small percentage of where they've always been so, effectively, the courts were clearly no different. "In fact, I would recommend that every club – even the smallest - keeps a diary of events to always go back to if circumstances dictate. Victim of success "It was quite a pressurised few days," Neil adds. "Ironically, the team was lauded by the press as heroes 12 months prior for turning the courts around within 21 days between the Championships and the London Olympics, so I suppose we are a victim of our own success. But we knew the courts were fine. "You always have to bear in mind that the players generally have sometimes only a two-week break between the last major clay tournament and the Championships, and they need time to adapt to grass. But, of course, the media always look for a story." As Neil this year approaches his 20th Championships as part of the AELTC team, he continues: "When I re- evaluate last year's tournament and the media attention given to the grass, I look back and actually take benefit from it. "The attention made me question (again) everything we do, and that is not a bad thing. "But there's certainly not been any knee-jerk reactions. As always, we sit down and we review what we've done (the preparations for last year's tournament were no different), constantly questioning our maintenance regimes as well as our cultivars (all courts are 100 per cent ryegrass), our Primo application rates and our thatch/organic levels. Of course, everything we do is dictated by the weather and the temperatures. "In fact, we have changed one cultivar for this year, introducing a new Limagrain ryegrass that has similar wear and drought tolerance to our existing grasses but with a 'cleaner' appearance for a slightly better sward." t IOG BEST PRACTICE 21 the Groundsman June 2014

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