The 2015 Wimbledon Championships begins on Monday 29 July. The world-famous tennis tournament takes places at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in SW19. As tennis stars including Andy Murray and Djokovic gear up to play, The Resident goes behind-the-scenes at Wimbledon to meet those responsible for making the world’s greatest tennis tournament a success
Words: Kat Hopps
I’m only the eighth Head Groundsman in the club’s history in nearly 150 years. I hold a National Diploma in Sportsturf Management and was made Head Groundsman in 2012. This will be my 21st tournament. I have approximately 140 staff for The Championships including gardeners and ground staff. We start renovating the courts at the end of the previous tennis season until May, when the grass courts open to our members. Turf management in sports is bespoke. Our grass height is about 8mm and is geared towards high-wear and high-drought tolerance. We have a brand new surface every year. There’s no other grass court venue with a two-week tournament so we live and die by our mistakes. I’m up at 5am during Wimbledon checking the weather forecast and I decide whether the covers are coming off or not at 6am. We have 51 courts to get ready and all The Championships courts are inspected, cut and marked out daily. We test the courts’ hardness and moisture and count grass from different areas of the courts to see how quickly it’s wearing out. On a dry day, the team will be away by 9.30pm but if it’s been a wet one, we may not leave until 12.30am — it’s like jet lag at the end of The Championships. We try not to take it too personally when a player doesn’t like a certain court. When people walk through the gates and almost start crying — because it’s on their bucket list — that’s when you realise it is a big deal.
The presence of a hawk at Wimbledon helps to deter problem pigeons who venture from far and wide to feed on the grass seed. Pigeons are habitual birds so by flying hawks regularly, they realise it is not a safe place for them to roost and feed. My job entails early mornings, incredible views, long hours and patience. I took over the family business three years ago. Rufus is the main hawk we use during The Championships. He is almost eight years old and has been working at Wimbledon since he was 22 weeks old so he knows the hiding places of any stubborn pigeons pretty well. We usually collect our Harris Hawks around 16-20 weeks old when they are fully grown and are completely wild, and the training process is very intensive, requiring a lot of time and patience. It is important to ascertain the bird’s optimum flying weight during the training process; they need to be just hungry enough to hunt but not so hungry that they will catch their own food. Each day I weigh Rufus as if he was at a boxing weigh-in. He is flown numerous times daily and has a diet of chicken and quail. When working with wild animals it’s important to take each challenge as it comes, such as the time when Rufus was stolen in 2012. He was later returned, but you could never predict anything like that!
I have been Wimbledon’s Director of Catering since 2008. We have 46 kitchens and we cater for everyone: the public, Royal Box visitors, tennis club members, players, media, officials and our 10,000 staff. The most important meal of the day before the doors open is a full English breakfast — we serve 3,000 a day to the media, staff and officials. The players don’t eat that: their diet includes sushi, sweet potatoes, quinoa, healthy salads and fruit smoothies. The general public can choose from self-service restaurants, fast food and fine dining at The Wing Field restaurant. We balance tradition with innovation; people increasingly want more spice so we now have a chorizo-style sausage and a Thai noodle stir-fry instead of Chinese chicken stir-fry, but fish and chips is the biggest seller as people leave at 10pm. Strawberries and cream and afternoon tea are synonymous with Wimbledon and we go through 28 tonnes of strawberries each year. We sell 200,000 glasses of Pimms, 25,000 bottles of Lanson champagne, plus 70% white wine, 20% red and 10% rosé — all Jacob’s Creek. No day is the same. I need to be a good planner, multi-tasker and master of all trades as I can go from serving royalty to making a cup of tea for a member of the public.
The association of Honorary Stewards is a voluntary group. There are 200 active members working during the championships and about 90% come back each year. It’s a 24/7 operation and most stewards work 12-plus hours. I have to ensure we deliver 200 members to the tournament and deliver a great Championships from a stewarding perspective. I arrive about 5.30am and get the night stewards on the phone to see how the night has gone and what sort of numbers we have in the queue. Hopefully it’s been fairly quiet and the weather’s been good. Bad weather is not great for anyone — stewards included — because the numbers will be lower, and people who are waiting to watch play on an outside court could be in for a long wait. We do get the occasional rain delay and it’s frustrating for everyone because the grass on court has to be absolutely dry before play can resume but the Wimbledon crowd is friendly and well-behaved. We have a mobility tent so if people are not great at walking or need help then we ask them to wait there. You pinch yourself as you go through the gates in the morning as the sun is coming up; it’s when you realise how lucky you are to be involved with such a great event.
I’ve been working as a hairdresser at Wimbledon for about 25 years — it seems to get busier every year. Last year we had a manicurist for the first time, which proved extremely popular and brought more women in to the salon. Our priority is to the players but if we’re not too busy we’re happy to cut the hair of the players’ coaches or families. We typically start at 11am. We try and get players to make appointments but because of the nature of their sport they like to drop in. We’re there till 6pm but could be there till 10pm — we have to shut the door in people’s faces sometimes. Sometimes the female players want blow-dries or their hair braided but we don’t do colours, perms or any chemical treatments as we don’t have the time. Novak Djokovic comes in every year to have his hair done. He’s a really nice client and he always remembers everyone’s name. Martina Navratilova comes in regularly to have her hair done. Players won’t normally try anything different if they’ve having a run of good luck. If they’re winning it’s possible they won’t have a new hairstyle. In 2013 Jelena Jankovic had her hair French braided and we put a flower in it for her to make it look pretty; she won her match so she came back every day for the same hairstyle and the flower.
I think the men are possibly more fussy about their hair than the women, maybe it’s because they’re not as good at looking after their hair style as the female players so they worry they won’t be able to cope with it. Many of the men like the short clipper haircuts whereas women’s hairstyles are becoming more natural. A few years ago they would want their hair blow-dried into a style whereas now it’s left to dry naturally. Who has the best hair? Maria Sharopova has beautiful hair. It’s lovely.