London: Wimbledon’s head groundsman Neil Stubley is relaxed and calm as he watches the cream of international tennis battle it out on his turf — a far cry from a year ago, when a spate of injuries took an extraordinary toll on players.
The series of mishaps, which led seven players to pull out injured, has gone down in tennis circles as “Wimblegeddon”. Maria Sharapova, who slipped three times in one day, had complained that conditions on the court were dangerous.
This year Maria wasn’t complaining but she was cautious. “You can’t just forget about it... it’s at the back of your mind,” she said after winning her second match on Thursday.
With a year’s perspective, and with Wimbledon champion Andy Murray saying the courts this year are “perfect”, Stubley said a post mortem had found the courts were in much the same shape on that fateful June 26 they had been for previous championships.
“What happened last year was because it happened to a couple of high-profile players, all of a sudden people forgot that in the early rounds of a grass-court tournament there is the potential to slip as there is moisture in the leaves,” the 45-year-old Londoner, who officially took up his post in 2012, said.
“And you know it’s just a case of kind of riding it out,” he said. Asked if he was losing sleep over it, his response was that he had a six-week-old baby at home “so how do you think I slept last night?”.
He added: “It’s the same issue, the courts this year are pretty much identical as they were last year. You’ve had few players slipping this week but then you will have. You can go back all the way to the Rod Lavers, the Boris Beckers, they were slipping back then because it's the nature of the beast.”
Stubley is able to talk authoritatively about the condition of Wimbledon’s 41 practice and competition courts on any given day because they are like super high-tech lawns.
They are built on a half-metre layer of gravel and soil, and with clay. They have built-in sensors and there are daily checks of their condition by independent monitors.
An immense amount of research and technology has gone into building the courts, but basically it was trial and error that resulted in replacing the former three-grass with just one grass type, rye. Rye was the only one of the three that survived more or less until the end of the two-week tournament, Stubley said.