With Wimbledon in the books, All England Club preps for Olympics
Olympic tennis returns to Wimbledon for first time in 104 years at London Games
Gone will be all-white dress code, lack of corporate logos fans are accustomed to
All the top stars (Nadal, Serena, Federer) will be there vying for an Olympic medal
There's been no shortage of sympathy for Andy Murray after Sunday's ennobling defeat to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon men's final. Not a surprise, perhaps, in a place that views Dunkirk as a victory.
But spare a thought for the Wimbledon grounds team -- or better yet tweet them -- as they undertake the task of preparing the iconic lawn for the London Olympic tennis competition in less than three weeks. It marks a return to where the quadrennial tournament was played 104 years ago when London first held the Games in 1908. Sort of. Back then, the All England Lawn Tennis Club was at Worple Road, now used by Wimbledon High School, before moving to the present Church Road site in 1922.
Head groundsman Eddie Seaward, the exalted "grass whisperer" who is retiring this summer after more than 20 years of caring for Centre Court, is confident that pre-germinated seed and modern grow covers will restore the courts to the same condition as before the Championships -- though a little cooperation from the notoriously unreliable weather could prove necessary.
As the torch makes its way nearer to London by the day, here's a primer of what you need to know about the first Olympic grass-court tournament in 92 years.
The tournament starts on July 28, the day after the Opening Ceremony, and concludes on Aug. 5. The draw will be conducted in public in the Debentures Holders' Lounge at the All England Club on July 26.
Three of the four gold medalists from the Beijing Games will return to defend their titles: Rafael Nadal (men's singles), Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka (men's doubles) and two-time winners Venus and Serena Williams (women's doubles). The 64 players in the men's and women's singles draw consist of 56 direct acceptances -- based on the top 56 players in the rankings as of June 11 with a maximum of four men or women per nation -- plus a mix of ITF selections and handpicked invitees (such as former Wimbledon champion Lleyton Hewitt). Representing the United States will be John Isner, Andy Roddick, Donald Young and Ryan Harrison in men's singles, Serena Williams, Christina McHale, Venus Williams, Varvara Lepchenko in women's singles, the Bryan brothers and Isner/Roddick in men's doubles, and the Williams sisters and Liezel Huber/Lisa Raymond in women's doubles. The U.S. will also have two mixed doubles teams that won't be chosen until all 12 players are on site.
Long celebrated as a bastion of commercial purity -- a kind of anti-U.S. Open, refreshingly devoid of courtside billboards, rotating signs or corporate logos on the playing surface -- the courts have already been festooned with atypical mauve coloring, presumably in advance of forthcoming McDonald's and Coca-Cola logos.
The all-white dress code that's become synonymous with Wimbledon? Gone. Players will be permitted to wear colored garb, though restrictions on manufacturer's logos are nearly as stringent. No insignias larger than 20 square centimeters are permitted on a player's clothing or equipment before or after a match or at any press conference or tournament ceremony. (And not to exceed 6 square centimeters on socks and shoes, hats, handbags and wristbands.) Bags carried on to the court may have one logo that is larger than 10 percent of the surface area of the bag.
They sure hope so, but there's no way to know for certain. Seaward and longtime protégé Neil Stubley, who will succeed him at the end of the summer, have spent the past few years experimenting with different seed blends and techniques on the practice courts, putting together a list of methodologies that work and discarding the ones that don't. They've settled on a process of pre-germinating the rye grass mixture -- soaking it in a dustbin with warm water and amino acid, then draining and fermenting it in a warm room -- to encourage rapid new growth upon the worn areas, particularly on Centre Court.
The 1924 Paris Games saw an outstanding tennis competition, with Americans sweeping gold in the men's and women's singles, men's and women's doubles and mixed events. But squabbles over the amateur question and the substandard facilities offered up by the French Olympic committee prompted the International Lawn Tennis Federation to offer a list of four demands to the International Olympic Committee, including a call for the IOC to withdraw its request that Wimbledon not be held in Olympic years. The IOC rejected all four, and tennis didn't reappear with full medal credentials until 1988, with two appearances as a demonstration sport in the interim.
Unlike the Olympic soccer competition -- which pales in importance compared to the World Cup -- Olympic tennis is regarded by the players to be on relatively equal terms with the four major tournaments. So there has been no shortage of big names and memorable moments through the years. France's Suzanne Lenglen became the most dominant Olympic champion in 1920 when she lost just four games en route to a gold medal. Steffi Graf capped her "Golden Slam" emphatically in 1988, while Jennifer Capriati became the youngest winner in tournament history (by far) when she captured gold in Barcelona four years later. And who could forget Federer's tears of joy when he teamed with Wawrinka for the gold in Beijing -- the world's most decorated player humbled by the act of winning a medal for his country.
Having the All England Club on board as an Olympic venue played no small role during the bidding process, and there's no question it lends the competition an added prestige.
"It will be surreal," said Maria Sharapova, a first-time competitor for Russia at the Games. "It will be a completely different experience. I don't know what I will feel when I'm out on the court playing on grass at Wimbledon and knowing that it's not Wimbledon. It's just a unique opportunity for all of us, but I'm extremely thrilled that it's at Wimbledon. It's my favorite place to play tennis."
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