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Wimbledon set for 20-day Olympic overhaul

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Originally published on: 13/08/10 16:55

Three-week lawn laying, free public transport and dress code adjustments were the talk of the day as the All England Club outlined its plans for staging the Olympic tennis event in two years’ time.

The historic venue will be transformed in the 20-day spell between the end of the Championships on July 8 and the opening matches of the nine-day Olympic event on July 28 – which will present quite some challenge to the groundsmen, who must revive the grass courts to their pre-Wimbledon state.

Having conducted tests following this year’s Championships, All England Club chief executive Ian Ritchie is confident that chief groundsman Eddie Seward and his team will deliver.

“Right from the beginning of being involved in the bid we knew that this was where there was going to be a big consultation with our ground staff, and we always felt pretty confident about it,” said Ritchie.

Mixed doubles will feature at the Olympic Games
for the first time since 1924

“The interesting thing now is that most of the wear on the courts is at the baseline outside the actual playing surface, so where the ball bounces is hardly affected, so we don’t believe it will interfere with the play at all.”

But while the surface will have the players feeling right at home, the All England Club itself will undergo a very Olympic transformation as the five-rings marque and sponsors’ logos move in around the staunchly understated venue. Players will also be free to wear their national colours as the club’s all-white dress code is temporarily dropped.

“There will be an Olympic overlay and there will be a unique feel across all of our venues, so when you’re watching it you will very much know that you are watching Olympic tennis at Wimbledon,” said Debbie Jevans, director of sports and venues for LOCOG.

“We are enormously supportive of this but it is not the Championships at Wimbledon,” added Ritchie. “It is a different event and it is meant to have its own approach. The idea was never to have a repeat of Wimbledon; this will have its own mark.” He stressed, however, that the club has no intention of allowing the Olympic rings to be painted onto the grass courts.

Head groundsman Eddie Seward and his team face
a race against time to re-seed the grass courts

Spectators will also experience the novelty of entering the grounds through the All England Club’s southern apex, home to the hospitality tents during the Championships. As many as 26,000 are expected to pass through the grounds each day to catch the action on one of the 12 courts set to be employed for the five tennis events, with free public transport to the grounds for ticket-holders – which, given the lack of Championships-style parking in the local area during the Olympic event, will be widely recommended.

The vision is a far cry from the last time the All England Club played host to the Olympics. In 1908, with the club then based on Worple Rd, Wimbledon – just a short stroll from the tennishead HQ – 31 men and five women competed for the Olympic titles. In contrast, 172 players are expected to play in 2012, served by 160 ball kids and 180 technical staff.

Tennis was no longer an Olympic sport when the games last came to London in 1948, but the sport was restored to the Olympic fold in 1988. Five tennis golds will be up for grabs in London, with mixed doubles reintroduced for the first time since 1924.

The All England Club will display details of their Olympic plans for members of the public and local residents in the Wingfield Restaurant from August 19-21. The proposals are also available here.

Ritchie, for one, is expecting the All England Club to prove itself to be a fantastic sporting venue once more and rise to the unique challenge in style.

“I think there will be a great interest,” he said. “Wimbledon is heavily over-subscribed every year and to some extent maybe it opens up a slightly different audience.”

Tickets go on sale to the general public next year, but those who are interested in registering can do so now by visiting tickets.lonondon2012.com.

Now get the WORLD’S BEST TENNIS MAGAZINE here


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