Tennis

London | Wimbledon Shorts… Day 12

More off-court stories from in and around Wimbledon…

Serena’s no show

According to The Telegraph, 7-times champion Serena Williams’ absence from Wimbledon’s Centre Court 100-year Celebrations last Sunday was down to her request for 5 courtesy cars, for the personal use of her family, being turned down after she was bundled out of The Championships in the first round by World No 611 Harmony Tan.

Most players are given one courtesy car, with some of the higher-ranked players competing even given two cars, but the report claims Williams wanted 5 for herself, her husband, her sister, her mother and her coach.

A Wimbledon source told The Telegraph that Williams was disappointed when her request to have 5 vehicles beyond the regular 24-hour window after a player has been knocked out was denied.

“She wanted to use the cars for the whole two weeks because that’s what happens at the other Grand Slams,” the source said. “She was told that was not possible because they had to be used by the other players.

“She was not happy. Maybe that’s why she refused to take part in the centenary parade.”

Journalists who quizzed tournament officials why Williams was absent from the Centre Court ceremony were informed she had ‘gone home’ with many assuming that meant a return back to the United States.

Pictures have surfaced, though, of her and her husband at a Rolling Stones concert in Hyde Park before the 23-time Grand Slam champion popped up at a restaurant in Mayfair, and then at the premiere of ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ at Leicester Square.

Radwanska assesses the women’s game

Former World No 2 Agnieszka Radwanska, who is at Wimbledon playing the Ladies Invitation Doubles, has been speaking about the Top 10 players in the women’s game, and considers her fellow Polish countrywoman, Iga Swiatek, is the only that stands out.

Following Ash Barty’s shock retirement from tennis at the age of 25, Swiatek replaced the Australian at the top spot and is enjoying a historic season, winning 37 consecutive matches before suffering a shock defeat to Alizé Cornet in the 3rd-round at The Championships.

Even though Swiatek was the clear favourite for the Wimbledon title, she still considers grass her weakest surface, and many predicted Wimbledon might well bring her streak to an end.

Swiatek is well ahead of 2nd-ranked Ons Jabeur, with 8,576 ranking points to her name, while the Tunisian has 4,340 points.

“I think the top 10 is pretty open,” Radwanska told Eurosport. “I think there are a lot of players playing at the same level.

“I think Iga Swiatek and Ash Barty, before she retired, are the only two players that are playing very consistently, very powerfully.”

“Those two – that would be like [Novak] Djokovic and [Rafael] Nadal at the moment in men’s tennis.”

“Ash, unfortunately, she has gone, so it is only Iga, and, I think, except Iga, everyone has the same chance.

“The level is very cool, and that is why you can see a lot of different names, even different names not from the top 30 in the second week of a Grand Slam.

“I think those kinds of years – everything is going to change. A lot of older players retired, and now it is an open space.

“So, I think, we will wait for the new generation coming in [and there will be a] time when we’re all going to see the same names, like before, in the top 10,” Radwanska added.

Dress code pressure on Wimbledon

After a story that has rumbling throughout the fortnight, Wimbledon is facing pressure to rethink its strict dress code after being accused of ‘turning a blind eye’ to the anxiety female players face at having to compete in traditional whites while on their periods.

A protest will be staged on Saturday outside the main gates of the All England Club, coinciding with the day of the ladies’ singles final, by a group of activists who say the ‘archaic’ clothing tradition is disadvantageous to women players.

The protestors will wear skirts with a ‘red blood’ skort underlayer, inspired by Tatiana Golovin, the former Russian-born French player, who sparked a flurry of headlines when she wore red shorts under her skirt at Wimbledon in 2007.

The skirts are designed to highlight the impracticality of wearing white clothing for players who menstruate, and follows a campaign launched this week calling on Wimbledon to ‘Address The Dress Code’.

“These archaic rules were written years ago by men, and they’ve got stricter and stricter over the years,” said Gabriella Holmes, 26, a keen recreational tennis player and one of the co-founders of the campaign. “It’s about time they were rewritten with menstruation in mind.

“We’re not asking for drastic changes. Maybe the Wimbledon board can sit down and make a couple [of] amendments that consider the fact that women are competing on their period, and it’s adding to their pressure when they’re performing at this level.”

Earlier this week, British doubles player Alicia Barnett opened up about the stress of having to compete in white on her period.

“I do think some traditions could be changed,” she said. “I, for one, am a massive advocate for women’s rights, and I think having this discussion is just amazing.”

The campaign was launched using a photo-shopped version of the provocative ‘Tennis Girl’ photo, which shows a female player without underwear, taken by British photographer Martin Elliott in 1976.

The adapted image shows a woman posing in ‘Wimbledon whites’ to reveal a blood stain.

“The idea was to turn this original image that objectifies women, into one that draws attention to the struggles real ‘tennis girls’ face when doing sports on their period,” said Holly Gordon, 28, co-founder of the campaign.

A Wimbledon spokesperson said: “Prioritising women’s health and supporting players based on their individual needs is very important to us, and we are in discussions with the WTA, with manufacturers and with the medical teams about the ways in which we can do that.

“It is an issue we have got to think carefully about.”

Will a coach in the Player Box at Wimbledon be allowed to coach their player on court soon?

© AELTC/Ben Solomon/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Men’s coaching rule about to change

Tennis traditionally has not allowed coaches to proffer advice to players on court, but that now changes on a trial basis.

As soon as Wimbledon is over, the ATP will follow the lead of the WTA and let coaches offer some words and hand signals to players during matches at all tournaments, including at the US Open, starting in New York in late August.

This will be the first time coaching is allowed during main-draw matches at a Grand Slam tournament.

The ATP’s announcement has re-ignited the debate on whether allowing on-court coaching is good idea or not.

Some believe it increases fan engagement, while others think it goes against the nature of tennis as an individual, go-it-alone sport.

The women’s tour has tried various forms of in-match coaching over the past decade-plus, allowing, and broadcasting, face-to-face conversations during changeovers, for example, but the men’s tour has refrained, other than a brief try-out in the late 1990s, as well as test runs involving chats through headsets at the Next Gen season-ending event for younger players.

“I admire [the ATP] for trying something new,” said Ruud, a 23-year-old from Norway who has been coached by his father, former pro Christian. “At the same time, it’s the beauty of our sport that we have to figure out the game and everything ourselves.”

“It would only be a mistake if people weren’t already doing it,” said 32nd-ranked American Tommy Paul, who reached the 4th-round in his debut at the All England Club. “I don’t want there to be coaching, per se.

“I don’t think that’s the way the sport is supposed to be. But people do it so much that it’s kind of normal now.”

Jessica Pegula, a two-time major quarter-finalist from the US who is ranked No 9, has experienced legal coaching on the women’s tour, and isn’t so sure it’s going to make a significant difference in the men’s game.

“Some people think it’s going to be a big, huge thing that changes matches,” she said. “I don’t think so. You can’t exactly call a play in tennis. There aren’t set plays. It’s not like football or basketball.

“And some players probably don’t want to hear it. They’re going to be like: ‘Stop talking to me! Shut up!’”

The Grand Slam Rule Book explicitly prohibits coaching: “Players shall not receive coaching during a match (including the warm-up). Communications of any kind, audible or visible, between a player and a coach may be construed as coaching.”

At least 3 women have been fined at Wimbledon for coaching, including penalties of $3,500 for 2016 champion Garbiñe Muguruza and $4,500 for Lesia Tsurenko.

The ATP’s new guidelines say coaches will sit in designated seats; they only can talk to their players when the two are on the same end of the court, but hand signals are always OK; they’ll be allowed to speak and use gestures ‘only if it does not interrupt play or create any hindrance to the opponent’; and speaking must be limited to ‘a few words and/or short phrases’.

Combined event in Hamburg

Back for the second straight year, the Hamburg European Open, played on clay courts, will combine the women’s and men’s events for the first time since 1978.

Andrea Petkovic, Danielle Collins, Barbora Krejcikova and defending champion Elena-Gabriela Ruse are scheduled to play.

Last year, the clay-court event brought women’s tennis back to Hamburg for the first time in nearly two decades.

This year, the ATP men’s event will run alongside the WTA 250 event for the first time in nearly 2 decades, after the events took place in back-to-back weeks in 2021.

“I couldn’t be happier that we were able to accomplish this with our partners,” Tournament Director Sandra Reichel said. “To me, it’s a dream come true!

“I consider a combined tournament to be the ultimate offering for tennis fans.”

WTA main-draw play will begin on Sunday, 17 July, and run through to the women’s final on Saturday, 23 July.

The Hamburg European Open will be one of 6 combined women’s and men’s events in Europe, and the only combined event in Germany.

The event is the oldest tennis tournament in Germany, dating all the way back to 1892.

Surging Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz leads the men’s event field, along with Andrey Rublev and Jannik Sinner.

For more details and ticket information, visit the tournament website here.

ITF announces key officiating roles

The ITF has appointed Andrew Nicholas-Wynne as Head of Officiating Compliance, and Iain Smith as Head of Officials, two senior roles created following a review of the previous single role of Head of Officiating.

Nicholas-Wynne, as Head of Officiating Compliance, will oversee Officiating assignments for the ITF and represent the ITF on the Joint Certification Programme with the Grand Slams, ATP and WTA.

An active tennis official for 39 years, Nicholas-Wynne is also a practising barrister specialising in safeguarding and family law.

He is a Gold Badge Chief Umpire and has been Chief Umpire at the ATP 500 Queen’s Club tournament for the past 10 years.

Smith, who joins the ITF as Head of Officials from Tennis South Africa, where he currently holds the role of Technical Manager and ITF Regional Officiating Officer for Africa, will be responsible for the daily operations of the department as well as overseeing the ITF’s officiating strategy to support the development of officiating globally.

He has been an ITF Certified official since 1993 and is a Gold Badge Referee.

Debbie Jevans CBE (L) seen here with the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William watching Cam Norrie on No 1 Court on Wednesday

© Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

A female chairman at Wimbledon?

The Daily Mail speculates that Debbie Jevans, who reached the 4th-round of Wimbledon in 1979, losing to Virginia Wade, has emerged as a front-runner to become the first female chairman of the All England Club.

Jevans was seen strategically sitting beside the Duchess of Cambridge, Patron of the Club, on No 1 Court on Tuesday, watching British No 1 Cameron Norrie.

A former junior Wimbledon champion, Jevans played in 10 Grand Slam singles draws between 1979 and 1983, with her best result being the loss to 5th-seeded Virginia Wade.

The 62-year-old has held various roles in sport, including acting as Chief Executive of England’s 2015 Rugby World Cup organising committee, although she raised eyebrows by quitting that job less than 6 months before the tournament’s start.

She also acted as Head of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games Bid, and currently sits on the Board of All England Club and Wimbledon Championships as well as being a Senior Non-Executive Director at the English Football League (EFL), having previously served as Chair.

A Trustee of the Invictus Games Foundation and the EFL Trust, Jevans was the first woman in Olympic history to serve as Director of Sport for an Olympic Games Organising Committee when appointed to this role for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London.

She was awarded a CBE in the 2013 New Year’s Honours List for her services to Sport and the Olympics.

In December 2021, Jevans was appointed as a Special Advisor for Sport with Podium Analytics, the NGO and charity founded by Ron Dennis CBE, which is committed to reducing injury in sport.

An underground world

Few know that there is a labyrinth of tunnels under the grounds of the All England Club that keep everything running smoothly at The Championships.

Hidden from the general public, these tunnels and storage bunkers connect to many subterranean rooms, ranging from standard dressing areas to drug-testing rooms.

Thousands of staff work in and from these areas, including the ball people, stringers, caterers and so on.

There is an eerily quiet and chilling archive room where hundreds of rackets are stored, each with a tag on, with names from long ago to recent greats, often donated and sorted by decade.

There is also the library, which stocks about 20,000 books, covering pretty much anything published about tennis.

In operation since 1997, the tunnels are the veins of Wimbledon, circulating the lifeblood of the Championships, helping staff, goods and supplies get from A to B without crashing into crowds of excited, sometimes lost and often merry spectators.

The tunnels are also used by players, but they are hardly state-of-the-art, merely dark and cold spaces.

Ahead of his fourth-round clash with Gilles Muller in 2017, Rafa Nadal banged his head while jumping to warm up in the tunnels beneath No 1 Court.

Rufus still patrols the skies

Rufus, a Harris’s hawk, is on patrol at 5am every day at the Club, which is one his illustrious list of clients that includes Lord’s cricket ground, Westminster Abbey and Fulham Football Club.

His job is to scare of pigeons and vermin each day to ensure there is no interruption of play.

“Rufus is 15 now but will fly until he’s basically expired,” says owner Wayne Davis, 59, who with his daughter Imogen has worked at the Championships for 22 years. “He just loves to hunt!

“Pigeons love it in the gullies and drains in the courts, but Rufus deals with them. He’s the most famous hawk ever!”

Rufus was once stolen from Davis’s Land Rover when the owner had popped inside and left the window open.

“He was in a carry-case-like box,” Davis recalls. “I think they thought it was a safe with loads of money in, but they must have opened it later and seen Rufus as they dumped it on Wimbledon Common shortly after.

“Rufus has had his picture taken with Andy Murray and Rafa Nadal, they all love him.

“Wimbledon have pretty much adopted him. He has a special bit about him in the on-site museum.”

Groundsworkers tend to the grass courts at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon

© Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images

Mowers at dawn

Wimbledon is all about the grass, of course, the flowers and the planting, all looked after by a tiny army.

“When the public arrive, we disappear into the background,” says Martyn Falconer, Head Gardener. “I’ve been here since 1999 — nine of us work full-time, and we double that for the championships.

“People think it’s just a two-week job, but we keep the site pristine all year.”

They source 20,000 different plants from south-west London to all over Europe, including 30,000 petunias.

“I start at about 5am,” says Falconer. “I have sleepless nights but as soon as that gate opens, I breathe a sigh of relief — we’ve done our job, everything is pristine.”

The optimum length of grass is 8mm, and the horticulture team gets daily data on this, plus ball hardness and its bounce from a private company performs analysis on each court.

“The mowers are set at the same height every day,” says Neil Stubley, Head of Courts and Horticulture. “We’re in from 7am and it’s a bit of Groundhog Day for two weeks.

“We tailor each court to specifics. Some on the north side, for example, might be too hard so we can hold back on the watering, or give another more water.”

Hybrid tennis courts?

David Brown wrote in The Times that grass courts containing plastic fibres are being developed by Wimbledon to export the game around the world.

Synthetic surfaces will horrify purists, but trial results announced by the All England Club show they could lead to grass courts being built in areas considered unsuitable at present, while extending the season in the UK.

Neil Stubley, Head of Horticulture at the Club, has created hybrid courts of grass ‘stitched’ with synthetic fibres similar to those used in football pitches.

While Wimbledon’s clay soil is ideal for grass courts, much of the world is predominantly sand or chalk which is too soft and drains too quickly.

“With the stitching system you can actually make the soil more resilient,” Stubley said. “So you can have a more free-draining surface, but you can still get the hardness on the surface as well.

“You can then go to a place like Australia and create good grass courts.”

Hybrid courts have been created at a club facility in Raynes Park, 2 miles away, where tests are being carried out on the hardness of the surface and the ball bounce and speed.

“We read all that data and make sure that it’s within range of what we would expect a grass court to be,” Stubley said. “We want to champion global grass tennis, not just at The Championships but hopefully you can have tournaments in any country in the world.

“We’re doing a lot of research on southern hemisphere grasses so we can end up having a product where we can have the right root zones and the right grasses on top to give us the same characteristics of a court at Wimbledon.

“The grass court season is so small that the first experience for some juniors is a pre-Wimbledon event.”

Research in Brisbane on warm season grasses has identified half a dozen varieties that ‘can produce really good grass tennis courts’, Stubley added.

Racket stringers

There are about 15 racket-stringers on site during The Championships, and they string up to 450 rackets a day.

Players and coaches pop in with them, asking for varying tensions, which the stringers set on the Babolat electronic stringing machines.

The stringers reel off the orders, including ‘amount of pounds on the mains’, ‘natural gut’, ‘pre-stretch’ and ‘monofilament’.

Natural gut is so named as it comes from a cow’s intestine to provide an elastic, rich layer of string for extra power. To bring the power down, stringers can provide looser crosses.

Most players keep the same set-up on the strings, but they may alter the tension depending on the weather and surface.

Players go on court with around 10 rackets and it is not uncommon to see rackets being rushed off court to get re-strung.

A ball boy holds two tennis balls during the men’s singles quarter final tennis match between Rafael Nadal and Taylor Fritz on Wednesday

© Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images

New balls please!

About 53,000 tennis balls, which is about two full lorry-loads, are stored at 20˚C and have been supplied by Slazenger since 1902.

Ball-handlers watch each match from a control room, looking for ones that might need new balls.

For example, 123 balls were needed for the 2010 marathon match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, which finished 70-68 to Isner in the deciding set.

Balls are changed after the first 7 games of a match and then after every 9 games thereafter, in accordance with tournament regulations, and are are often hit into the crowd by players, but are usually thrown back although officials turn a blind eye to spectators pocketing them.

Used balls are sold daily, at £2.50 per can of three, with all proceeds going to local charities.

Ball Boys and Ball Girls

In a usual year, there is a final total of approximately 250 Ball Boys and Girls, referred to as BBGs, picked from around 1,000 applicants who work at The Championships, Wimbledon.

Approximately 170 are selected from about 750 year 9 & 10 applicants, and around 80 are chosen from about 250 ballboys/girls from previous years.

The average age is 15 years, and many spend two years as a BBG.

Six teams of 6 selected to be responsible for Centre and No 1 Courts, while 6 teams of 6 rotate around the other show courts and the remainder are in teams of 6 rotating around the rest of the courts.

The usual routine for a BBG is one hour on, one hour off.

‘A Full Jug of Pimm’s’

Given the amount of Pimm’s sold on site during the two weeks, 276,291 glasses at the last Championships with full crowds, one might not notice a staff member saying ‘full jug of Pimm’s’.

It is said, though, that staff have a language of codewords used over the airways, and ‘full jug of Pimm’s’ is understood to be code for when an A-list celebrity is on site.

Last year’s final saw the likes of David Beckham, Tom Cruise and the Duchess of Cambridge keep a watching brief on Centre Court from the Royal Box, which has 80 dark-green Lloyd Loom wicker chairs.

Her Majesty The Queen attended The Championships in 1957, 1962, 1977 and 2010.

Around 6,000 staff are taken on for the Championships, including 250 ball boys or girls.

They work with 31 local schools, with intense training which starts in January. They have skills and fitness tests and are put into teams of six, with a captain each.

Teenagers must walk in silence and cannot speak to players unless spoken to first.

Security bungle

Security services at the All England Club are provided by Carlisle Security Services and Knights Group Security since 2020.

Knights Group Security provide security managers and safety stewards inside the grounds.

They keep everything on track for the two weeks of The Championships, with some of them are from the military, some from London Fire Brigade, and others volunteer their time for free to be part of the action.

There are also London Metropolitan Police officers and sniffer dogs patrolling the grounds.

Unfortunately, 3 security guards at Wimbledon were arrested after an alleged altercation that was broken up by police.

According to the Guardian, the alleged fight broke out in front of fans and began because one worker accused his colleague of taking a 3-hour-long break.

A spokesperson for the Metropolitan police told CNN: “At 14:00 on Friday, 1 July, officers on duty at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships were alerted to an altercation within the grounds.

“Officers attended. Three men working at the event were arrested on suspicion of affray. There were no reports of any injuries.

“They were taken into custody and were later bailed until a date in late July.”

A Knights Group Security company insider told the Guardian the altercation was ‘embarrassing’, adding: “To have a fight in front of fans is not a good look. It has damaged the company’s reputation. I can’t believe they did that.”

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