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Wimbledon braced for purple haze

Olympic tennis set to be a colourful affair

Image Credit: AFP
Switzerland’s Roger Federer waves to fans from a walkway following his victory at Wimbledon last Sunday. He will return to represent his country at the Olympic tennis tournament.
Gulf News

London: When Roger Federer returns to Wimbledon later this month to begin his bid for Olympic gold, the seven-time champion will find the historic venue he regards as a second home has undergone a major facelift.

Federer barely had time to pack away his racquets after his final victory over Andy Murray on Sunday before Wimbledon groundstaff began to transform the hallowed confines of the All England Club into a riot of colour ahead of the Olympic tennis event.

The Games are returning to Wimbledon for the first time since 1908 and the experience will come as quite a culture shock to those used to the genteel surroudings of the south-west London arena.

Aside from the high-quality tennis on show, a significant part of Wimbledon’s charm is the tranquil atmosphere.

From the creeping vines and flowers that cover the outside of Centre Court to the club’s insistence that all players must wear white kit, there is something unique about Wimbledon.

Between July 28 and August 5 all that will change and even seven-time champion Federer may be forgiven for doing a double-take when he gets his first glimpse of the overhaul.

Dark green is the dominant colour during the Wimbledon fortnight, but the All England Club will be lost in a purple haze for the duration of the Games, with many of the outside courts decked out in the vivid Olympic livery and legendary ring logo within 24 hours of Federer’s triumph.

Perhaps most noticeably, the Wimbledon requirement that players wear white clothing will be gone.

Instead, spectators can expect a rainbow of hues as players wearing outfits in the colours of their nation bring a splash of colour to the world’s most famous tennis courts.

But despite some marked differences, one thing will have to be the same — the grass courts — and that means plenty of extra work for head groundsman Eddie Seaward and his 28-man team.

Seaward is due to retire this summer after more than 20 years, but before that, he and his team face the job of returning the courts to top condition in record time.

“We’ve had Davis Cup ties before, soon after the Championships, but that’s only one court, and there will be 10 match courts for the Olympics,” he said.

“There are fewer matches for the Olympics than for a grand slam, and the matches are shorter, but it’s going to be very high profile.”

They may not be able to follow the usual post-Championship renovation programme, which would ordinarily take 12 months to complete, but Seaward is confident they will get it done.

“We have 20 days between The Championships and the Olympics, and we’re confident that we can get the grass back on the baselines,” he said.

“Between the two events, we’re going to be sowing grasses which are pre-germinated - in other words, they would have already started to grow. That should take about three days.

“On the practice courts, it’s a different issue, as the players will start practising about a week after The Championships finish, and we won’t have time to do much in that time.”

A shorter tournament, Olympics tennis will be condensed into just over a week, with its draw of 64 half the size of Wimbledon’s singles draw of 128, and Olympic matches, except the men’s singles final, will be best-of-three sets instead of best-of-five.

For the players, a quick return to Wimbledon is a welcome break from the daily grind of life on tour and they are keen to see how the 144-year-old venue scrubs up.

“This time at Wimbledon will be different,” China’s Peng Shuai said. “It’s the first time we don’t have to play in white. I can’t imagine what it’s going to look like.

“Maybe everyone should take photos for history in case it never happens again!”

Women’s world number one Victoria Azarenka was also looking forward to seeing the transformation.

“It’s kind of new and exciting to see how it’s going to turn out,” said the Belarusian.

“You can wear your national colours. I’m actually really excited to see some McDonald’s or Coca Cola in the back of the court. It will be funny.”