At the top of the south wall of Wimbledon’s Center Court, a small rectangle was cut out in the lush green ivy that most, if not all, of the 42,000 spectators who entered the venue each day during the tournament Unnoticed digital numbers revealed. .
Similar to the Coastal Warning Pennant, this is a system of 1 to 8 signals issued by Wimbledon’s own Crack Meteorological Department, allowing tarpaulin crews to stand by or rush into action. A “1” means there is a chance of showers. A ‘2’ means the referee has the discretion to stop the match. The traffic lights clicked from ‘3’ to ‘4’ on Saturday when the first drops of rain fell on an already wet Wimbledon.
Immediately, Richard “Winston” Sedgwick was standing in the back row of Court 3 overlooking Center Court’s digital beacon, using simple hand signals to relay information to the crew, who rushed into action. became. A six-man team ran onto the court, grabbed a purple cord, unwrapped the 8,000-square-foot tarp, and dragged him onto the court in about a minute. The screams of the captains echoed across the ground, as did the boat team. “Three, two, one, pull” “Stay with me.” Again! “
“There’s pressure to get it right,” Sedgwick said. “If they don’t, they can’t play. So we have to work really hard and really fast.”
Members of the cover crew are perhaps the most important people at Wimbledon, their quick and precise actions protect the delicate turf and help ensure tennis plays on each of the 18 courts at the Grand Slam, usually the wettest of the year. allowing it to continue.
This is physical work, requires a certain amount of athleticism, has intermittent rain days, and the tarps keep coming and going, and the physical strain on the crew by the end of the day. It will “shatter into pieces,” Sedgwick said. He said.
George Spring, a livestock farmer in New South Wales, Australia, has been Wimbledon’s court services manager for 22 years and oversees the entire process. It begins with his wife Louise recruiting dozens of college students to form a crew. A total of 200 people will work as court service staff during the two-week tournament.
They trained for four days before the tournament, which included two half days on the court, how to put up the tarps, how to take them off, how to put the nets and the rest of the courts together for play after it rained. Learn and practice how to place the Stop.
The movements must be matched and the crew will rehearse the ballet well before the first ball is hit.
“It’s like a sports team,” Spring said. “With a good captain and good leadership, we can be in good shape.”
The staff are especially important at Wimbledon, where rain interrupted five of the first six days. This wreaked havoc on the schedule, forcing many athletes to train every day, something a two-week event like Wimbledon never expects. Across the first six days, 96 games were suspended, including 34 on Wednesday and 30 on Saturday. Several doubles teams hadn’t even played their first match by Saturday.
And this isn’t even the wettest Wimbledon, or even close to it.
“I visited here in 2007 and it was notorious for the rain,” Spring said. “There wasn’t a day that I didn’t cover up on the court.”
The two main show courts, Center Court and First Court, have retractable roofs, but while the roofs are closed the crew deploys an even larger tarp to accommodate 20 to 6 on the outer courts. will be required. Center Court is the only place where full-time Wimbledon employees work.
Court service staff arrive daily at 7:30 am and work until approximately 10:30 pm. Tarps are slippery and heavy, and people move so fast that sometimes crew members sprain ankles and tweak muscles.
Eleanor Beasley, who grew up in Wales and played tennis at Northern Arizona University (she plans to transfer to Youngstown State University this fall), pulls the tarp for two years on Court 1.
Last year was mostly sunny, but she found herself hoping for some rain to get things started. She had an adrenaline rush when it arrived.
“I was very nervous,” she said. “The crowd was screaming and I was really in high spirits. It’s a very exciting and very fun experience. It’s a bit of a performance to do in front of that many people.”
She said she told her teammates when she got back to Arizona. Seeing the best tennis in the world up close makes you feel like you’re part of a team. ”
Court service staff are also responsible for other tasks such as holding umbrellas over players’ heads during changeovers, providing towels and drinks, but can also cater for other unique requests. increase. Spring said one player asked for a soft drink, which isn’t included in the normal sports hydration liquids provided on each court. He went to the concession stand in the spring and bought a soda to take home.
Spring said that one year the bananas stocked for the players were too green, so he sent the crew on bicycles to a grocery store in the town of Wimbledon to procure ripe bananas. Rafael Nadal, who hasn’t played this year, prefers a particular type of dried date that Spring gets at the on-field concession stand. There was a request for room temperature water on Saturday night.
But the most important task is to quickly and completely install the tarp on and off the court. When the digital beacons (located on both sides of Center Court and several on the exterior walls of First Court) flash ‘5’, they call for the tarp to be inflated. After the crew secures the tarp with large clips, a blower inflates the tarp from the corner. Within seconds, a central 6-foot-tall dome forms like a giant bouncy castle. If the rain is expected to stop soon, the tarp will not inflate at all.
“6” means contraction. According to Spring, “7” is a call to unfold and roll a tarp, which weighs as much as two tons when wet. Once reserved, the letter ‘8’ will flash, meaning it’s time to trim the coat. Replace nets, set up chairs, distribute towels and drinks to players.
Make it simpler by wrapping the color code around the inside of the rolled tarp. The crew pulls the purple one to roll out the tarp when it rains, and the green one to roll it back up when the sky clears. The entire exposure process, including netting, takes approximately 10-15 minutes.
At night, the crew put the tarp back on. Play was suspended on all outer courts on Saturday due to rain. Once the ship stopped, the crew stripped the tarp off again, but it took less than an hour. The tarpaulin pulls were so effective at keeping the coat dry that I needed to water the lawn at the end of the day.
Spring said he’s had a few hour-long delays in his life due to glitches, but never a full day.
“That’s probably why I’m still here,” he said.
And it rains at Wimbledon too.