Wimbledon Members to Take Tea at Practice Courts During Olympics

Wimbledon Members to Take Tea at Practice Courts During Olympics
The All England club, which organizes the annual Grand Slam tennis championships, will be hosting the sport at the Summer Games for the second time in its 135-year history. Photographer: Paul Gilham/Getty Images

The 500 members of the private All England Club will be taking their tea at the Wimbledon practice courts instead of in the clubhouse as the Olympics move in.

They still must wear white.

The club, which organizes the annual Grand Slam tennis championships, will be hosting the sport at the Summer Games for the second time in its 135-year history.

After the men’s final on July 8, Wimbledon hands the keys over to local organizers of the London Games, and everything will be different by the time the Olympic tournament starts 20 days later.

“As soon as our championships are over, our members essentially move out,” club Chairman Phil Brook said in an interview in the All England board room. “There won’t be any members using the clubhouse facilities for the three weeks in the buildup to, and during the Olympics.”

The London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, or Locog, and the International Tennis Federation are in charge of the sport’s most famous tennis venue through the end of the games on Aug. 12. Locog pays for the makeover, though spokeswoman Fran Edwards wouldn’t reveal the cost.

Twelve of the 19 championship courts will stage Olympic matches, with the other seven used for practice. The club also hosted tennis during the London Games in 1908, when it was based on Worple Road. It’s now on Church Road in the Wimbledon area of southwest London.

Aorangi Park

Members who want to play tennis will go to Aorangi Park, an adjacent club-owned property used as practice courts during the annual two-week tournament and not part of the Olympic site. They’ll be able to take lunch and tea at Aorangi Pavilion, the home of racket stringers and the practice booking desk during the championships. They also must abide by the club’s requirement that tennis attire be nearly all white, a rule that will be dropped for the Olympic courts.

None of the members have complained so far about being kicked out of their exclusive enclave, Brook said.

“Everybody understands the importance of it,” he said. “Yes, there is arguably some inconvenience, but weigh that against Olympic tennis to Wimbledon, it gets a tick in our members’ minds in terms of something that is really good to do for the sport.”

Wimbledon’s logo is purple and dark green, and the loudest noise is often polite applause over a good shot. It will be full of color, and even music, during the Olympics.

National Colors

Players will be able to wear their national colors on court as long as the referee approves. Instead of public-address updates about the weather, music will be played in the grounds, and the Olympic rings -- blue, yellow, black, green and red -- will be everywhere. Medal ceremonies will include flags and national anthems.

“It will be quite extraordinary,” Annabel Croft, a junior Wimbledon champion in 1984 and now a broadcaster and member of the All England Club, said in an interview. “It will never come around in my lifetime again. Everything about it will look different, the scoreboard will look different, it won’t really look like Wimbledon. The venue will be the same, but it will be transformed.”

It’s the first time since the sport returned to the Olympics in Seoul 1988 that tennis will be played at a facility not designed for the games, and that has caused some problems.

“Wimbledon is probably going to have the best facilities of any Olympics, in terms of infrastructure,” Barbara Travers of the ITF said in an interview at Wimbledon. “But there are things that the Olympics mandates that are not the way Wimbledon does things. So it will be slightly unusual.”

Quick Changes

After the men’s final on July 8, in-court commentary positions for Olympic broadcasters will be built on Centre Court and No. 1 Court.

Although Wimbledon’s press center has space for 800 journalists and a number of press conference and interview rooms, it doesn’t have a media mixed-zone area, where every Olympic athlete has to pass through as reporters ask questions.

“A mixed zone is not something we do in tennis,” said Travers, who has overseen the media side of Olympic tennis since Sydney in 2000. “In a normal Olympics, it would be built in into the planning, but there is no natural place for a mixed zone at Wimbledon.”

The mixed zone will be located at the press center terrace behind Centre Court and opposite Court No. 14.

One thing at Wimbledon won’t be different -- the man who mows the lawns.

Eddie Seaward, head groundsman at the All England Club for 23 years, will remain in charge of the grass courts during the Olympics.

New Seed

“When the men’s final is over on Sunday night, we’ll irrigate the court, and then get some seed in,” Seaward, 69, said in an interview on Centre Court on a wet day in April.

Seaward and his staff have been doing trials in the past year using pre-germinated seed -- a process that accelerates growth -- to get the courts back in the best shape possible.

“I’m fairly confident that we’ll have a good court, it shouldn’t feel any different for the players,” Seaward said.

Seaward, who will retire after the Olympics, said this year is “a busy one.”

“The Olympics is the final game, set and match for me,” he said. “It’s a nice way to go.”

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