London (hooly News) – Normally, Neil Stubley should be anxiously watching his lawn: but no, it is with melancholy and a “strange feeling of calm” that the chief gardener of Wimbledon contemplates his green courts left idle due to coronavirus.
Faced with the Covid-19 pandemic, and while the US Open and Roland-Garros are maintained for the time being, the Wimbledon organizers, protected by insurance, very quickly decided to cancel the London tournament. A first since the Second World War.
And Neil Stubley now finds it surreal to browse the club and see his 38 “babies”, as he calls the courts of the All England club, lifeless.
“A lot of blood, sweat and tears have flowed to highlight them,” he said at an online press conference.
So the ghostly atmosphere that reigns in the club instead of the hushed excitement of the Grand Slam tournament reminds him of the one that usually follows the end of the competition, when players and the public have returned home.
“I would compare that to going to a concert: you have that hiss that stays in your ears for several days”, tries to explain the one whose official title is Head of courts and horticulture at Wimbledon.
– “Pride” –
Stubley said that its 17 employees, as well as three temporary workers – compared to nine usually during the tournament period – continue their work despite the disappointment of the cancellation.
“Pride drives you to continue the work,” he says. “Of course, it is disappointing not to play, but the big picture allows us to put that into perspective.”
“Although we love our work, it has to be in the real world,” said Stubley.
And this real world is a world where the Covid-19 has overturned the most ingrained habits, including in tennis where the professional circuit was frozen in March and should not officially resume until August … without to have passed, therefore, by the All England Club.
As disappointed as he is, Stubley claims to have supported the decision to cancel the 2020 edition, although other sports have since resumed. For him, the difficulties of organizing the tournament in these sanitary circumstances go far beyond the fragility of the playing surface.
“The grass courts were in good condition before the cancellation, he said. These are the infrastructures that take time to set up. It is not to say that in two weeks, we could play on it, “he explains.
“It takes eight to ten weeks to be ready. At the beginning of April, in the middle of the pandemic (when the decision was made to cancel the tournament scheduled from June 29 to July 12, note), this deadline was untenable. Even now , with the restrictions in place, it would be impossible to keep them. “
However, his team will continue their usual routine and focus on next season.
– “Tear off the courts” –
“I always try to go see people and tell them that we don’t” fix “the courts, we” prepare “them for next season,” said Stubley.
“From August, beginning of September, the process will be the same: tearing off the courts, reseeding them, letting them grow all autumn and winter, then doing the same preparatory work for the 2021 tournament.”
This 134th edition of Wimbledon was rescheduled from June 28 to July 11, 2021. No doubt it will remain in the memory of Stubley, but not in the same way as that of 2013 which saw the coronation of Andy Murray, first Briton to winning the men’s tournament since Fred Perry in 1936.
“Being on the center court during this victory was one of those moments when the hairs in your neck stand up”, describes the gardener. Despite the emotion, through professional distortion, “I looked at Murray’s feet,” he recalls.
“I always watch how the courts react and it was only when I looked up and saw that he had thrown his racket that I realized that he had won the match ball and the title”, says he.
He will have to wait another year before seeing the eyes of the whole tennis world once again riveted on HIS turf.