Wimbledon facelift gets final touches ahead of Olympics

By Steve Griffiths ,AFP

LONDON — As Roger Federer put the finishing touches to his Olympic preparations on Tuesday, the rest of Wimbledon was a blur of activity as the hallowed arena’s remarkable facelift reaches its conclusion in time for the start of the London Games. Just 20 days after Federer consoled a distraught Andy Murray on Centre Court, following the Swiss star’s record-equaling seventh Wimbledon final victory, the All England Club will be the center of attention again on Saturday as it hosts the Olympic tennis event for the first time since 1908. The novelty value of Wimbledon staging the Olympics has got players and fans excited, but it has also been a logistical nightmare.

It is the first time since tennis returned to the Olympics in 1988 that the sport has been played at a facility not designed for the games and, with so little time to prepare, Wimbledon was still getting its finishing touches just four days before the event begins. Federer, world number two Novak Djokovic and French Open champion Maria Sharapova were among the big names practicing in blazing sunshine on Tuesday. But the sound of racquet on ball was often drowned out by the clatter of heavy machinery in the usually tranquil surroundings of leafy southwest London. A crane was lifting billboards bearing the “Inspire a Generation” Olympic slogan onto the outside of Centre Court, while ground staff were putting up the information signs that will direct any fans disorientated by the makeover. Dark green is usually the dominant color at Wimbledon, but the All England Club will be lost in a purple haze for the duration of the games, with Centre, Court One and many of the outside courts decked out in the vivid Olympic livery and legendary ring logo. Perhaps most noticeably, the Wimbledon requirement that players wear white clothing will be gone as players wear outfits in the colors of their nation. Federer will be wearing a red polo shirt with the “RF” logo on the sleeve and the Swiss Cross on his chest, while former Wimbledon champion Venus Williams, who owns a fashion label, has looked to the Stars and Stripes for inspiration. “It’s the Olympics, and so it won’t be another Wimbledon, so that’s what makes it different. We’ll be wearing team colors. Red, white, blue — and hopefully gold!” the American said. Venus’s sister Serena is rarely regarded as a traditionalist, but the reigning Wimbledon champion admits to being disappointed that all-white is no longer obligatory for the next fortnight. “It definitely will be weird playing in colours. Even when I’m playing on other grass courts I feel I should be playing in white. It’s going to be a little bit of a sad moment for me,” she said. For Sharapova, however, the opportunity to get creative with her costume at Wimbledon is something to treasured. “I think it’s really exciting. It will be a little strange and fun to wear color at Wimbledon,” she said. “I planned my outfit some time ago. It’s based around the colors of my country.” How head grounds man Eddie Seaward must wish he could take such a relaxed approach to the Wimbledon facelift. Seaward and his 28-man crew have been working overtime in a bid to restore the usually immaculate grass courts to something approaching their best condition. The process of stripping the turf from the courts and planting fresh grass seed normally takes between three and four weeks. This year it was done in 24 hours. Centre Court looked in good condition on Tuesday, but there were still a few bare patches on the baseline on some of the outside courts. “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,” Seaward said as he contemplated the strain on his beloved courts.