King of Queen's passes the crown to his son

After 44 years, the grounds manager has passed responsibility for the pre-Wimbledon tournament, which starts tomorrow, to the next generation
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The year David Kimpton started working at the Queen's Club, Australian Roy Emerson took the title and England won the World Cup. More than four decades on, he is hoping it is a "good omen" and the football success is repeated for his retirement.

The bubbly 65-year-old handed over the reins as grounds manager at the west London tennis club – where Andy Murray this week defends his Aegon Championship title – to his son Graham, 41, in February after 44 years tending the world-famous courts.

He gleefully recalls taking his favourite player Jimmy Connors for a ride on a colleague's 1,500cc Kawasaki motorbike when the American arrived to practise before a Wimbledon semi-final that afternoon.

"I was trying it out – it was a brilliant new bike – and he came along and jumped on with a racquet under his arm and said, 'Come on Dave, let's go for a spin'," he reminisces from one of the bright blue stands overlooking the centre court, as painters, builders and gardeners finish off six weeks of preparations for welcoming the public tomorrow. "I was a bit worried, [thinking] if you fall off and break an arm ... He didn't seem to worry about it. He had all the confidence in the world in me because I'd known him for a long time, so he trusted me."

And then there was the prank he played on Ivan Lendl after the former world number one hid his equipment for marking out courts. David and Graham, who started work in 1985 after five years at Norwood Hall horticultural college, removed the wheels, saddle and handlebars from the player's bicycle and returned the parts one by one.

The two have enjoyed a "good working relationship" for 25 years. "If there was ever anything bad I just told my mum and she sorted him out," jokes Graham. But David will be parted from his "baby" (the courts) tomorrow.

Preparing for the tournament is an all-year job, with eight ground staff maintaining and repairing the exclusive members' club's 50 courts, including 20 grass courts, mending machinery and working on fencing and pathways. When David started in 1966, following a five-year apprenticeship at Fulham's Hurlingham Club under the supervision of his elder brother Peter, most work was done manually. Now Graham's staff use mini-tractors.

But they still use pedestrian mowers and face the same problems as amateur gardeners. As we watch four-time Queen's champion Andy Roddick practising, Graham explains how the push mowers allow for narrower stripes on the grass and greater accuracy in aligning them to the white court markings. During the tournament, the match courts are mown once a day and practice courts twice.

Foxes are the biggest nuisance, with the strong ammonia in their urine burning the grass. The animals chewed their way through nine nets, each worth about £110, in one season.

Despite these setbacks, Graham has obviously inherited his dad's enthusiasm for the job. "When you see Roddick or someone being interviewed and they say it's a great court, it's all you need," he says.