Seaward is SW19's guru of grass and he is still cutting edge
Sunday 20 June 2010
If Wimbledon is sporting theatre, Eddie Seaward is its stage manager, the chap who hones the All England Club's turf to pristine condition, then steps back to let the show go on, to reappear in the public gaze only in times of drought or monsoon during the fortnight in London SW19.
The 65-year-old is in his 20th year as Wimbledon's head groundsman, and he expresses gratitude that the All England Club have requested him to delay retirement until after the 2012 Olympic tennis there.
Eddie is protective, year-round, of his Centre Court turf. Nobody is allowed to set foot on it, except in pursuit of preparation work by his 14-strong permanent staff, until immediately before the tournament.
The Seaward gaze is especially severe. "I had a contractor walk on the court this year," he said. "I told his boss: 'There is a door there and if it happens again he is walking through it and not coming back.' Somebody walking on new tarmac and then going on to the grass could kill it."
He is "very conscious" of the reputation of that grass. "If I go away and start chatting to someone and they ask me where I work I never tell them, otherwise you are there forever more talking about Wimbledon. I just say I work at a tennis club in London."
That work escalates to ridiculous levels during the Wimbledon fortnight. Starting this morning, Eddie will have been collected from his Raynes Park home at 6.30am by car, having already done a thorough briefing on the weather prospects, and never leaves until at least an hour after the final match has come off court and he has, in his words, "got the courts watered and put to bed". A 17-hour day, at the very least.
Still, people tell him, it must be nice watching the fruits of your labour. A snort of amusement. "A French newspaper asked me did I enjoy that fantastic 2008 Federer-Nadal final and I said I had yet to watch it. I've got it on DVD at home."
This is, for Eddie, part of the downside of the Centre Court roof. "Whereas I used to be able to sit on Centre Court with the referee, watch a bit of the match and keep an eye on the weather, now if you've got the roof closed you don't know if it's raining or not, so you need to be outside if there are matches on other courts. I spend a lot of time on a bench by Court 14 looking at the clouds."
Outside the Wimbledon fortnight, he walks the three miles to work most days and, since the court care is done at his command rather than by his own hand, he enjoys mowing his own lawn. "My grass is OK," he smiles. "It is striped, it's green, weed-free."
What comes as a surprise is the revelation that the club's 28 courts were used by members, and then Wimbledon's actual competitors, until last night. "We finish play on the match courts at 6.30pm on Saturday ready to start play on Monday morning. So we have got just Sunday to sort everything out."
If spectators have ever wondered how the courts look so glorious on Monday morning, here's the answer: "If the grass is bruised by people playing on Saturday, you let it grow a little bit longer, then water it so you can lift the bruising and cut it out on Sunday."
Eddie says Wimbledon's new roof has been "generally good news". But despite a guesstimate outlay of £100 million (The All England Club never discuss costs), the familiar, oversized Boy Scout tent which is Centre Court's temporary cover will remain in use. It takes seconds to put in place, rather than the roof's minutes. "You can also get a scenario where you get a burst of rain that only lasts a couple of minutes," says Seaward. "It would be pointless operating the roof, so we will use a combination of the two."
Eddie's happiest moment? "When the umpire calls game, set and match for the last time." So he can get a bit of time off? Not a bit of it. "I maybe have the Monday off and then we are straight back into it, getting ready for club and other events."
There are times, however, when Wimbledon's guru of grass does take a break. A couple of years ago he saw a house in Cape Town which he loved. "I couldn't believe how cheap it was. I said to the agent, there has to be a catch."
The man told him the house came with a requirement to have the front garden professionally maintained.
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