© Ella Ling

Wimbledon - Centre Court

Wimbledon's grass-court alliance with Stuttgart


From 2015, there will be a three-week gap between the end of the French Open and the start of Wimbledon, a long-overdue boost to the grass-court season and to the players for whom a two-week turnaround often proved too much to cope with. After years of saying the calendar could not be changed, Wimbledon announced the move themselves, classic behaviour from a tournament that likes to do things its way. But Wimbledon also has a generous side, it seems. From 2015, Stuttgart will host a grass-court event the week after Paris and the All England Club has been helping them get ready. In an interview, Richard Lewis, the club’s CEO, told The Tennis Space how.

Can you explain how your relationship with Stuttgart came about? Well, we announced we were going to do the three weeks, with the change of date and then the ATP, put out invitations to tender for the extra grass-court slots. Then Edwin Weindorfer, the Stuttgart tournament director, made contact. He wanted to know what was involved before he put a bid together, talked to the (Stuttgart) club, the sponsors at the Mercedes Cup. We got to know each other and it went from there.

How exactly do you help? We help them with technical support. We help them first of all with advice, we looked at their site, if they had trees that had shadows that wouldn’t allow the grass to grow, looked at the climate. Helped them with all the technical aspects, gave them a bit of support, in terms of being over there for a couple of press conferences, and just created a partnership, where they come to Wimbledon as well. We have a strong relationship, helping them technically, but also helping them, to a limited extent, to promote the grass-court event, which we think is good for grass-court tennis.

They set out to make it clear this was part of a strategic move for Stuttgart event, that it would attract a very good standard of players, that it was an attractive date and that it was all part of the build up to Wimbledon in a series of grass-court tournaments. We wanted to say yes, that’s great, we have a good relationship with you and we endorsed what they were saying.

Do you help financially, too? We’ve given them some (financial) support but they’ve got most of it from the club and Mercedes have made a commitment. Really we’re more on the technical side, and acknowledging the link with the bigger picture.

Your groundsman is involved, too? Yes. They visited us, mainly, to talk about what was involved, helping them access the right type of soil, let alone the grass seed. And the climate, what to do when, how to construct the actual court, then what to do when the grass starts going. It’s very interesting hearing all the different aspects they need to consider to create top quality grass courts.

It’s worth emphasising that in 2015 they will be the first grass-court tournament, some of the courts will be two years old but some will be one year old so it will be a work in progress. We believe the first year the courts will be good, but not (perfect).

The court is technically exactly the same as Wimbledon, in terms of the lome, the peparation, the way it’s corrowed when they take the grass off at the end of the season, so they’re going to use exactly the same methodology, equipment. It’s quite interesting, they’ve got slight altitude – they can have snow until relatively late – but statistically they are more likely to have better weather earlier. All the experts think it will work out fine.

Are you going to go over there to help promote it? In 2015, yes. Actually this year, John McEnroe is doing an exhibition match on the first Monday after Wimbledon, with Michael Stich, I think. Two Wimbledon champions. The Stuttgart club were originally a grass-court club 100 or more years ago and we’re talking about having club matches between (them and) the All England Club. It’s really nice, when I went over there for the press conferences they had strawberries and cream.

Do you have this kind of relationship with other tournaments? We offer help to the UK tournaments,. We have a pretty good relationship with Newport, but not really on the technical side. They looked at moving (before Wimbledon), but the climate doesn’t work for them and the holiday doesn’t work for them. Newport’s a holiday place. We’ve got some other discussions going on for the possibility of a women’s tournament as well, possibly for 2016, can’t say where yet, but there’s good dialogue going on. It’s nice that there are more grass-court tournaments.

You are obviously happy with the three-week gap? We’re pretty content and pretty excited about the 2015 calendar, three weeks, plus Wimbledon and Newport, six weeks, is not too bad. Wimbledon, I can’t see the date ever changing, and obviously we respect the fact that it then goes to the States for the US hard courts. There is a challenger the second week of Paris, you could say seven weeks. It’s not too bad. From our point of view, the future is about consolidating and making those tournaments really strong and really good.

It always seemed so difficult to change the Wimbledon date. What happened?
There were lots of good reasons why it wasn’t possible, I like to pretend we were geniuses to be able to do it but for example, the BBC had a contract with the golf to show the week before the Open (Championship golf), but we now, from 2015, back up against the Open. Even little things, like all the production companies, there’s plenty of capacity now to show Wimbledon and the Open golf, and maybe 10 years ago it was a bit of a distraction. There was Royal Ascot as well, but things just fell into line really. Right now, a lot of the top players are Europeans and they get it and were supportive. It felt like a moment in time. The game’s more physical now so the concept of giving players more time to recover (is important). Not just pure injuries, but recovery time. It was tough enough – it was always acknowledged that having two slams so close together (was hard). It’s not perfect now but you can see it made sense to  have a bigger gap and lots of things fell into place.