TENNIS NEWS - Wimbledon's famous Centre Court has been steam cleaned to kill off any nasty pests lurking beneath the surface, head groundsman Neil Stubley said Tuesday.
The All England Club first trialled steam sterilising in 2017 and is now rolling it out around the courts.
The technique involves covering the grass with polytunnels, drilling holes into the soil and blasting in steam, as the club adapts its practices in response to climate change and environmental concerns.
"We're very conscious about pesticide usage now," said Stubley.
"We've started looking at alternatives to managing weeds, pests and diseases.
"We're looking at steam sterilising as part of our annual maintenance of the courts.
"As soon as you take that steam away, it's just cold water. There's no residual effect."
The technique has been used for around a century, particularly in the Dutch glasshouse growing industry.
"We put loads of holes in the court beforehand and then we start pumping the steam in. As soon as we hit 70 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit), we know that it's killed anything like spores or pests that may live in the soil.
"It gives us a complete clean surface. Then we shave the top off and then we reseed it and grow it back in for the following year."
He said each court might need the treatment every five to 20 years.
Besides Centre Court, the Courts 12 and 18 show courts have also been done, with Court One, the second-biggest, in line to be done after this year's tournament.
Beauty of grass
Managing the 18 competition courts and 20 practice courts is a year-round operation.
Each court is reseeded with a brand new surface after each championships.
The grass was changed in the early 2000s from a creeping grass to a more tufted perennial rye grass, meaning the courts are harder.
The firmness of each court is measured 25 times a day which informs how much water is sprayed on during the night. The drier the court, the more it is irrigated.
More than 20,000 measurements are done across the two-week Championships.
"Each year is a challenge because you've got a living surface. As much as you try and manage it, it will be invariably dictated by the environment.
"This year, it's a fairly nice, even temperature. It's low 20s, a bit of fair-weather cloud, nice blue skies, a slight breeze. It's perfect for the player, the spectator and the grass.
"If you get a wet, damp day, the moisture in the air will naturally find its way into the plant and that becomes a little bit greasy. The beauty of grass is that you have to adapt to the environment."
Stubley said there were 70 or 80 different plants around the grounds and some people come to see the horticulture as much as the tennis.
The flowers are rarely stolen but sometimes spectators sit on them.