What Grass Tennis Courts and Star Athletes Have in Common
If you’ve been watching tennis lately, no doubt you’ve been enthralled by the spectacle of strength and skill on display in London. Nothing quite compares to the world’s greatest tennis players vying for one of the sport’s most coveted championships at its most prestigious court.
But you’ve also been watching another athlete perform at the top of its game without even noticing. It plays hundreds of matches, receives every shot and never fails. This athlete is the court itself, and the level of expertise and dedication required to maintain immaculate playing conditions during a two-week tournament is no small feat. In fact, this preparation is similar to what athletes undergo to win a major event.
For the third season, the Cub Cadet® Infinicut turf mower is being used to manicure the world’s most prestigious grass tennis courts. We asked Vinny Tarbox of Cub Cadet, who stands side-by-side the very groundskeepers keeping the turf in pristine shape: what do the world’s premier athletes and finest tennis courts have in common?
A TEAM BEHIND THE SCENES
Every professional athlete relies on trainers to help them stay in top shape. This team provides an exercise regimen and diet for the athlete to follow — and professional courts have their own teams of groundskeepers to match. Just like the human body, you get out of a tennis court what you put into it.
“The grass gets routine fitness checks, ensuring it has optimum levels of nitrogen, moisture and other nutrients needed to stay healthy,” says Vinny. “In addition to being pampered with fertilizer and water, the grass even gets massaged with a roller, except this roller helps achieve a precise firmness so that the ball bounces to the correct height.”
Athletes also rely on state-of-the-art equipment to get in shape for game day. Likewise, the Infinicut turf mower is customized to complement each court’s distinct requirements to ensure the courts are always in top condition.
CONSISTENT LEVEL OF PLAY
This is a superstar’s best attribute. Every great athlete has their defining moments, but the legends are revered for their ability to perform consistently. The same goes for tennis courts.
“Maintaining consistent levels of performance from the playing field is one of a groundskeeper’s greatest challenges,” Vinny says. “Particularly during international tournaments, players need every surface -from practice courts to center court - to respond similarly to serves and spins. Starting a couple weeks before the tournament starts, every court’s hardness is measured daily with a soil impact hammer. Courts that are too hard are softened by watering. Those that are too soft are rolled.”
A court that offers the level of ball bounce and firmness players expect allows them to focus on the match, not the grass.
TRAINING BEGINS MONTHS AHEAD OF TIME
The world’s greatest athletes are driven by an intense desire to compete at the highest level. They don’t expect to contend for a major without having spent months practicing - they know no offseason. Similarly, the process of preparing professional tennis courts for next year begins almost as soon as the championship trophy is hoisted by the victor.
“By the time a winner is crowned, the court has seen its fair share of wear and tear. Preparation for the next tournament actually begins by shaving the court down to bare ground, removing all the weak and weedy grasses,” Vinny explains. “The ground is then re-levelled with new soil to repair even the smallest dips and divots in the surface. Then comes approximately 25kg (more than 55 lbs.), of new grass seed for each court, typically a mix of specially bred perennial ryegrass. Through winter, the turf is carefully nurtured and cut to a height of about 13 millimeters. Ahead of tournament play, grass length is gradually reduced until it reaches the perfect playing length of eight millimeters. Finally, the grass is mowed every morning of the tournament.”
When the world’s greatest tennis players compete for a major title, the court needs to match the quality of play. It takes incredible effort and dedication to cultivate a tennis court that can withstand hundreds of matches while still maintaining an appearance worthy of international envy.
Cub Cadet is also trusted to maintain turf at the highest levels of tennis. If you’re watching tennis this week, keep an eye out for Cub Cadet’s Infinicut turf mower, which is once again being used at Centre Court this July.