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Wimbledon readies for 2012 Olympic makeover

The grass still will be green when the Olympics come to Wimbledon in 2012 and that is just about all that will look the same.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The grass still will be green when the Olympics come to Wimbledon in 2012 and that is just about all that will look the same.

The familiar dark green surroundings of Centre Court will be replaced by one of the Olympic theme colors; players will be decked out in their national colors instead of the traditional all-white of Wimbledon; there will be no queue snaking around the nearby park.

"We've got to make sure we stamp our mark on it," said Debbie Jevans, London 2012 director of sport and venues, "so when people come to Wimbledon, they know they're part of an Olympic competition, and they don't feel like they're coming back to Wimbledon."

At the same time, Jevans recognized that the appeal of visiting Wimbledon, "the greatest tennis venue in the world," was at least part of the reason why tennis was one of the events that sold out its allocation in the first round of sales.

"Clearly, people want to come to Wimbledon but also they want to see the great players and they want to experience the Olympics so those three together make it a pretty compelling package," she said.

Organizers will have just 19 days between the end of the 2012 Championships and the start of the Olympic competition on July 28 to complete the makeover.

Restoring the green of the grass-courts will not prove a problem, according to the All England Club's head groundsman Eddie Seaward, one of a handful of personnel from the Grand Slam tournament who also will work at the Olympic event.

He already knew from experience that it was possible after readying the courts for the filming of the Wimbledon movie shortly after the 2003 Championships. Just in case there was any doubt, he carried out another trial run for the benefit of Olympics organizers after last year's tournament.

Immediately after the 2012 Grand Slam tournament ends, Seaward's team will plant pre-germinated seeds in any bare or brown patches on the courts, particularly around the baseline.

At the 2008 Beijing Games, the Olympic rings were painted behind the baseline and Seaward said he wouldn't have any practical objection to that on Centre Court.

"Nobody's said anything, but it would be possible," he said.

Seaward's task will be made slightly easier because fewer courts are needed for the Olympic event, which will have a capacity of 26,000, compared to 40,000 during the Grand Slam tournament. Centre Court and Court 1 will be used, but the recently redeveloped No. 3 is among those being earmarked as a practice court.

The competition itself features 64-player men's and women's singles tournaments. Medals also will be handed out for men's and women's doubles and, for the first time since tennis returned to the Olympic program in 1988, mixed doubles.

Spain's Rafael Nadal won the gold medal in men's singles in Beijing four years ago. Roger Federer teamed with Stanislas Wawrinka to win the men's doubles for Switzerland.

Among the women, Elena Dementieva of Russia, who has retired, won the singles and sisters Venus and Serena Williams captured the doubles.

Instead of the usual mix of international royalty, British celebrities, and All England Club members, seats in the Royal Box on Centre Court will be reserved for members of the "Olympic family."

The theme color of the venue has not been decided, but will be dark to ensure players can pick out the ball. The International Olympic Committee operates a "clean venue" policy so there will be no advertising around the courts, but the areas outside the courts likely will have a different look and feel.

However, Jevans said strawberries and cream, the traditional snack of the Championships, could be available.

The 2011 Wimbledon tournament is acting as a test event for the Olympics. More than 100 staff from the organizing team have been to the tournament during the two weeks.

London 2012 chief executive Paul Deighton, and Carlos Nuzman, the president of the 2016 Rio Olympics, have been guests in the Royal Box.

The final wrinkles will be ironed out at another event behind closed doors at the end of September, when technology such as the scoring equipment will be tested.