Sports

How cool is this bird? It serves at Wimbledon

Rufus the Hawk reports for duty weighing one pound, six ounces.

An ounce or two more, and he’s too sedentary. Any lighter, and he ceases being the non-lethal deterrent Wimbledon contracts him to be and roams farther afield for mouse, snake or hare.

But if Rufus arrives at his optimum weight, he need only soar over Center Court a few times to earn his hand-fed reward of raw chicken bits. The mere sight of his 40-inch wingspan is enough to shoo away the pigeons that might otherwise land on the court during a critical point, deposit droppings in the Royal Box or roost in the eaves to feast on grass-seed all winter, as if the sod were a buffet table.

A 6-year-old Harris Hawk with prodigious self-esteem, Rufus is just one of several hundred actors in the meticulously choreographed dance that unfolds between dawn and 10:30 a.m. daily throughout the Wimbledon fortnight.

 

 


Photos: Stella Artois UK/YouTube

Other "actors" in Wimbledon perfection

From strawberry-hullers to bomb-sniffing English Springer Spaniels, every man and beast has a task before the All England Club’s wrought-iron gates open to the tennis-mad public. And every task – whether mowing, measuring, marking, pruning, watering, soaring, sniffing, sweeping, scrubbing or polishing – has its appointed time for completion.

No detail is overlooked. Everything must be just so at the most esteemed of the four Grand Slams. A ticket to Wimbledon, after all, constitutes an invitation to a private club that opens to royals and commoners alike for two weeks each year to watch the world’s best players in the most pristine setting in sports.

“It’s all about the details,” says Lucy Tomlinson, 21, a member of Wimbledon’s daytime housekeeping staff, which from 7:30 a.m. onward restocks the loos with soap and hand towels, polishes the banisters, scrubs scuff marks from the entryways and wipes away beads of water left by the power-washing of ticket-holders’ seats.

“We make sure everything is absolute perfection!”

Neil Stubley, the head groundsman, starts his day with a 5:30 a.m. check of the forecast. Based on that, he directs his staff when to deflate the translucent covers on the 41 grass courts so they can be rolled up and stowed and the sod watered if the daily measurements of its hardness indicate there’s a need.

All of Wimbledon’s courts are oriented in a north-south direction. A specific groundskeeper is assigned to each court for the tournament’s duration. And each mows the rye grass to precisely 8 millimeters each morning, in exactly the same pattern of alternating stripes.

Every cutting is captured by the mower; even a stray snippet of grass could cause a player to slip.


Photos: Wimbledon/YouTube

“If Roger or Andy or Rafa goes out onto any of the practice courts in the morning and then comes out to any of the match courts, they should play exactly the same because we have controlled the moisture, the grass species and the cutting,” explains Stubley, who supervises a staff of 32 groundskeepers and gardeners.

Rufus doesn't like dogs

A mix of spaniels and retrievers, they scamper up and down the walkways, peer under benches and poke into trash bins positively quivering with excitement over the prospect of finding something that warrants a prize. At Wimbledon, naturally, that prize is a fuzzy yellow tennis ball.

Dogs, however, are one of the few sights that unsettle Rufus. So handler Imogen Davis, whose parents and five siblings breed and train raptors for a living, does her best to steer the hawk clear of Wimbledon’s canines. It’s not always easy, given that Rufus’s vision is 10 times better than her own.

“If Rufus was at one end of a football pitch, and a newspaper was at the other end, Rufus could read the headline!” Davis says by way of illustration. “If he could read.”

Apart from the sight of dogs, nothing rattles Rufus. Not the sound of Wimbledon’s lawn mowers. Not the sound of leaf blowers. Not even the fire alarm that gets a full-song test each morning at 9:35.

It’s followed at 9:45 a.m. by a call over the public-address system for all staff and contractors to remove all vehicles and carts from the grounds in preparation for the opening of the gates, 45 minutes away.

And the pace of activity picks up.

- Washington Post 

Sources: YouTube, Wimbledon, Stella Artois