A dazzling display on Center Court
The Swiss Indoors Basel is the third largest arena tennis tournament in the world. On the legendary Center Court of the St. Jakob Arena, elite athletes put on a world-class display of their prowess. Shot for shot, the court maintenance team makes sure the playing surface is spick and span, so that matches are safe and fair.
Pros on court
When the players are out on court, they need to be able to focus fully on their match. A suspenseful silence fills the arena. The first ball flies up into the air, followed by service and a quick ball change. It is always straight down to business – and there is not so much as a speck of dirt to distract the players. That is all thanks to Anna Di Maio and her team of fifteen. The Head of Court Assistant is responsible for ensuring the courts are squeaky clean when the tennis elite face each other at the Swiss Indoors Basel.
It is the world´s third largest arena tennis tournament. Every autumn, the top seeds and rising talents show what they are made of – the event returns in 2022 for the first time since a pandemic-forced hiatus of two years. Anna is always on the go on match days. The team leader knows exactly what she needs to do. After all, she has been keeping the legendary Center Court in the St. Jakob Arena looking its very best for some twenty years.
Center Court is the spectacular main stage where a broad ring of tennis fans applaud the top matches. The competitive spirit, the energy, the emotions on the court and the whole atmosphere make this world-class tournament an unforgettable experience – not just for the spectators but also for Anna and her team.
They clean here multiple times in a day, starting in the morning before the tournament even begins. ‘The machines from Kärcher make it really easy and great fun’, the court assistants all agree – none of them, not even team leader Anna, are professional cleaners. They all do something else for their main job. But what unites them is their love of tennis – they are all simply delighted to be here at this top-level sporting event, which has been making international headlines for over fifty years.
The step-on scrubber dryers are particularly popular with the team. You simply stand on the machine and steer it across the court. ‘It is insanely quick’, says Anna. And a good thing too. There is often not much time in the breaks between matches. You never know how long a match will last. All the cleaning has to be done in consultation with the umpire or the ATP supervisor.
The court assistants are happy with the way the machines pick up the fine fibres of felt that come off the tennis balls. When a felt ball is being hit back and forth across the court, a slippery film of lint develops on the floor. ‘The players really appreciate an immaculate court’, explains Anna. ‘So cleaning is not just a matter of cleanliness; it is about ensuring a safe and fair match too’.
Anna’s love of tennis began when she was just a schoolgirl. Even then, young spectators were granted free entry to watch the matches, at least until 6 p.m. It was when she watched Yannick Noah and Ivan Lendl light up the arena that the young tennis enthusiast decided she did not want to miss a single afternoon of the tournament. She managed to get Björn Borg’s autograph and dreamt of one day standing on Center Court herself.
Many years and several big-name players later, it was Roger Federer who was whipping up a storm at the last tournament before the coronavirus pandemic put sporting events on hold. The stellar player, born and bred in Basel and himself a former ball boy, celebrated his tenth win at the tournament – a record in the history of the Swiss Indoors Basel. That was in 2019. The Swiss tennis superstar has since retired from the professional game and is absent from the list of tournament favourites for 2022. Instead, it is topped by the ATP world number one and two, Carlos Alcaraz and Casper Ruud, for the first time in twenty years.
Tennis with panache
Excitement fills the air on the legendary Center Court. As soon as the spectators enter the arena and look over the tiered seats and onto the court, they understand precisely why it is the grand focal point of this tennis extravaganza. The arena radiates a distinctive flair and a sense of elegance.
On the evening of day one of the tournament, pop star Alvaro Soler adds to the crowd’s delight ahead of the opening match. The opening ceremony on the famous Super Monday, which brings together the world’s finest in music and tennis, was attended by 8,600 fans. That is full capacity.
The tennis pros need to feel comfortable everywhere – including in the player zone. The court sssistants fill up their water, get towels ready and make sure that there are always enough balls. There is a lot to do – not just on the court, but across the entire event. It takes efficient teamwork to ensure everything runs smoothly.
The matches on Center Court begin at 1 p.m., with entry starting from 11.45 a.m. Until then at least, there is still space for cleaning on the stands and in the VIP boxes. That is taken care of by cleaning staff provided by an external company, who are also responsible for all other areas, including the tennis village with its comfortable lounges that serve as a shared space. Or the expansive foyer of the light-flooded spectator area, which forms a two-level ring around Center Court and offers a wide range of food outlets and entertainment.
Rolling out the red carpet
‘There is always a holiday camp kind of atmosphere’, explains Anna. ‘You meet these people once a year and spend ten days together – day in, day out’. Her childhood dream has long since turned into reality. It was 1995. She was line judge at the Swiss Indoors Basel. During the prize ceremony, all the line judges, ball boys and ball girls were invited onto the court – and so, there she stood on Center Court as Jim Courier was handed the winner’s trophy after a thrilling final.
Tennis at the Swiss Indoors Basel has a cinematic quality, captivating fans – whether they are watching live from the stands or from their living room – even more than a blockbuster from the Hollywood dream factory. So it is only fitting that the red carpet is also rolled out in the St. Jakob Arena, paving the way for tennis stars to reach the hard court at the centre of proceedings. Anna and her team ensure the carpet is camera-ready by cleaning it with backpack vacuums – Ghostbuster style!
It takes skill to make skill – and that is what it takes to guarantee dazzling displays of tennis if, like the Swiss Indoors Basel, you are on the ATP 500 tour, the Champions League of tennis.
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