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Official Review by Jeremy Inson, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Nothing says summer time in Britain like Wimbledon. For two weeks every year, millions flock to the hallowed grounds in southwest London to watch their tennis heroes lift the most cherished trophies in world tennis (with respectful nods to the Australian, French, and US Opens) amid one of the most storied of sports venues.
The All England Lawn Croquet and Tennis Club was formed in 1868 (the sports were switched in the title in 1882) and the first gentlemen’s championship was played in 1877 after leisure magazine "The Field" announced that, “The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon, propose to hold a lawn tennis meeting, open to all amateurs, on Monday July 9th and following days.” A grand total of 22 men took part, but needed to pay a £1, 1 shilling entrance fee and were asked to bring their own rackets and shoes, while being reassured that balls would be provided.
The Club was initially formed with the purpose of providing grounds to play croquet on, but as tennis grew in popularity, so did its importance to the club. The spectator experience wasn’t a patch on the modern comforts; there was seating for 30 people on a temporary wooden stand and 200 watched Britain’s Spencer Gore defeat William Marshall in the very first gentleman’s final, a match in which underarm serving was still allowed.
Over 100 years on, the Club now covers 42 acres and holds 19 grass courts (including Centre Court and No. 1 Court), eight American Clay courts and five indoor courts. It played its part in the London 2012 Olympic Games and finally gave the locals something to cheer when Andy Murray won men’s gold, while USA’s Serena Williams won her second women’s title. Centre Court was finally given a roof in 2009 to keep out the regular rain showers, but once closed it has to remain that way until the end of the match. There are now plans to build a roof over Court 1, but all the while the club is conscious of its need to maintain the "tennis in the garden feel" that has been one of its key selling points for over 100 years and is likely to be so for the next 100.
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Nothing says Wimbledon like strawberries and cream, but you'll be struggling to get back much change from £20 ($30) for three portions. Yes, they're tasty, but even though they are stupidly expensive, they are just one of those things to do while there.
That aside, there is a wide array of eating options, including halal and kosher eateries and all manner of alcoholic and soft drinks available. However, like the strawberries and cream, you don't get much change back from £10 ($15) for something to eat and drink. The best option is to pop into one of the mini supermarkets that line the street next to Southfields tube. Sandwiches, drinks, snacks, sweets, fruits, and cakes are far more economical and the ground staff will allow you to bring in most things. Furthermore, for those that brave the queue, they provide much needed nourishment.
The atmosphere at Wimbledon is one of the key selling points and one of the key reasons why tickets are so ridiculously over-subscribed. Even in the later days of the tournament, people are still flocking into the grounds to watch on the giant screens, just to soak up the remarkable atmosphere. At its best, it is a heady mix of serious sport event, crossed with an English village fete; all scones, jam, cups of tea, and oodles of joviality, but with a good chance of turning round and bumping into some of the most successful, most well-known and highest earning sports stars in the world.
That mood of summer fun (especially when the clouds part and the sun deigns to shine upon the happy throng) is most readily felt in the ticket queue, a long line of happy-go-lucky folks of all ages, standing in line to try, sometimes for up to eight hours - and in some instances having camped out all night - to earn the right to get in and all the while trying to ignore boredom, hunger, and the desperate need to go to the loo.
The London borough of Merton, in which Wimbledon is situated, is one of the most salubrious, leafiest, and most pleasant suburbs of London, and the road from Southfields to the All England Lawn Tennis Club are lined with some pretty impressive (and frankly expensive) abodes. Wimbledon Park, where the ticket queue forms is worth a visit if in the area away from the two weeks of The Championships, and further afield, Wimbledon Common provides acres and acres of space for recreation.
In Wimbledon itself, the playhouse is one of the most popular for shows away from London's West End "theatre land" and attracts many star names in lower-profile roles.
Anyone wanting a bite to eat has a few good options in Southfields. There is a ragingly good fish and chips shop with fare costing around £7 ($10) per portion. Rubino's, an Italian restaurant turns out starters for around £6 ($9), pasta and pizza for about £10 ($15), and mains for £15 ($22) on average. Further afield, Wimbledon is home to London's Korean community, so anyone hankering after Korean barbeque or spicy kim-chi should head to Wimbledon centre for such fare.
If the tennis players provide the entertainment on court, the crowds that flock to SW19 from all points of the globe give it a richness and colour that cannot be found anywhere else, apart from maybe at Olympic Games. For those with an eye for the famous faces, keep watching the Royal Box on Centre Court, where Royalty and famous faces from the world of sport and entertainment gather. William, Kate, Harry, and other younger members of the Royal Family are regular attendees, but it is the Queen's cousin the Duke of Kent and his wife, the Duchess, who have the longest affinity with the tournament. They regularly present the winner's trophies and on one occasion, the Duchess provided a shoulder to cry on for defeated ladies finalist Jana Novotna of the Czech Republic.
Just in case it all sounds like an episode of Downton Abbey goes to the tennis, the club has strictly guarded its policy of providing tickets across the social spectrum. Tickets are provided to tennis clubs around the country, there is a public ballot from the previous November, and then there are the fans who turn up in their droves to sit and wait for the possibility of buying tickets on the day. These supporters come from everywhere to either see their favourites in action (the gold-shirted Aussies are a regular feature, despite having had few champions to cheer in recent years) or just to enjoy the high-standard of sport on offer.
The most-hardcore of those that do come are those that camp out overnight. By the time they are awoken from their slumbers at 6.30am, many have been there for the best part of 24 hours, but they are provided with wash facilities and somewhere to store their gear before they start the first queue of the day at 7.30am.
Of course, the British provide the vast majority of fans, and while they get excited by the fact that there has been at least one player they can cheer until the final stages these past 15 years, they still show a healthy appreciation to the rest of the field. Some might say that the British have had to get used to having to cheer non-domestic stars as players from the USA, Australia, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, and The Netherlands leave with the winner's trophy in their bag, but traditional tennis values and rigorous self-policing that quickly nips any negative comments in the bud are the more likely reasons.
If there is one niggle about Wimbledon it is getting there. If you're someone thinking about driving, stop right now, unless you want to sit in traffic and then pay out £25 ($38) for the privilege of parking.
A much better option is public transport, though from central London that does mean suffering the slow-moving District (green) line to Southfields. Once there, there are shuttle buses, but again they are slightly extortionate at £2.50 ($3.80) single or £4 ($6) return. For those fit enough, the best option is to walk the mile or so to the grounds, a walk that very conveniently takes you past the start of the queue, which, unless you have tickets already, is your starting point for a day at Wimbledon, whether you eventually get in or not. Wimbledon mainline station is served from Waterloo in central London and buses also run from there with similar prices to those from the tube.
Overall, if you can get your hands on a ticket or survive the queue to get in, it is a truly worthwhile day out. The Championships are widely considered one of the best run annual tournaments, something that those running it have shown for years by ensuring the tournament finishes on time even when great swaths of it have been washed out by rain.
Just walking the grounds and soaking up the atmosphere, chatting to other attendees is one of life's simple pleasures, and then throw in the chance to watch some of sports' biggest names on the show courts or spy an up and coming star on the outside courts, and that adds further enjoyment still.
The Club houses a museum that features tennis memorabilia from some of the biggest names down the years, as well as a wide-range of trophies and video clips of some of the sport's biggest matches. Foreign visitors are catered for with an audio guide available in 10 different languages. There is a guided tour of The Club and all its inner workings, from the secretary's office, to the boardroom, and into the changing rooms and onto the courts themselves.
The museum is open from 10am-5pm every day, and a combined ticket costs £22 ($33) for adults, £19 ($28) for concession, and £13 ($19.50) for children, while the museum on its own costs £12, £10, and £7 ($18, $15, $10). One interesting place to visit on the tour, especially for tennis aficionados, is the Kenneth Ritchie Wimbledon Library, which houses a vast number of books, magazine, periodicals, photos, and DVDs, all of which are now allowed to be used for academic purposes.
Ultimately, Wimbledon is about tennis and specifically for most, watching tennis. Tickets are available in two ways; the ballot and the queue. The ballot, which has been around since 1924, closes each year in mid-December, so anyone interested has to have returned a completed entry form by then. To receive a form, they need to have sent a self-addressed envelope to the club itself (no online forms here), though households in the UK and abroad are only allowed one entry form. From there, the names are placed in a draw and notified sometime between February and June of the year of the tournament. Lucky recipients will then find out if they are on Centre, Number One or Number Two court and pay the fee.
If you don't have any luck in the ballot, you can arrive in the morning and take your opportunities in the queue. It takes patience, a strong bladder, and comfy shoes, but eventually most people get in, no matter how late in the day.
Member Review by hilch on Jul 11, 2013
Attending Wimbledon is a must if you are a tennis fan. The grounds are amazing and there is history everywhere you turn. Queuing is fun once. It gets old quickly. Best bet is to plan and eat before or after because for an event as heralded as Wimbledon, the food is lacking. Strawberries and cream or ice cream are about all that is worth mentioning. Drinking a Pimms or two is a must. Great flavor.
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