Last week I entered a magical world. Lush green grass under feet, bright purple and white flowers overhead and an air of excitement all around. The dull green gates of Wimbledon may as well be the pearly white ones to heaven. Every patron, having queued for hours, enters with a grin across their face and a spring in their step.
It may start in June but Wimbledon is by far the earliest Grand Slam. Long before play starts at 11:30am, fans from across the world queue outside for the 1500 limited show court tickets and 5000 ground passes. Most arrive on the morning’s first metropolitan train. A couple from Nottingham told me they left home at 2am. The more insane individuals camp out for over 24 hours to make a centre court ticket a certainty.
It may sound like a lot of effort but in both cases, the reward is huge. Wimbledon represents purity and tradition in tennis. The majority of the patrons brave the weather and queue for tickets in the old school way. On court, players are all in white (Well, most. Google ‘Roger Federer coloured soles’) and umpires address players formally. The courts themselves are dominated by the Wimbledon Green, having very limited advertising and simple equipment. And despite all other Grand Slams using ‘Open’ in their name, the All England Lawn Tennis Club holds onto the simple tournament name, The Championships.
Holding true to the purity of the tournament, all staff I encountered were outstandingly polite. The visual experience of walking into tennis’ most beautiful grounds is made all the better by the greeting “Good morning. Well done. Welcome to Wimbledon.”
Inside the grounds, Wimbledon more closely resembles Flemington than it resembles Melbourne Park with flowers arching over the walkways filled with formally dressed men and women. The grass is impeccable: perfect in height, density and colour. So beautiful are the grounds, it’s easy to forget you are there to watch tennis.
When it gets around to the tennis, the home crowds politely applaud good play and passionately cheer on any Brit player. I was fortunate enough to watch both Sam Stosur and Bernard Tomic win their second round matches. Through the , I joined other Aussies to fanatically cheer on our girl and guy, much to the amusement of the equally tired, politely clapping Britons.
Leaving Wimbledon at the end of play, 14 hours after arriving, it became clear why Wimbledon works. The grounds may be smaller than Flushing Meadows and Melbourne Park, the rain may impact it constantly and entry may be severely limited but The Championships’ firm grasp on tradition and purity ensures players and fans still have a place for tennis like it used to be.
HOW TO DO IT
If attending Wimbledon is not already on your bucket list, add it. The Queue is the official system the AELTC uses to organise queuing patrons each day. The first 500 each day are offered Centre Court tickets, the next 500 No. 1 Court tickets and the following 500 Court 2 tickets. All comers after that are given ground passes to a maximum of 5000. Only the toughest make it to Wimbledon. Are you tough enough?
1. Work out how early you are willing to get there. Arrival before 7am will usually guarantee a ground pass. Feeling ballsy? Quamp (Queue camp) out overnight for a show court pass.
2. Work out how to get there. Wimbledon is 7 miles from the centre of London. Tube runs from 6am, dozens of buses run throughout the night. Rich people catch black cabs.
3. Run to the gates. Show everyone how much you want the ticket.
4. Get a queue ticket and wait in line. Some people bring tennis balls and play ten-pin bowling with empty bottles. It’s far too early for these shenanigans. Nap instead.
5. Once you’ve had a nap and the shops have opened, run back to the station and get some beers. Each patron can enter with two pints or a bottle of wine. By twice as much and start drinking in the Queue. Cheers!
6. At 9:30, the line begins to move towards the gates. If you have not already, work out which court you want to go to and how. Once the gates open at 10:30 there’s no time for thinking!
7. Gates open and the rush begins. Once you get pay (cash), safely but quickly run to your court. Court 12 and 18 usually have the best matches.
8. Success. Even if you can not get a seat, you’ve made it to Wimbledon! High fives all round!