It’s only three weeks since the last ball was hit at the annual Wimbledon Championships, yet tennis fans will once again descend on the hallowed lawns of SW19 with the start of the Olympic tennis tournament.
Here’s what first-time visitors can expect at Wimbledon…
1. Getting there
If you catch a train to Wimbledon Station, it might be best not to try and find the courts by using the sat nav on your mobile phone (as I did on the day of the men’s last 16 matches earlier this year). Tapping in ‘Wimbledon SW19’ took me to Wimbledon Health & Racquets club; a leisure centre which is well away from the real tennis action.
During major championships, there are red buses which will take you directly to the ticket gates and save you walking around lost for half an hour. Buying a bus ticket does cost £5 but it will give you peace of mind.
Outside the entrances to the ground there are lots of twinkly-eyed old stewards who are more than happy to give you directions. When you do arrive outside the grounds be prepared to walk for quite a while in order to get to the right ticket gate – the perimeter of the grounds are pretty vast.
Be sure to take lots of money with you. There are cash machines inside the grounds but there are none that I could see outside. This is a potential problem as when I last went (during the Wimbledon championships) you couldn’t use a credit or debit card to buy a ticket at the gates. This shouldn’t cause difficulties during the Olympics though as tickets for this event are all allocated long before the tournament.
3. The order of play
The order of play is normally drawn up the evening before. Get a copy of it from a daily newspaper and bring it with you to the grounds – it’s more important than any map as it will give you a good idea of where the best matches are occurring at any given time. The order of play is also on display on a scoreboard just inside the main gates of Wimbledon. You could take a photo of this on your mobile phone to refer to later.
4. Choice of courts
Unless you’ve got a seat with a good view on Centre Court or court number one, I would recommend paying a visit to an outside court. Top players hate playing on outside courts – they are called the graveyards of champions – but fans should love them as there really isn’t a bad seat at venues like Court 18. In my experience, the smaller the court’s seating area the better the atmosphere.
5. Things you must take to Wimbledon
Always take one more layer of clothing than you think you will need. The outside courts really are open to the elements as they have no stand or roof to protect you from the rain and the wind. Pack a hooded top, lightweight anorak and woollen hat just in case play is suspended due to inclement weather.
Don’t forget to take binoculars if you have a seat way up in the rafters in Court Number One or Centre Court. When I first went in 2002 I had a seat near the highest point on Centre Court and the players I watched (including Andre Agassi and Marat Safin) looked as small as matchstick men.
Cameras are allowed inside the grounds so long as you don’t use flash photography during play. Also take a bottle of water and something to eat for lunch, which brings me on to the next point…
6. The food
The food can be very pricey at Wimbledon. A modestly-sized beef sandwich cost me £5.65. The food I bought in the Long Food Hall was pretty uninspiring – sausage rolls, pasties, salads – but if you’re willing to shell out a little extra you can book a place at one of the posher indoor restaurants.
7. Things you must do at Wimbledon
There are some things you simply must do if you visit the All England Club. The first is to make a beeline to Henman Hill and stand in front of the giant TV screen (the picture clarity is surprisingly good). It is also good fun to find out the spot where John Inverdale and John McEnroe discuss the day’s play – just ask a steward where this broadcast takes place from.
The Wimbledon Museum costs £11 to enter but a better investment might be to buy a giant tennis ball. These items are too big to be used as footballs and too light to function as medicine balls but until you’ve struggled home on the Tube with one, you haven’t really had the full Wimbledon experience.
8. Things you will never forget about visiting Wimbledon
Wandering around Wimbledon for the first time, you are struck by the things you never see on television. For instance, it is easy to assume that the posts and nets are on court all-year round but of course they are only erected (amid much crowd excitement) just before the start of play.
And then there is the thrill of seeing the lush green Wimbledon turf for the first time as you pass an outside court and think: “My God, I’m close enough to touch that.” It’s a thrill I thought I would only feel when I first visited Wimbledon but when I returned it was just as exciting!