Monday should have been the first day of The Championships at Wimbledon but, because of the coronavirus pandemic, it is cancelled for the first time since World War II.
No matter the time of day, nor the names on the scoreboard, you have always been there, come rain, or shine. This year, sadly though, things are very different. But we will bide our time until we sit on the edge of our seats again and celebrate again. HRH The Duchess of Cambridge
The All England Club’s Patron, HRH The Duchess of Cambridge, a keen player herself, has narrated an emotional video released to mark the unusual occasion, thanking fans for their support in shaping Wimbledon over the years, and bolstering their spirits with a promise that 2021 ‘will have been worth the wait’.
“No matter the time of day, nor the names on the scoreboard, you have always been there, come rain, or shine,” she says.
“This year, sadly though, things are very different. But we will bide our time until we sit on the edge of our seats again and celebrate again.
“So when the time is right and we open the gates we will be back again and it will have been worth the wait.”
The video is part of the Wimbledon Recreated series and is entitled ‘Worth the Wait – Narrated by The Duchess of Cambridge’.
Both Wimbledon and the BBC are making the best of a disappointing situation by turning to nostalgia as millions mourn the loss of this very British fixture.
Every year, just in time for strawberry season the world of tennis turns its focus to The Championships, with its pristine grass courts, traditional whites worn by the players, the planting and flowers that evoke an English country garden and, of course, extraordinary matches on 14 courts around the immaculate grounds of The Club.
“It’s the highlight of the year for us,” said Robert McNicol, the librarian at the All England Club who has been working from home since March. “As somebody who loves tennis, it’s what I live for every year.”
This year, in 2020, when COVID-19 has claimed more than 500,000 lives around the globe and caused havoc on much of the sports world, The Club in SW19 remains silent.
While many major sports are finding their way back into action, or are about to, Wimbledon decided in April to skip this year, in part because it had the foresight to buy insurance against a pandemic.
That insurance will certainly help the All England Club deal with the loss of income this year,.
“It won’t be severely impacted. If you have to cancel, it’s great to have insurance,” Lewis, who will step down as the CEO next month, told British media.
“We’re still in a very good position, we’re financially very stable. British tennis is going to be pretty well protected.”
However, Wimbledon would not have similar insurance cover in place next year, he added.
“That’s impossible in the current climate,” he said. “When I started in 2012, there were some signs that things were not insurable, because of communicable diseases that had taken place, like SARS and swine flu.
“In the immediate aftermath you can’t get insurance but fairly soon after that you can start to get insurance again, the market returns. So there won’t be insurance next year.
“But just because we’ve made one claim, it won’t affect us in the long term.”
Local businesses, however, in Wimbledon Village, just up the hill from the grounds, are going to take a big hit.
Normally, the shops, restaurants and bars fill their windows with tennis-related themes, hoping to draw in tennis-obsessed visitors over the fortnight.
“The tennis quadruples my turnover, which allows me to pay my rent,” said Kelly Duffy, owner and manager of Hemingway’s Bar, whose patrons often include professional players and their families.
“You are paying West End rents around here, and I look to this 3 or 4 week period to cover that annual cost,” admits Duffy.
“It’s not just the fortnight but the whole 4 weeks when Queen’s and the qualifying is on. People like to come in from other parts to soak up the atmosphere.
“Takings roughly quadruple this time of year – it has cost me probably the best part of £100,000, so it’s a very big blow but you have just got to carry on the best you can.”
Duffy has been fortunate, though, because she has a license to sell alcohol for takeaway as well as food, and has been able to open her business through most of the lockdown, bringing in more money than usual in recent months.
Others have not been so fortunate, first with the shutdown and now with the lack of tourists coming for the tennis.
“Getting new customers is important, so during the tennis it’s essential,” said Maria Di Nuzzo, the deputy manager of a clothing store in the village. “It’s definitely not like last year.”
One Italian restaurant summed up the mood with some fitting artwork on its front windows. One side shows the women’s and men’s trophies covered in a purple cloak with the year 2020 written above it, while the other shows the two trophies in all their glory under the year 2021.
The losses for the local economy will run into tens of millions.
This includes for the hundreds of homeowners who rent out their home, from just the odd room to whole houses, which are rented for five figure sums to the top players and entourages.
The lack of footfall up in the village, however, doesn’t even compare to deserted feeling down the hill.
Members of The Club can play on the hallowed courts and a group of white-clad players could be seen on Monday through one of the many closed gates.
There is no line of fans, however, camping out waiting for tickets in ‘The Queue’, no hustle and bustle to get a seat on the outside courts when the gates burst open, no traffic jam of cars lined up to get onto the nearby golf course used for Wimbledon parking every year.
Instead, there are actual golfers on the golf course, adding to the overall eeriness of a world without Wimbledon.
The BBC are on site, with Sue Barker hosting its evening broadcast from a balcony on No 1 Court overlooking a silent scene across the courts.
“Strangely in the buildup, I’ve had the usual sense of anticipation, even though I knew it wasn’t going to happen,” McNicol said. “It’s quite a melancholy feeling.”
The US Open is going ahead as scheduled from the end of August, while the French Open has moved to the end of September from May, and Sally Bolton, who will succeed Lewis, said the AELTC would learn all they can from these major tournaments.
“We’ve got the US Open and Roland Garros being staged later this year and we will be looking closely at what they do, working with the constraints they find themselves under and learning what we can,” said Bolton.
The indoor courts at Flushing Meadows were converted into a temporary field hospital that has since been dismantled, while in Merton, the All England’s borough, 2 new Coronavirus cases were reported last week among its 206,000 residents.
Tim Henman, on site for Monday night’s opening BBC show, is also on Wimbledon’s management committee that reluctantly took the decision to cancel this year’s Championships.
“I still really can’t believe it’s not happening,” he told Sportsmail. “The decision had to be made and it left me feeling a bit numb.
“If I’m honest there’s part of me that can’t wait for this fortnight to be over so we can get cracking on 2021.”