Wimbledon’s spring press conference sprung a surprise when it was announced that The Championships is to become a 14-day event from next year, falling into line with the other three majors, the US Open, Roland Garros and Australia.
We very much hope 25% is a minimum position from which we can build - it is our absolute desire to enable as many people as possible to safely attend The Championships this year. At the heart of our thinking is the intention to create the mix of spectators for which Wimbledon is known, while also working hard to protect the financial performance of The Championships, including the surplus that we deliver for the benefit of British tennis.” Sally Bolton OBE, Chief Executive, All England Lawn Tennis Club
To date, play has only taken place on the Middle Sunday 4 times in the event 144-year history – in 1991, 1997, 2004 and 2016 – when bad weather forced organisers to used the traditional rest day to catch up on the schedule of matches.
To tie in with the centenary year of the Centre Court next year, play will take place on Middle Sunday, doing away with the traditional ‘Manic Monday’, with fourth-round matches expected to be played over the two days.
In the past, the Sunday was kept free to allow the grass courts to rest but Wimbledon Chairman Ian Hewitt said on Tuesday: “Thanks to improved grass court technology and maintenance over the past five years or so, and other measures, we are comfortable that we are able to look after the courts, most particularly Centre Court without a full day of rest.”
The Championships return this year after being cancelled for the first time since World War II in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I would like to say how excited we are that Wimbledon will be back this summer, with the best tennis players in the world competing on our grass courts, in front of our passionate spectators,” Hewitt said. “While it will, necessarily, be different from Wimbledon as we know it, we are full of enthusiasm and totally committed to our return following last year’s cancellation.
“We plan to deliver the best Championships possible in accordance with public safety. It will necessarily be different from Wimbledon as we know it.”
It was confirmed a minimum 25% of capacity crowds are expected for this year’s tournament, a figure organisers said could be built on depending on future Government guidance.
“We would like to thank all those with whom we continue to work across government, public health and other sporting bodies for their support to make this a reality, to bring back sporting events in the way that we all recognise,” Wimbledon CEO Sally Bolton said. “Our priority has and will always be to do this safely, with the support and trust of all our stakeholders.
“We very much hope 25% is a minimum position from which we can build – it is our absolute desire to enable as many people as possible to safely attend The Championships this year.
“At the heart of our thinking is the intention to create the mix of spectators for which Wimbledon is known, while also working hard to protect the financial performance of The Championships, including the surplus that we deliver for the benefit of British tennis.”
It is unclear as yet whether ticket holders will need to wear masks although Bolton dispelled previous reports that Henman Hill would be closed off this year.
“We do believe that we would be able to come up with a solution to socially distance the Hill,” she said.
There will be no traditional Wimbledon queue, however, and all tickets will be sold online from early June, with an initiative in place to provide tickets for frontline workers.
Electronic player challenges are being added to Courts 4 to 11 for the first time, while a shot/serve clock is being introduced at both qualifying and The Championships for the first time.
Prize money is also expected to be revealed in June, with Wimbledon officials saying that they were ‘not able to fully understand what the financial performance of the Championships will be’.
Wimbledon’s finances have been bolstered by the pandemic insurance in place for last year’s cancelled Championships through which the Club has received a £180million payout, and of which £36m has been allocated to the LTA, but there is no such insurance covering the 2021 event.
The Wimbledon Championships begin on 28 June, a week after the earliest possible full cessation of social-distancing guidelines.
As for the future, an update on the public consultation process for the AELTC’s Wimbledon Park Project was shared, which aspires to unite the landholdings on either side of Church Road to deliver a beautiful venue that pays tribute to the heritage of the landscape, provides significant benefit to the local community, and enables qualifying to be held on site and The Championships to remain at the pinnacle of the sport.
“We believe these proposals represent an enormous opportunity for The Championships and will be of great benefit to our two local boroughs, and generally to London, the UK, and beyond.” Hewitt said.
The AELTC is seeking feedback on the future of Wimbledon through an online survey to ensure that those who have an interest in the plans, and are passionate about The Championships, are helping to shape the Club’s future.