In and around the courts… Wimbledon Diary
A son for Barty
Ashleigh Barty and her husband Garry Kissick announced the birth of their son, Hayden, after the former World No 1 birth on Tuesday on Instagram.
“Our beautiful boy … Welcome to the world, Hayden!” Kissick posted.
Barty, 27, and Kissick, her longtime partner, were married last July, and the three-time Grand Slam champion announced her pregnancy in January of this year.
“2023 set to be the best year yet,” Barty said at the time. “We are so excited for our new adventure.”
Barty was the World No 1 for 121 weeks in her career before her retirement last March, after winning Roland Garros in 2019, Wimbledon in 2021, and the Australian Open last year.
Barty’s ascent to the top of tennis came after the one-time teenaged prodigy took a 21-month sabbatical from the sport, from 2014 to 2016.
With her win in Melbourne, Barty famously became the first Australian woman in 44 years to win her home major in singles, since Chris O’Neil in 1978, and fifth in the Open Era.
“I don’t have the physical drive, the emotional want and everything it takes to challenge yourself at the very top of the level any more,” Barty said upon her retirement last year. “I am spent.
“As a person, this is what I want. I want to chase after some other dreams that I’ve always wanted to do.”
A long wait
Beefed-up security to prevent protesters disrupting The Championships led to long, frustrating queues on the opening day of Wimbledon.
Just Stop Oil activists recently interrupted the Ashes cricket test at Lord’s, with one being carried off the field by England wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow, while protesters have disrupted other sporting events in Britain this year, as well as the Chelsea Flower Show.
Airport-style security was in place in SW19 as staff looked out for chalk dust and powders, which have been banned at the prestigious tournament for the first time ever, and specialist undercover police spotters have also been deployed.
Glue, cable-ties and chains and padlocks are all on the prohibited list, as they can be used to disrupt events by protesters attaching themselves to property.
The wait at Wimbledon was as long as 8 hours as organisers advised people not to travel to join the queue just before noon.
“Our grounds are set to be at capacity today, which means those already in the queue will be waiting several hours for admission,” Wimbledon tweeted on Monday. “We advise people intending to queue today not to travel to Wimbledon.”
The All England Lawn Tennis Club, which hosts the grass court Grand Slam tournament, was confident it had matters under control, refining best practices.
Michelle Dite, Wimbledon operations director, told reporters: “We have plans in place to mitigate the risks working in partnership with specialist agencies and the Metropolitan Police and should an incident occur the appropriate specialist teams will respond.
“The safety and security of all our players, colleagues and visitors is paramount.”
Clothing rule change…
Victoria Azarenka made history as the first to embrace a major rule change that represents a break from tradition – wearing a pair of green undershorts.
Wimbledon has relaxed its all-white dress code for women after a backlash last year over women having to wear white shorts and underwear, with many left feeling uncomfortable playing during their periods.
As a result, organisers have permitted female stars to wear coloured undershorts, starting this year.
Another player to embrace the rule-relaxation was Linda Fruhvirtova.
After her 6-4 5-7 6-4 win, Azarenka said: “I appreciate the non-full-white rule for the girls. I think that was an important step.
“I think it’s a thoughtful addition, very thoughtful addition, because there are obvious situations that can be tricky and uncomfortable.
“Yeah, I think that’s a pretty appropriate word. It’s very thoughtful addition to the rules.”
Raducanu makes a brief appearance
Emma Raducanu, who is currently recovering from three surgeries and not playing at The Championships, is apparently enjoying some quality time while recovering after undergoing procedures on both wrists and her left ankle.
She is currently rehabbing and yet to return to the practice court, but the latest photo posted on Instagram are captioned: ”Doctors ordered recovery time.”
Recently, former British No 1 Tim Henman advised Raducanu to use this time to get her structure right and try to find a long-term coach.
”It’s a really good opportunity for her to get that structure right,” said Henman. “That includes a tennis coach, a physio and a fitness trainer. Hopefully, that’s something she will implement so when she is ready to come back and work on her game he’s got a good team around her.
“It’s related to if she is healthy. If she’s healthy, has done all the rehabilitation and fitness work and she is ready to play, then play. If she’s not, then don’t play. It’s going to be dictated by her body. She’s got to be 100 percent fit.”
There is no date for her to return, but there are hopes it might be by the end of the season, or down in Australia at the start of next year.
Raducanu did make a surprise appearance at the AELTC on Monday, but only to service two of the numerous contracts that flowed from her famous victory at Flushing Meadows.
She greeted, on behalf of Vodafone, her mobile phone sponsor, some of those who had braved dreadful first day queues, and then went on for some promotional activity with her official water supplier Evian.
evian and Wimbledon deliver first player refillable system
evian, the Official Water of The Championships, together with Wimbledon, are delivering their first on-court refillable system, as a new way to hydrate players on court during The Championships.
As a long-standing partner since 2008, evian and Wimbledon join forces on this step in the tournament’s sustainability journey for an exciting pilot scheme fronted by evian Global Brand Ambassador and triple Grand Slam winner Stan Wawrinka
The new refillable system enables refill behaviour on court, whilst continuing to deliver evian natural mineral water from its pristine mountain source, as the brand has done at The Championships for the last 15 years.
The evian refill water system for Wimbledon this year will see players provided with their own reusable bottles that can be refilled with evian natural mineral water, on-court and at designated player areas, including practice courts, dressing rooms and restaurants.
Stella Artois renews
Belgian brewer AB InBev has renewed its multi-year deal with the AELTC that sees Stella Artois continue as the official beer partner of The Championships, Wimbledon.
A sponsor at the Grand Slam since 2014, the beer brand’s new agreement will see Stella Artois, Stella Artois Unfiltered, and Stella Artois Alcohol Free served throughout the event
Additionally, Stella Artois has announced its ‘Perfect Serve Award’ activation, recognising players who deliver the best serves throughout the two-week event, which is fronted by renowned fast server Greg Rusedski.
Wimbledon line judges face uncertain future
Wimbledon technology chiefs have said that line judges are safe, at least for now, even as the grass court Grand Slam embraces artificial intelligence.
The AELTC and global tech giant IBM announced new AI features for The Championships, including a tool using generative AI technology that will provide audio commentary for match highlights videos on the Wimbledon website and app.
A ‘draw analysis’ feature uses AI to define how favourable the path to the final might be for each player in the singles draws.
Bill Jinks, technology director at the All England Club, says Wimbledon has to work hard to stay at the cutting edge.
“Wimbledon is the oldest Grand Slam tournament and we have a rich heritage and traditions that go back all the way to 1877 and that´s one of the main reasons people keep coming,” he said. “It’s a huge part of that experience for people — players and fans alike.
“But you can’t do that without technological innovation. We wouldn’t have remained at the pinnacle of the sport without that technological innovation to keep us there.”
Wimbledon has a unique place in the global tennis calendar, with players and fans attracted by the hallowed traditions of the All England Club.
Smartly dressed umpires and line judges are as much part of the experience as strawberries and cream and the all-white kit that players must wear.
But how much longer can they survive in the light of galloping technology?
The men’s ATP Tour in April announced tour-wide adoption of electronic line calling from 2025, a role traditionally carried out by on-court line judges, in a move to ‘optimise accuracy and consistency across tournaments’.
Jinks said line judges are still part of the scenery at tWimbledon this year, but he was unable to give a long-term guarantee.
“In 2023 we’ve definitely got line judges,” he said. “Line-calling technology has changed. We’ve been using the challenge system (players are able to query a limited number of calls, using video technology) since 2007 and it currently works for us. Who’s to say what might happen in the future?”
Jinks was more definitive when asked whether there could be a future with an AI umpire who could not be argued with.
“The answer’s no,” he said.
Federer and Mercedes create the world’s coolest tennis court
Roger Federer, who appeared on Tuesday in the Royal Box on Centre next to the Princess of Wales, partnered with Mercedes-Benz to renovate tennis courts in the Neon Legacy initiative.
A crowd gathered at Bostall Gardens in London a small local park in Abbey Wood not far from the O2 Arena, to see the Swiss legend open the court, which are a cacophony of colour: bright blues, deep reds, a yellow daisy chain of tennis balls painted on the asphalt.
An urban work of art, the court was designed by Berlin street art duo Low Bros to celebrate the local community in their own unique style.
The Bostall Gardens tennis courts are the latest project of the Neon Legacy initiative between Federer and Mercedes-Benz
Last September, the month Federer retired from tennis a few miles up the road, a neon Mercedes-Benz AMG GT was auctioned off to raise money to renovate the public tennis courts of Greenwich.
Naturally, Federer was interviewed before his adoring public. How does it feel to be back in London?
“It’s very special. Being retired puts me on to different courts: I was just in Africa, in Lesotho, on a court, and it was as special as pretty much walking out on Centre Court at Wimbledon,” he said. “That’s like being here as well. When you do love tennis, you don’t need to have a 20,000 seater stadium. So that’s why I’m very happy to be here today.”
Ex-Wimbledon referee says men should play best-of-three at Grand Slams
Andrew Jarrett, who refereed The Championships from 2006-2019 has written a book entitled Championship Points, in which he takes the reader on a lively journey through a varied career in the sport, which has taken him from being a player, a coach and a high-ranking official.
He also addresses some of the issues facing the game, including gender equality in tennis, which, he writes should see men and women playing matches of the same duration.
His argument is that with equal prize money, they should have an equal workload, and suggests a workable adjustment, namely that men should play best-of-three sets in the early rounds at the majors.
“Equality in general is something being imposed, and I think it is an area in which tennis can hold its head reasonably high,” Jarrett writes. “You have equal pay but the men are playing more.
“For it to be carried further you could play best-of-three-sets for everyone in singles up until the fourth round, then have everyone playing best-of-five-set matches from the quarter-finals onwards.”
In an era of shrinking attention spans, the notion has some support, although probably not from the 4 Grand Slams, which already have a winning formula that is unlikely to be changed any time soon.
Jarrett’s book colourfully narrates a long career, which saw him reach the Top 100 as a player and represent Britain in the Davis Cup.
“I had a similar game to Bjorn Borg, just not remotely as good. One of my career highlights was a week off going to Monte Carlo and being able to practice and hang out with him a bit, he was a bit of a hero to me,” he says. “That was a lot more fun than playing him in a match and getting thrashed.”
Championship Points is available via Amazon.
EE UK Boosts 4G Mobile Broadband Capacity in Wimbledon
It may not be screamingly obvious but mobile operator EE has upgraded its network coverage and data capacity for residents and visitors to the famous London village of Wimbledon, which involved upgrades to 17 existing 4G and 5G (mobile broadband) sites, as well as the deployment of new Small Cells to improve coverage in busy areas.
Unlike big base stations and masts, small cells are only designed to deliver limited coverage over a shorter distance and thus tend to be more focused on busy areas (e.g. shopping malls) or specific sites (e.g. airports and ports).
Such kit is often positioned on the side of buildings or street furniture, such as lamp posts, CCTV columns and street kiosks etc.
EE has worked closely with strategic supplier Nokia to deploy the solutions, which uses its licenced 1800MHz and 2600Mhz spectrum to deliver better capacity and mobile broadband speeds of up to 300Mbps (this will vary a lot).
Naturally, this all has to do with the extra visitor traffic being anticipated for the annual Wimbledon Tennis Tournament.
Wimbledon prize money rises by 11%
The total prize money at Wimbledon this year is rising by 11.2%, with the winners of the singles each getting £2.35 million ($3 million).
The total prize fund at The Championships will be £44.7 million($56.5 million), the AELTC announced, which is an increase of 17.1% compared to 2019, the last Wimbledon before the coronavirus pandemic.
The earnings for the winners of the singles competitions are back to the levels they were in 2019, as is the £1.175 million going to the runners-up.
The prize for the singles champions had dipped to £1.7 million in 2021, after the tournament was cancelled in 2020, and was £2 million last year.
Officials said a priority was placed on supporting players in the early rounds and those who lose in the 1st-round will earn £55,000 ($69,500), a 10% increase from last year, while the prize fund for the qualifiers also received a 14.5% increase over 2022.
A new team at the Beeb
Clare Balding has assumed the lead role, taking over as the leading lady for the BBC’s 2023 Wimbledon coverage from the legendary Sue Barker, with several of the usual suspects once again part of this year’s broadcast team.
Balding hosts the live TV coverage across The Championships, taking tennis fans through the action daily, while former England cricketer Isa Guha presents the start of play each day.
She is joined in the studio by former Wimbledon winners John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King and Pat Cash, while the likes of Tim Henman, Tracy Austin, Annabel Croft, Johanna Konta, Anne Keothavong and Sania Mirza are also be part of the line-up.
Expert analysis is be provided by John Lloyd, Louise Pleming, Colin Fleming, Jo Durie, Peter Fleming, Liz Smylie, Dominic Inglot, Nick Monroe, Arvind Parmar, Todd Woodbridge and Leon Smith.
As for the commentary team, the duties fall on the shoulders of Andrew Castle, Andrew Cotter, Sam Smith, Chris Bradnam, Kat Downes, Nick Mullins, Matt Chilton, Simon Reed and John Inverdale, who are joined by Ronald McIntosh, Alison Mitchell, James Burridge, Abigail Johnson, Andy Stevenson, Paul Hand, Nick Lester, Pete Odgers and David Law.
Despite talk last year that 8-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer could join this year’s BBC broadcast team, he is not part of the line-up.
The BBC’s daily Wimbledon coverage is live on BBC One and iPlayer until 9pm for the first week, while there is daily coverage live from SW19 on BBC Radio 5 Live and Sounds with 6-Love-6 with John McEnroe and Tim Henman also returning on Thursdays.
All matches are available on iPlayer.
Opposition mounts to Wimbledon Park plans
Opposition is mounting to the AELTC’s plans to develop a new stadium and court complex on Wimbledon Park.
The Club wants to build an 8,000-seat stadium, along with 38 courts and 10 ancillary buildings, to host the annual Wimbledon tennis championships, but a petition expressing opposition to the scheme has now received nearly 12,000 signatures, and Wandsworth Council has also received more than 1,150 letters of opposition.
Campaigners have described the plan as an ‘industrial scale development’ on protected green space with the loss of 300 mature trees.
Although the scheme was expected to be on the agendas of the planning committees of both Merton and Wandsworth councils in April, it failed to appear, and it now seems the plans for the 73 acre site will not be discussed by councillors until after The Championships, by which stage it will more than 18 months since Wimbledon Park Golf Club course was closed to free up the land for the potential development.
The AELTC has said that its plan would actually increase public access to the site due to much of the area being occupied by the golf course.
The scheme had been expected to be determined by the borough planning committees in 2022, with November last year being the previous date when a decision was thought likely, but more information was requested on the environmental aspect of the schemes, which has resulted in further delays.
If councillors on both committees approve the plans, then it is believed that it could take a decade for the project to be completed.
Sakkari hires Philippoussis
Just before the start of the French Open, Philippoussis announced that he and Tsitsipas had decided to part ways on mutual basis, and, following a Nottingham Round-of-16 loss in her first grass tournament of the year Sakkari snapped the Aussie up.
The Greek has added Philippoussis, the 2003 Wimbledon runner-up, to her coaching team, which includes Tom Hill.
Sakkari, who has a good relationship with Tsitsipas, no doubt hired Philippoussis based on the Greek’s recommendation.
Big Screens at second location
Merton Council and the AELTC have brought the Wimbledon Championships Big Screen back to the Canons in Mitcham, with a second location in Morden Park, this summer, following a successful public screening of The Championships at Canons House last year.
Canons House and Morden Park each have a 20 square metre high-definition screen in place from Middle Saturday, 8 July, to final Sunday, 16 July, with entry free of charge to guests and no advance booking required.
The screens will show Championships action each day from the start of play until the parks close, with deckchairs, picnic areas, food and drink, pop-up tennis courts and try-outs and a morning family film on the final Sunday across both locations.
There is also be a third big screen in Merton this year at Wimbledon Piazza, run by Love Wimbledon for tennis fans.
Venus Williams launches new Wimbledon collection
Ahead of Wimbledon, former World No 1 Venus Williams launched her new tennisuptodate.com/wimbledon collection through her fashion line, EleVen.
“I am so excited to share my first ever limited edition Wimbledon inspired collection with you,” Williams wrote on the EleVen website. “Wimbledon is a tournament close to my heart, having won 5 singles titles and 6 doubles titles there. But my biggest victory at Wimbledon was achieving pay equity in 2007.”
The collection incorporates the Wimbledon all-white dress code with a unique fashion twist.
“This capsule collection reflects the iconic all-white dress code with an elevated active fashion twist,” she added. “Foil detailing to represent the shine of winning and leopard print lace and jacquard to unleash your inner champion and bring your wild side to the court.”