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This will be a Wimbledon like never before

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All change at Wimbledon - GETTY IMAGES
All change at Wimbledon – GETTY IMAGES

No queue, no ballot, no legends doubles. The All England Club have sketched out their vision of pandemic-era tennis at Wimbledon this summer, and it is far from being business as usual.

Last year’s disappointed ticket-holders may have mixed feelings about the AELTC’s bulletin. Having missed the chance to take their seats in 2020, because of the outright cancellation of the tournament, they will be allowed to carry tickets over – but only to the 2022 Championships.

Meanwhile, overall spectator numbers are likely to be significantly down on the half-a-million fans who come through the gates in a normal year, which would usually equate to a maximum of 42,000 per day.

According to the statement released on Thursday, it is too early to judge how many people will be allowed in, but the unofficial expectation is that numbers are unlikely to climb much above 15,000 per day.

However, the AELTC say they may accommodate different crowd sizes on different days, which probably means building up the attendance as the tournament approaches its climax on the weekend of July 10-11.

As the statement explained, “There will not be a Queue or Ticket Resale in operation for this year’s Championships … we look forward to their return in 2022.” Neither will there be a ballot as usual this summer; instead tickets “will be made available online and we anticipate this will begin in June”.

For the players, meanwhile, no-one will be allowed to stay in a private house – a practice that has long helped provide an annual windfall for home-owners in the local area. Only official, monitored tournament hotels are to be used this year. Interestingly, however, there was no mention of a limit on entourages.

The main reductions in the number of accredited people on site are likely to involve fewer “legends” – retired players who normally compete in the Invitation Doubles – although many of these tend to be part of the broadcasting teams in any case.

In spite of ultra-cautious approach this is a return to relish

The return of Wimbledon will be a huge fillip to the British sporting summer after last year’s cancellation. But don’t expect normal service to be resumed.

Were it not for the pandemic, these 13 acres would accommodate 42,000 fans per day. But regular visitors will know how crowded the narrow lanes between the outside courts tend to be, especially during the first week. When a popular British player is shifted onto Court No2 at the south tip of the site, they can become virtually impassable.

Such proximity represents a health hazard in the time of Covid – and the same goes for the famous Wimbledon queue, which has been axed for this summer. Likewise, the picnic-hamper vibe of Henman Hill is likely to be shut down, although this has yet to be confirmed.

Today’s statement included a mention of the AELTC’s forthcoming expansion into Wimbledon Park Golf Club, which they bought for £65m in 2018. All that extra land would have come in enormously useful this year, but sadly the planned new courts will not be ready in time; indeed, they could be another decade in the making.

So for now, the only outcome is an ultra-cautious event which combines the elegance and style of a normal Wimbledon with a much-reduced audience. What a shame that we are reduced to this. And yet, at least we have something to look forward to. To borrow a phrase once uttered on Centre Court, the whole event will hardly be “the pits of the world”.

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