Wimbledon is not just the oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament in the world, it is also amongst the greatest events across all sports. Whether you're a hard-core tennis fan or a casual follower of sports, a visit to the hallowed turf of the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) in London to watch The Championships is an experience you will always remember.
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Growing up in the '80s and '90s in India as a sports-crazy kid, my access to Wimbledon was limited to the annual tradition of buying the Wimbledon special edition of Sportstar and watching the tournament unfold on television. To actually see the event live seemed like an unattainable dream. However, the fates have been kind and I have been able to check watching The Championships off my bucket list.
The first step to planning a trip to an event is figuring out the pricing and availability of tickets, and Wimbledon is no different. However, unlike other major events, Wimbledon's ticket-purchase process is more nuanced. Here I have detailed everything you need to know about the various methods of getting tickets to The Championships.
"[O]ther than VIP/hospitality packages Wimbledon tickets are very reasonably priced. "
Note that other than VIP/hospitality packages Wimbledon tickets are very reasonably priced. A Centre Court ticket for the 2015 Wimbledon finals, if you're able to purchase it officially, will cost you GBP 160, while the price of a Ground Admission pass won't cross GBP 25 during the entire tournament.
The public ballot
The public ballot provides both UK and international residents an opportunity to apply for tickets to The Championships. Ballot winners get to purchase a pair of tickets for a single day for Wimbledon Show Courts -- Centre Court or numbers 1, 2 or 3. The drawback here is that you cannot request tickets for specific days or courts since they're randomly chosen through a computerised selection process. So, you could potentially win anything from Centre Court tickets for the finals to first round tickets for No.3 Court.
UK residents have to apply by post while for international residents there is an online application. Ballot winners are intimated by March-end and typically have time till May for payment, which can be made online. Ticket dispatch starts in the second week of May and continues into June.
While the ballot is heavily oversubscribed, I would strongly recommend applying for it. The process is free and if you get the tickets you wanted then you've time enough to plan your trip.
This, incidentally, was how I got my tickets. If you're willing to rough it out a bit, then queuing up can reward you with a value-for-money ticket to the Wimbledon Show Courts. At the very least, you'll be able to get a Ground Admission pass to watch action from up close in the outer courts. So what's the catch? You'll be planning your entire trip without having your event ticket in hand.
"[I]f you're looking at getting Centre Court tickets for the quarterfinals/pre-quarterfinals, then you'll most certainly have to camp out from previous day's afternoon."
The beauty of the queue process though is precisely this -- it provides on-day sales of tickets, with some restrictions, throughout The Championships. So if you get in line early enough and maintain the queue code of conduct then you're assured a ticket for that day's matches. The tickets distribution is fairly generous:
• Centre Court: Approximately 500 tickets are available daily except for the last four days; the tickets for the semi-finals and finals are pre-sold.
• No.1 Court: Approximately 500 tickets are available daily.
• No.2 Court: Approximately 500 tickets are available daily for as many days as a full program of matches can be maintained.
• Ground: Several thousand tickets are available daily, entitling use of the unreserved seating and standing room on Courts No.3-19.
How early you get into the queue determines how good your tickets are. So if it's a Ground Admissions pass in the earlier rounds that you want, turning up early - 6.30 am -- on the day of play should suffice.
However, if you're looking at getting Centre Court tickets for the quarterfinals/pre-quarterfinals, then you'll most certainly have to camp out from previous day's afternoon. This will also be a function of which players are scheduled to be on court as I learned the hard way. I had shown up at 4pm on the middle-Sunday, hoping to catch Roger Federer play on Centre Court the next morning. However, the strong run of Andy Murray, also scheduled to play on Monday, ensured there were already more than 1,000 people ahead of me in the queue.
So how do you camp at Wimbledon? The camping ground is a short walk down Wimbledon Park Road from the Southfields station and it is from here that the queue starts in the morning.
I found the queuing process very organised -- right from the moment when I entered the camping ground Wimbledon volunteers were there to guide me through. A steward issued me the all-important Queue Card. This card is both dated and numbered, which shows your position in the queue. It must be retained and is checked on entry to the Wimbledon Grounds. Queue Cards are issued one per person and are non-transferable. The stewards and the volunteers also ensure that the fans maintain their positions in the queue till they get their tickets at Turnstile 3. You're free to move around, but are expected to be back in your place by around 10pm.
With British and international tennis enthusiasts milling about, the overall mood is quite lively. You don't really need to bring your own food since there are plenty of options available in the ground. I carried a sleeping bag with me for the night and given the fickle English weather it came in handy.
At around 6am, everyone in the queue is woken by the stewards and asked to clear up and get into a line on the basis of the Queue Card number. Overnight equipment and oversized bags can be left in the left-luggage facility on the ground. At approximately 7.30am the stewards issue wristbands, marked by court and with a detachable 'court' tally, to those towards the front of the queue, who're lining up for tickets for the Show Courts. With several people in front of me in the queue either dropping out or opting for No.2 Court, I was fortunate enough to get a wristband for No.1 Court. The turnstiles open at about 9.30am and that's when the queue really starts moving. On reaching the entrance kiosk, the 'tally' is detached and handed to the cashier who issues one ticket for the court on the tally.
Payment is in cash only. Traveling solo turned out to have an unexpected benefit and I ended up getting a single seat bang in the centre, five rows from the courtside!
Several hundred Centre Court and No.3 Court tickets are sold online on the day before play via Ticketmaster on www.ticketmaster.co.uk. These tickets are in high demand and usually sell out almost immediately after going on sale.
Ticket resale kiosk
You can buy returned Show Court tickets, subject to availability, daily through the Ticket Resale kiosk located north of Court 18 near the top of St Mary's Walk. Tickets are available from 3pm onwards and are reasonably priced from GBP 5 to 10.
If you're willing to splurge, then hospitality packages provide a great way to experience Wimbledon in style. These packages typically include official reserved tickets and hotel accommodation. There are two official hospitality package providers at Wimbledon:
• Sportsworld: For visitors from the UK, Asia and Australasia.
• Keith Prowse: For visitors from the UK, Europe and the Americas.
The AELTC funds the development of facilities at Wimbledon by issuing debentures for the Centre Court and No.1 Court every five years. For each debenture, holders receive one seat in the Centre Court for every day of The Championships or one seat in the No.1 Court for the first 10 days of The Championships.
Those considering purchasing debentures should note that the current issue of 2,500 Centre Court Debentures covering the 2016-2020 Championships was priced at GBP 50,000 each. Tickets allocated to debenture holders are the only Championships tickets that are freely transferable and can be sold on the open market.
All in all, I found the ticket process for Wimbledon fairly democratic, though a mite cumbersome.
Here are some pictures from my recent trip.
Camping queue code of conduct
Center Court 1
Court action: Ana Ivanovic
Court action: Andy Roddick
Court 1 seating
Court 1 view
In my next post I will discuss where to stay and how to reach the venue along with some tips on maximising your experience at The Championships.
All images have been taken and provided by Navin Sharma.