Wimbledon planning for ‘minimum’ 25% spectator capacity


For all of the pandemic-related planning discussed for this year’s return of Wimbledon — much still to be determined, including fan capacity and prize money — Tuesday’s biggest news out of the All England Club takes effect in 2022: There will be play on the Grand Slam tournament’s middle Sunday.

In addition to creating a 14-day event by eliminating the traditional break at the midpoint, the historic decision forever alters what has come to be known as “Manic Monday,” the opening of Week 2 that made Wimbledon the only major tennis championship with all 16 women’s and men’s fourth-round singles matches scheduled for the same day.

Instead, under a plan organizers “intend to make a permanent part of the schedule,” the fourth round will be split between Sunday and Monday next year, All England Club chairman Ian Hewitt said during a video conference.

Next year marks a century since Centre Court was opened in 1922. Middle Sunday has hosted competition only four times, when rain disrupted the schedule and created a backlog of matches: in 1991, 1997, 2004 and 2016.

“We want more of this wonderful event to be available to more people,” chief executive Sally Bolton said.

The additional ticket and concession sales that become available probably will be appreciated by the club, too.

Both of those categories will drop in 2021 because of restrictions still in place amid the coronavirus pandemic, which wiped out Wimbledon completely a year ago. That was the first time since World War II the grass-court tournament was not held, but the club held cancellation insurance that paid 180 million pounds ($250 million), Hewitt said.

This year’s Wimbledon singles main draw is scheduled for June 28 to July 11.

“For an organization that is used to knowing exactly what we do and exactly when we do it, we have had to learn to work with uncertainty this year,” Bolton said. “Much remains unknown at this point.”

As of now, the plan is to reduce capacity to 25% of normal numbers — about 500,000 people attended the tournament across its 13 days in 2019 — but that could rise once the British government makes a determination on whether restrictions can be eased. That is anticipated around June 21.

Because ticket sales affect revenue, and there is “too much financial uncertainty as of now,” Bolton said she expects this year’s prize money to be announced in June.

Ticket prices will remain at 2020 levels, she said.

But other elements are still in flux and dependent on government rules. That includes whether spectators will need to provide proof of having received a COVID-19 vaccine or a negative test, whether they will need to wear masks to protect against the spread of the illness and whether they still can gather on the grassy spot — known as Henman Hill or Murray Mount — used for picnics while watching matches on a large video screen.

Players will need to stay in hotels in what Bolton described as a “minimized risk environment,” with coronavirus testing and a “track-and-trace program.” They will be limited to three entourage members each and will not be allowed to rent private homes in Wimbledon Village, as some usually do.

Sitting at the desk in the club’s main interview room, Hewitt spoke of this year’s tournament as part of the process of beginning “to embrace a return towards normality.”

And then he added: “It will, though, necessarily be different from Wimbledon as we know it.”



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