You know the British summer is definitely here when Wimbledon Tennis Championships dominates your TV screen.
Nothing really epitomises ‘Britishness’ quite like this annual two week tournament.
Millions tune in from around the world for the 662+ matches played over 14 days – but this isn’t just any top-flight competition.
Strict rules and a sense of history make this the most famous tennis tournament in the world.
But with play only taking place for 2 weeks a year, what happens to the courts outside of these dates? And what does it take to maintain the pristine grass?
And during the famous two weeks in June and July, where do the players go when they arrive at Wimbledon?
Brit Crowd takes a look behind the scenes as preparations got underway for the 2016 championship.
It’s been an annual fixture in South West London since 1877, rising from a simple tournament played by the gentry to the multi-million pound globally observed, sponsor-rich event it is today.
Stepping through the gates of Wimbledon leaves you feeling like you’re visiting an old friend.
I was left feeling nostalgic, it seemed so familiar, yet I’d only been here once before (and almost 10 years ago).
But it’s easy to forget that for 2 weeks every year, my gaze has been transfixed on a box in my living room, watching every hit, scream, clap and gasp that has taken place on the courts of SW19 for over 23 years.
It reminds me of my childhood, arriving home from school to watch it on a small grey black and white set in the kitchen with my mother. Or gathering with friends to watch the final in a pub.
In reality, I have actually ‘been here’ via a TV set every year for most of my life.
Apart from the odd change (a new Court 1, a roof being built on to Centre Court) Wimbledon has remained very much the same since it first moved into its current home in 1922.
Champions come and go, but the tradition of Wimbledon, with the incredibly smart umpires, the all-white outfits, strawberries and ice cream, and the beautifully manicured courts, have remained the same.
The first thing you stumble upon as you arrive at the All England Club is the huge score board, emblazoned with competitors – and the eventual winners of each tournament. Like the Centre Court Score Board, this stays up all year until the start of the new event.
I spent 90 glorious minutes with Nick, a Wimbledon Tour Guide, who showed me and other guests what goes on behind the scenes. A look around the courts, inside the players’ lounge and TV studios to name but a few.
The famous Wimbledon grass
Nothing quite says Wimbledon like the finely cut grass that adorns the courts. Some might even say that the lawns are more famous than the players themselves, and of course far more high maintenance…
Each court is maintained with military precision, we’re told.
Virgin turf is laid every single year at Wimbledon in the Spring, prior to the start of the next tournament.
For any grass aficionados, it’s made up of 100% Rye grass seeding, a change made in 2000 where before it was a mixture. According to Nick, the 100% rye lawns are tougher wearing, and provide more grip for players under foot.
The courts are cut to a precise playing height of 8mm, and watered daily. Courts are also covered nightly to ensure no rain soaking the ground.
Once the tournament starts, the lines are repainted daily.
Centre Court is the most famous court at the All England Club. Alongside Court 1 you will need to hold a coveted ticket if you want to get in to watch a game.
And you’re unlikely to be disappointed. As I walked up the steps of the empty stadium I could sense what it would be like watching a big game here.
Gladiators of the tennis world have thrashed out matches here – and with a roof now fitted on Centre Court, play can continue even when it rains (and trust me, it rains in SW19!)
A lone court attendant is mowing the grass as we take a seat in one of the famous green seats.
Just shy of 15,000 people can fit into Centre Court for a match.
It’s where the finals take place, and while some have questioned why capacity hasn’t been increased in line with other big tournaments, it’s a simple case of ‘keeping it intimate’, Nick told us.
The impressive roof on Centre Court can close in 10 minutes, and allows play to continue in rain and at fall of darkness.
Some say it takes away the ambiance that many love of Wimbledon – rained-off play often meant a jolly few hours sitting and waiting for it all to start up again (and in some instances, getting spontaneously entertained by the likes of Cliff Richard)
What makes Centre Court even more magical is that unlike any of the other courts, no games are played on this court apart from Wimbledon tournament matches.
This means that to be allowed the chance to play on this court you must be one of the 600 competitors taking part each year.
The other courts
Court 1 is the tournament’s other ‘trophy’ court. Once again you will need a ticket to gain entry and if you have a ticket for towards the end of the 2 weeks you’re likely to be watching a pretty spectacular game.
This court currently doesn’t have a roof, so unfortunately you will be open to the elements, and play will stop if it rains.
The outside courts are accessible to anyone with a daily ‘ground pass’ ticket. These can be purchased by queuing up before the start of each day’s play (be warned, you will need to get there very early, if not the night before to gain entry) and while you’re likely to watch some of the earlier matches take place here, you never know who will be on court!
One of the great joys of having a ground pass is that you can visit any one of the outside courts throughout your day at Wimbledon.
The Players’ Complex
Once players have arrived at Wimbledon, where do they go? Many head to the outside practice courts to get in some last-minute hits and swings before their match, but others like to head to the dedicated Players’ Complex, where there’s a hairdressers, a physio and a canteen.
Unlike much of the All England Club this area seems very modern and will be buzzing with excitement and noise during the tournament.
The canteen and lounge area is in fact not as luxurious as you may think. The canteen is similar to what you would expect to find in your local office complex, and the lounge area and tea court is sparsely furnished.
“This area is exclusively for players” we were told by Nick. During the tournament it’s not accessible for match officials or similar.
The media and press room
If you’re not one of the lucky 500,000 who get to watch Wimbledon live and in person every year, then it’s likely that you’re one of the 1 billion who tune in from over 200 territories around the world.
To provide this coverage, broadcasters from around the world can hire ‘media pods’ that they can furnish in any way they want for the two weeks a year.
They are all located in the media centre, an area buzzing with activity during the tournament, but like a ghost town out of season.
As we walked the hallowed corridors you could see partially-built sets, as well as the famous BBC set used by Sue Barker and the rest of the BBC team.
Post-match, it’s customary for players to give an interview in the press room. And this isn’t something done by players because they choose to…
Not giving an interview post-match could result in a fine of thousands of pounds, Nick told us.
The press room itself is relatively large, allowing for broadcasters from around the world to file in and ask questions.
Top Tip – Henman Hill (or Murray Mound)
Not only is this the best place to catch all the action on the big screen, but the famous Wimbledon Hill is the perfect spot to sit back, drink a glass of champagne and watch the world go by. Come rain or shine, this hill is always rammed with spectators.
But if you avert your attention from the screens for one moment and look to your left, you will notice that you have a perfect view of central London. One well worth stopping for and soaking up on a clear day!
Desperate to get to Wimbledon but haven’t got tickets? Fear not.
Wimbledon offers tours of its grounds all year round (apart from in the run up to, and during the tournament itself). There’s also a restaurant on site that can be visited without the need for an entrance fee.
The museum is also well-worth a visit if you’re a big tennis fan!
The museum takes an in-depth look at Wimbledon and how it’s grown into the famous club that it is today – and it’s also the only place you will be able to see the winners’ trophies up close and personal.
These are not replicas, but the actual trophies (well worth the entrance fee to the museum!)
The restaurant is more of a basic canteen, but stocks great sandwiches, afternoon snacks, and of course strawberries.
Want to get tickets? Apply in the ballot, or be prepared to queue!
Each year there’s a ballot the general public can enter to get tickets to Court 1 or Centre Court. If, like most, you’re not successful, then your most likely option of getting into the tournament, is through queuing.
This is not for the faint-hearted. The British are renowned for their queuing prowess, and many turn up the Sunday night BEFORE play starts to secure tickets for later in the week. But fear not – the All England Club has devised a fantastic guide to queuing – available here.
Failing that (or if you don’t want to queue or you missed out on the ballot) Ticketmaster releases tickets around 48 hours before play for Centre Court & Court 1 seats.