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Taking in the tennis at Wimbledon last week was a peculiarly British experience. Pimms cup in one hand, strawberries and cream in the other, I sat 10 feet away from the players, dressed all in white (of course), and watched them bash a ball at each other for hours on the magnificently green courts.
On a few occasions, the crowd would respond to an amazing backhand passing shot down the line with a spirited “Hoorah!” This being Wimbledon, though, what I heard most of the day was just polite applause.
Then there’s the queue to even get into the championships. This is the fact that thousands of fans queue up (“line up” for you Yanks) at the break of dawn just for a chance to get tickets to the main courts or a day pass to the grounds. Some hardy folks even camp out over night. For tennis tickets. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge tennis fan, but this isn’t the Rolling Stones we’re talking about.
A “Guide to Queuing”
Queuing is part of the British identity—nobody complains about it, people just do it, and there are unspoken rules about how to do it. At Wimbledon, the organizers even hand out a “Guide to Queuing” that contains protocol for joining the queue.
For example, you are not allowed to reserve a place in the queue for your friend who slept in—he’ll have to go to the back of the line. And if you have to run to the toilet, you’re instructed to “negotiate your position with those around you and/or a steward.”
As I said, Brits take queuing seriously. But they also know how to make it enjoyable. Everyone around me was chatting with their neighbors, sprawled out on the grass in the sun. Picnic baskets came out; some people even cracked open beers (at 8 AM!). Every once in awhile, someone would come down the line selling newspapers.
On the ball for 2010
The championships may be wrapping up for this year, but it’s never too early to start planning for next. Here are my tips for queuing up, and avoiding the queue altogether:
Getting tickets through the ballot
Every year, a select number of tickets for the three show courts—Centre Court, Court 1 and Court 2—are sold in advance through a public ballot, or lottery. Entering is very “old school.” Anytime after Aug. 1, 2009, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to:
Ticket Office; AELTC; P.O. Box 98; London SW19 5AE; United Kingdom.
You’ll receive an application for the ballot, which you must complete and mail back by Dec. 31. You can’t download it from the website. You also can’t request specific dates or courts—lottery winners are picked at random. If you’re selected, you’ll receive notification by mail and then you’ll have to pay for the tickets online at wimbledon.org. (Prices vary by day and court, from £ 33 pounds ($54) for Court 2 in the early rounds to £ 100 ($164) for the finals on Centre Court.)
You can also try your luck by joining the queue on the day you want to attend. For show court tickets, you really need to camp out overnight to have a good shot. There’s a park near the Wimbledon grounds at the Southfields tube stop on the District Line where campers are permitted to set up their tents. Once you get your ticket in the morning, you can store your camping gear at the Left Luggage facility outside the grounds.
There are 6,000 grounds passes available for general sale each day, too. These tickets give you access to all 16 of the outer courts and are by far the best deal on the first few days of the tournament when you have a good chance of catching top players that haven’t been scheduled on the show courts. (They cost £ 20 pounds or $33 on these days.) Even though the grounds don’t open until 10:30 AM, you need to be at the park near the Southfields tube stop at 7:30 AM at the latest. Once you join the queue, you’ll receive a card guaranteeing your spot (and preventing queue-jumping). Two things to remember: You must pay with cash. And only one small bag will be permitted per person.