I sat down to write the first draft of this piece at around 11:00 AM on Monday 29th June. Traditionally I’d be sitting down in front of BBC Two and seeing the reassuring faces of Sue Barker and her team of pundits as they look ahead to the opening day’s play at Wimbledon and discuss the championships ahead. Given the Coronavirus pandemic and The Championships entirely correct decision to cancel this was not the case. The past several days has got me thinking about not only my personal experience attending Wimbledon as a spectator for nine of the last ten years (skipping 2012 and not counting 2019) but also its place within the British cultural landscape. At this point in 2020 it’s pretty much the only exposure tennis gets in the British mainstream beyond what Andy Murray happens to be doing at any one time. I wanted to reflect on this and share some of my own experiences regarding one of my favourite periods every year.
As Amazon comes close to having a monopoly on UK tennis coverage the role of Wimbledon in being the premier showcase of astounding players and their incredible athleticism becomes more important than ever. In large part this is down to the commitment the BBC makes every year in terms of its TV coverage. I feel comfortable in saying the BBC offer the best live tennis coverage around and the fact the talent of the many behind the scenes producers and camera operators only tends to get showcased for two weeks every summer is a massive shame. The majority of Tennis coverage places a static camera at one end of the court regardless of who might be serving. The BBC Wimbledon coverage generally does a good job of providing solid court coverage from a number of different angles. Compare this to French national broadcasters coverage of the French Open which very much falls into the static camera trap and you are looking at a clear difference in terms of providing the best experience for those watching at home. There’s also something to be said for how the BBC TV coverage provides a showcase for doubles and mixed doubles as well as the wheelchair events that the main tour simply do not offer. You only need to look at how wheelchair singles champion Dylan Allcot had to fight against the USTA when the wheelchair tournament was initially cancelled at the behind closed doors 2020 US Open for a good example of how the non singles events can be treated by other tournaments. Wimbledon is a fantastic showcase for all these events. As a wheelchair user the opportunity to watch some live wheelchair tennis has always been massively empowering. It showcases how incredible the athletes are in not the letting disability hold them back. If you’ve never had the opportunity to watch some professional wheelchair tennis, I urge you to go and look some up after finishing this article. it’s fantastic stuff.
All of this relates to the experience of watching Wimbledon through the TV and online coverage where there is still a certain sense of distance between the watcher and the action playing out on screen. What about the experience of being at the physical event? It’s easy to say going to a live event is a different experience to staying in and watching it on TV. I can’t think of a better exemplify of this fact then Wimbledon
There are effectively two different varieties of ticket that impact what visitors will have access on any to The Championships. First there’s is the ground pass ticket. this gives spectators access to whatever matches are being played on the outside courts for the specified day. This may sound like the lesser of the two options compared to show court tickets and in some ways it is but depending on the weather and the quality of matches on at any one time the experience of wandering around the grounds and finding out what players can be seen may prove a better experience. This is especially true during the first week where the ground pass has the most value during the opening rounds of the singles. As The Championships progress a ground pass has lesser value during the 2nd week as things start to wind down on the outside courts but these passes can still provide a fantastic introduction to Wimbledon as a live experience. Those that have got tickets through the wheelchair ballot (like myself) will have the added advantage of very solid accessibility system. just ask one of the many hard-working security guards around the complex or courts what match you want to see and they will do their best to get those that require additional accessibility needs the best view possible. It often comes across as getting the royal treatment and as someone who has had a number of different very varied experience with live event accessibility Wimbledon is the absolute best of the best. it’s worth noting that success in the accessible ballots also provides a printed access guide that’s a good introduction to the accessible facilities at Wimbledon. Wimbledon is also a member of the RADAR Key and visitors should bring one along if this is something, they have access to. One will be provided at the security gate if this is not the case.
Now it’s time for the big one. The show court live experience. The first thing to say is there as with any live event experiences will vary wildly based on seating location. I’m not afraid to say that I’ve had Centre Court tickets for a women’s final situated in the nosebleeds ( the wheelchair access seats at the very top of Centre Court covered by the roof) and while the experience and atmosphere of watching the crowd go silent before every point cannot be replicated anywhere it would have been easier to stay at home and watch the match on TV. In contrast a few years later I got courtside seats for the final between Serena Williams and Eugenie Bouchard and regardless of the match itself being rather uneventful the experience was unparalleled. in all my years of watching tennis live this was quite possibly my favourite experience down to the little details of being close enough to watch Sue Barker and the TV pundits completing their pre final coverage. I found over the years that Court One has the best wheelchair accessibility and seat locations for comfortable viewing. There’s a bank of accessible seating about halfway up the left stand that may not be courtside but the view is absolutely superb for spectators. These seats can be rather exposed so I would recommend making sure you have the correct provisions depending on what the forecast looks like for individual days when visiting. The atmosphere and general experience spectating at one of these courts during the heat of battle can’t be beaten. It can be a very long day if you want to see all the matches on offer for your show court tickets but it’s well worth it.
All of the things that make Wimbledon such a special experience both as a TV viewer and a live spectator. As with a large majority of 2020 things have gone the way of the dodo for the year. They will be back stronger than ever in 2021 and I hope to be back sooner rather than later taking in the sights sounds and smells of this wonderful event that I hope will continue enthralling generations of the UK public for decades to come.