It’s been an awfully long time since I last attended an actual in-person sporting event, so it was great to be able to get a ticket to Wimbledon this year. Prior to the pandemic Wimbledon had finally gone digital in their ticket allocation. Previously, to enter the public ballot, you had to send away for a form and submit it Wimbledon prior to Christmas the year ahead specifying what tickets you would accept. It kept the touts at bay to a certain extent, but it required a lot of planning. But the organisers worked to create a new digital way to replicate the previous system and I signed up for it.
Then the pandemic hit.
Wimbledon famously weathered the storm of Covid better than just about any other sports organisation or tournament. They had famously actually paid for pandemic insurance. So they didn’t lose out, and neither did many players who might have played at a 2020 tournament.
A year on, and the organisers had to play it carefully with respect to crowds, and couldn’t until very late in the day, work out how they would sell tickets to the public, and how many. The tournament is officially a ‘test’ event meaning that everyone attending is in some way a guinea pig. I bought my tickets quite late, only remembering to go online a couple of hours after tickets first went on sale. So I was surprised that I could get a ticket to No. 1 Court in the opening week (when I figured that bigger players would be more spread around the courts).
To attend you had to either provide proof via the NHS App (nb. not the NHS Covid App), that you had received both your Covid jabs, or provide proof of a recent Covid lateral flow test.
To be honest, the check was pretty – how should I put it – relaxed. In the quick queue, someone checked your phone to see proof. But the barcode generated by the NHS App was barely scrutinised, let alone scanned. And if you just waved a text of your NHS lateral flow test? Well there is little to stop someone falsifying a result.
They did scan the barcode for my ticket, and then there was a bag search. I’d carefully read the rules about cameras. No lenses bigger than 300mm are allowed! (To be fair, I think that’s because that size of lens will get in the way of anyone sitting next to you, or indeed, in front of you).
Finally there was a wand scan – although when I passed through, they only scanned the men!
Now I had been led to believe that the idea was that when you moved around the grounds, you wore a mask, but could take it off in your seat. Mask wearers were very much in the minority however. Yes, it’s all outdoors (aside from when the roof is closed on the show courts), but it’s still fairly busy even at a reduced capacity.
People did seem to don their masks when they bought food and drink from the concessions or went into the various shops. But you wouldn’t necessarily know from being there that there was a pandemic.
The other interesting thing was the seating. I went to the tournament via train and tube, and public transport was as busy as I’d seen it, even though I only left home at 10am. But inside the ground, there were no gaps between seats.
I was inside by midday, but the first match on No. 1 Court didn’t start until 1pm, so I went for a wander and got onto Court 16 to watch the end of a women’s match and the start of a men’s fixture. These outside courts have unallocated seating, and there are no gaps.
That all said, I didn’t feel unsafe as I watched Karolina Muchova beat Shauai Zhang, and then Sam Querrey take on Pablo Carreno Busta (who he would beat). Anyway, I got some good pictures being so close. Thank goodness the Sony A7 has a “Silent” mode which makes you much less annoying to others near you!
Then I moved inside to my No. 1 Court seat. Although the tournament was at 50% capacity, it seems that they’d just filled the ground with the front 50% of seats. All the empty spaces were right at the back. Of course, with many hours of play on court, people do come and go a lot.
First up on court was number 3 seed Elina Svitolina taking on Alison Van Uytvanck. At first it looked like Svitolina would win easily, but Van Uytvanck took the second set before Svitolina got on top of things and finished it off.
Then we got the resumption of a match that had been stopped at 11pm the night before. “Bad boy” Nick Kyrgios was 3-3 in the fifth set against Ugo Humbert. Kyrgios was the crowd favourite and loved the atmosphere on court playing up to the crowd. He eventually overcame his opponent to get through to the second round.
Dan Evans is seeded 22 and is one of Britain’s top players. He was taking on Dusan Lajovic who is number 42 in the world. Theoretically a close tie, but Evans won relatively comfortably in front of a home crowd, not that the love is anything like that of Murray. Murray was playing at the same time on Centre Court, although his game ran late into the evening, and was still finishing when I got home later on!
Finally, Venus Williams’ second round game was against the 21 seed Ons Jabeur. While her status isn’t what it once was, as recently as 2017 she was runner-up, and of course has won the tournament many times. She lost the first set 7-5, but was looking increasingly laboured against her much younger opponent, and lost the second 6-0.
One important thing to think about if you’re totally reliant on mobile phones for ticketing, is whether people have mobile access while they’re at the sports ground. As a regular attendee at football grounds, I know that phone networks get overloaded when 60,000 arrive for a couple of hours and then leave. The infrastructure is never enough to cope. But Wimbledon (at least with my cellular provider) was absolutely fine. I didn’t try live streaming, but everything else was just fine. That’s important when you need to show your ticket again every time you leave your seat for any reason. At a gig, for example, you only tend to need to show your ticket on entry to the venue. Once in, you’re in.
Overall, a good day out, and despite everything, I felt safe. But that’s probably because all but the youngest attendees are likely to have had their jabs. Wimbledon tends to have an older rather than younger set of fans which helps.
It was lovely to get out!