The world's greatest tennis tournament may be known for elite athletes, celebrity spectators and strawberries and cream, but for many Wimbledon is also about queuing, tents and takeaways. It's one of the few sporting events that holds premium tickets to be sold on the day of play, and a little knowledge and patience can land you a courtside seat for some of the tournament's biggest matches.
The Championships have been held since 1877, and tennis's oldest tournament is steeped in history and tradition. The two-week event, hosted by the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, begins this year on Monday July 2. It's watched by millions around the world, and by up to 39,000 spectators each day. You can become one of the latter by joining a Queue so important it gets its own capital letter, either on the day of play or (for the very best tickets) the day before, or by entering the ballot.
Choosing a day
Every day at the Championships there are thousands of 'Grounds Admission' passes available, allowing incredibly close access to all 16 of the non-ticketed 'outside' courts. And during each of the first nine days of play, there are also 500 or so of the best courtside seats within the famed Centre Court held for sale (with similar allocations for Court 1 and Court 2). The tickets for these three 'show' courts are good for the entire day, which typically means three matches. Unsurprisingly, there is no shortage of interest.
Whether you are longing to see your favourite player in action, or more interested in simply taking in the historic atmosphere of Wimbledon's most celebrated court, keep in mind that ticket prices for show courts increase each successive day. The cost of a seat on Centre Court rises from £60 on the opening Monday to £145 on the Wednesday of the second week (the last day seats are set aside for on-the-day sales). The busiest times for queuing tend to be for play on the two Mondays – the first Monday includes the tournament opener, which features the reigning men's champion on Centre Court; the second is marked by women's and men's fourth round matches. It's important to note that there is no scheduled play on the middle Sunday.
To find out where (and roughly when) particular players are on court, search the following day's scheduled matches on the Order of Play, which is published on the tournament's website (wimbledon.org) each evening. Foul weather can scupper the best-laid plans, unless they involve Centre Court – its retractable roof has guaranteed play since 2009.
On a budget: the grounds pass and resale tickets
If budget is key, the most affordable option is the grounds pass. During the first six days of play, when the 'outside' courts are alive with big names, the pass costs just £25. Prices drop after 5pm and during the second week when fewer matches are on display. Whenever you are inside the grounds, however, you can always choose to roll the dice for random seats on the show courts. It involves turning your back on the surrounding action and queuing at the ticket kiosk atop Henman Hill (aka Murray Mound). It resells tickets that have been handed in by their owners as they leave for the day, with proceeds going to charity (Centre Court tickets cost just £10).
Queuing is a marvellous British institution and, as one would expect at the All England Club, it is done with style and grace. If you hope to purchase tickets on the day, head to the lush lawns of Wimbledon Park (opposite the All England Club), where charming stewards politely guide visitors into the Queue. Once the embossed queue card is in hand, it's simply a waiting game.
You can arrive throughout the day if you're hoping to procure grounds passes, but it's advisable to get in line a few hours before the grounds open at 9.30am if you want to catch a full day of matches. It is possible to fit in a full day of work and still catch some evening matches if you arrive shortly after 5pm, though this depends on the weather (it's less busy when cloudy) and who is on court (Federer, Nadal and Serena Williams clog the turnstiles).
The demand for Centre Court and Court 1 tickets is such that it is necessary to join the Queue the day before play (by 7am for a chance at Centre Court) – come prepared with toiletries, tent, mattress and sleeping bag. Campers are well catered for on the lawns, with numerous toilets and various options for hot food, including patrolling salespeople for takeaways (they deliver right to the park gate). Once you've set up camp you can enjoy the park's surroundings (weather permitting) – throw a Frisbee, play football, or simply lounge on the grass by your tent with a good book. It's also possible to nip into Southfields for a coffee, quick meal or to buy groceries, but check in with a steward beforehand.
The morning after
Wimbledon in early summer may not look like Christmas, but to the thousand or so people pulling themselves from their sleeping bags it certainly feels like that way. It doesn't matter that the cheery blue-blazer brigade of stewards woke them at precisely 6am, or if they had a poor night's sleep. Excitement and anticipation is everywhere. After the tents have come down and camping kit has been safely stored in the park's left luggage facility, coloured wristbands are issued for each of the show courts. If you're in the first 500 in The Queue your choice of court is almost guaranteed, while those further down are relying on a little luck.
As everyone is now aware who they'll be watching on court, the enthusiasm continues to build within the lines of soon-to-be spectators as they meander closer and closer to the entry gates. Crucially, cash is the order of the day as tickets cannot be purchased with debit or credit cards. With cash gone, tickets in hand and giggles in tow, you should spill through the turnstiles and into the grounds at 10.30am. Matches begin on the outside courts at 11.30am, with show courts starting at 1pm.
Stroll around the outside courts to absorb the atmosphere, whether observing the likes of Federer and Sharapova warming up, or by watching other players doing battle on the grass in early matches. As 1pm approaches, take a big breath and walk into tennis' most hallowed ground. Despite all internal oohing and ahhing as your eyes race around the historic surroundings, you'll soon locate your seat. Yes, that seat. Serve's up!
Taking your chances
The Championships also runs two public ballots each year, one for UK residents and the other for overseas visitors. These distribute tickets in a lottery format, with a small fraction of applicants being offered tickets. Those who are successful are given no choice of what day or what court they will offered, however. Applications for the ballot forms must postmarked no later than 15 December the preceding year, and completed forms must be returned by 31 December. Limited numbers of show court tickets are also released each day on Ticketmaster (ticketmaster.co.uk). If time is short and money is no object, you can buy resale Debenture Seating tickets, which start from £875 (wimbledondebentures.com).
This article was first published in June 2015 and was updated by Matt Phillips in July 2018.