Wimbledon Village is festooned in the green and purple colours of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club as anticipation hangs in the air.
With less than 24 hours to go before the tournament begins, restaurants and bars hope Wimbledon fortnight will help replenish takings after the Covid-19 pandemic kept customers away, with thousands of fans set to descend on SW19.
Though the AELTC will be limiting spectators to half capacity until the finals, there is still the potential for brisk business for eateries and hostelries.
No effort has been spared to entice the public, with extravagant tennis-themed window displays incorporating balls, racquets, flowers, strawberries – everything Wimbledon, even Wombles.
The Thai Tho restaurant has one of the most eye-catching displays, with a giant tennis ball as its window centrepiece, while inside photographs of tennis players cover the walls. “We do it every year. We are really hoping for good business,” said staff member Ploy Hennessy. In the past, well-known players have been known to drop in.
But, while celebrity-spotting is one of the annual highlights for fans, this year they will be harder to find.
The strict AELTC rules stipulate players – and their reduced entourages – will stay in a bio-secure hotel in central London, travel to the grounds in private transport, and remain in bubbles.
The rules apply even if players live nearby, like Johanna Konta, the British No 1. “We’re staying in the middle of London, so it’s going to be quite interesting how that’s going to look going from Westminster to Wimbledon,” she told PA Media this week.
“I’m not sure anyone who booked where the hotel is knew the commute. It will be interesting driving past my home every day on the way to Wimbledon but the main thing is Wimbledon is going to be on and fans are going to be able to come and people are going to be able to enjoy it again, both in person and on TV.”
Joanna Doniger of the Tennis London agency, which rents out Wimbledon homes to stars as their owners temporarily move out to cash in on lucrative rentals, said: “There won’t be any celeb spotting. They will all be in blacked-out cars”
As for rentals, she said: “We are down by two-thirds. It’s not great. But last year it was nothing. Roll on 2022.”
No big properties have been rented this year, though international media have taken up smaller properties, with social distancing meaning there is often just one person in a property, she said.
Gone, too, is the queue, where fans camp out to secure last-minute tickets. Replaced by a virtual queue, ticket-holders must now prove vaccination or Covid-free status, which will curtail the ticket touts who usually line the routes from rail and tube stations to the club.
At the Rose and Crown, a pretty 17th-century former coaching inn at the heart of Wimbledon Village, the tennis will be screened, food and cocktails will be served in its bars and spacious garden, and landlady Nicky Green is keeping her fingers crossed. “We will see what happens. Let’s say it will be better than last year. We still have table reservations. No vertical drinking, but we will have walk-in as long as people check in on the NHS app.”
The cocktail menu includes a special strawberry gin spritz, with gin distilled by Wimbledon sponsors Sipsmith from strawberries grown for last year’s Wimbledon, which would otherwise have gone to waste when the tournament was cancelled. “We will be serving that. Hopefully lots of them,” she said.
Jacopo Filippone, manager of Sticks ‘n’ Sushi, a Japanese-Danish restaurant near Wimbledon station, said: ”Hopefully we will have good business. Let’s see.” As well as dine-in, fans can pick up a takeaway en route to the AELTC. “Fish on the grass,” reads the restaurant’s promotional window display. “Wimbledon is always a big thing for us,” Filippone said. “So, yes. We are excited.”
With restrictions still in place, it is not yet known what this means for “Henman Hill” inside the grounds. Fans, however, can enjoy their own virtual hill from the comfort of their living rooms as part of the online Wimbledon at Home experience.
A Wimbledon Virtual Hill allows fans around the globe to grab a spot, create and dress their avatar, and compete for prizes throughout the fortnight. “The aspiration is to extend the unique feeling of camaraderie that exists on the hill at Wimbledon beyond the borders of our grounds, and in so doing help to attract an audience beyond tennis,” the club said.