The first glimpse of all-white attire, and the polite golf (tennis?) claps of approval, will finally be heard on Monday morning at the Bank of England Sports Ground.
The Wimbledon men’s qualifying will get under way. The women begin on Tuesday.
And for the first time, one court will be livestreamed around the world and on the Wimbledon web site.
Fans who have never been to Roehampton (and that’s most people; until this year, it has been free of charge to enter and the crowds have been … intimate) will finally get to see what it’s all about.
The crowds likely will be bigger, with all the “improvements”. But not only did the fans have to pay, they had to order their tickets online – well in advance.
Let’s just say up front that Wimbledon rarely puts a step wrong in organizing, building, security – anything. So we’ll keep the faith that they have thought of every eventuality, and that this revamped event will run as smoothly as everything else they do.
However … there are concerns.
The good old days
Here’s a taste of what it looked like a couple of years ago.
This year, one court will have significant stand seating (just under 1,000 total tickets will be sold each day). The matches from that court will be the only ones streamed. But it’s likely, as part of the production, that they will show action from other courts.
And, of course, because society having become what it is, there will be lineups for security checks before going in. And there is only one entrance into the venue.
Also: there are rules now. Strict rules. All of following are are forbidden:
Is change good? We’ll see
Until now, the Roehampton qualifying was one of the simple pleasures in tennis. A real throwback.
Wimbledon is the only major not to have its qualifying at the same site as the main event – for obvious reasons pertaining to the wear and tear on the grass.
There weren’t enough bathrooms. There was nothing decent to eat (even the players scrambled at times with the lack of amenities). But you could just wander in and out – or not; no one bothered you. Nobody checked you.
You could just walk around the courts at will. And you could decide on the spur of the moment to just go, if you lived in the London area and had a free day.
Now, unless you planned it well in advance and had high-speed Internet, you are out of luck. Plus, there are strict rules about transferring the tickets. There are many things you can’t use them for. There were limits on how many you could buy. There are a total of 36 clauses and stipulations people must abide by.
The cost of the ticket is only five pounds each. And it all goes to Wimbledon’s charity.
But it’s more the advance planning and Internet machinations to wangle a pair of tickets that are the biggest thing.
Did you want four – for you, your spouse and your two kids over the age of five? Let’s hope you got lucky, or had a coordinated plan of attack.
Bad bounces part of the challenge
The “courts” at the Bank of England Sports Ground basically appear out of nowhere. They paint lines and put up fencing and green wind screens on a flat field, and off they go.
Well, sort of flat. Flat-ish. Except when a player needs a good bounce. The luxury of making the main draw, with the perfectly manicured courts not far away at the All-England Club, is but a dream at this stage.
The other issue – until this year – was the lack of inflatable court covers. And that meant that when it rained – and when hasn’t it rained? – it took a lot longer to get the courts ready for play. That made long days even longer.
As of this year, there will be two inflatable covers. And they have plans to have a dozen on the match courts by 2018. That’s a good thing.
Any seats available?
Checking in with Ticketmaster, Wimbledon’s official online ticket seller, all four scheduled days of qualifying are sold out. (It’s always possible they may play on Friday as well. Because the weather doesn’t look cooperative. But there are no refunds for any reason. So there could be a mad scramble on Thursday night for a Friday session).
The tickets weren’t sold under false pretenses. But obviously interest surged at the time, because of the expected presence of former champion Maria Sharapova.
Now, with her out, it’ll be interesting to see if the people who snapped up all the tickets will actually come.
The location is a complete pain in the butt to get to. And there’s no parking.
Looking at the Wimbledon web site archive, there never were any stated rules in previous years about what you could bring onto the site. And there is no “left luggage” facility this year.
So a lot of people are going to be caught flat-footed by all this.
Perhaps habitués of the main event at Wimbledon expect all of the restrictions. But the qualifying has always catered to a rather different crowd. It’s a good bet that very few of them have ever darkened the doorstep of the All-England Club.
The whole after-the-fact procedure for accrediting media, after the initial curiosity on the opening day about all the changes., may also now have been for naught.
There typically wasn’t much media there on any given day, with the exception of some television cameras. With two weeks of hard slogging still to come and some main-draw players already at the All-England Club practicing the qualifying was, on the whole, left alone.
As well, the same strict rules now apply at Roehampton for media that don’t have broadcast rights. As with actual tournament, no video. The fans can shoot. But the media can’t.
Previously, other media could gather plenty of material at Roehampton that would give the fans at home a sense of what the event was like. They would take video of lesser-known players who wouldn’t get any attention or exposure otherwise. And EVERY player has fans, particularly from their own countries.
No one bothered anyone. You didn’t even really need a credential.
If some fans don’t use their tickets, you wonder what they’ll do with them given the severe restrictions outlined above. There don’t seem to be any for sale at the moment on any of the secondary-market sites like SeatWave, StubHub or ViaGogo.
The regulars, who are used to the venue being pretty relaxed, might prefer to wander around all the other courts. Or perhaps they’ll want to watch on the new giant screen setup.
Fans can be strange that way – watching an event on a big screen that’s happening just a few hundred feet away, that they could get in to see live.
The streamed court will no doubt have the standard strict fan movement: changeovers and set breaks only. Very possibly there might be a lineup to get in, depending on who’s playing.
Given the Monday order of play above, it’s more than likely – other than the Willis match – that many will gather where they have in the past, around Court 16.
Best matches on Court 16
Court 16 is the closest one to the clubhouse facilities (and the bathrooms). There’s a hill along one side where people chill out. At the top of that hill there’s a walkway where fans would set up their portable chairs – and whatever other chairs they could get their hands on. Hopefully the portable chairs won’t be confiscated at the security checks. But given those rules, that’s wishful thinking.
That walkway now will be the only way to access the streamed court with the seating. Court No. 11 is all the way at the back of the complex. So that seating option may also go by the wayside for the sake of traffic movement, and people’s safety.
Court 16 will have lot of Brits Monday. They also will be playing on the two closest courts to it, No. 14 and No. 15.
Here’s the plan of the Bank of England Sports Ground site.
Monday matches to watch
 Santiago Giraldo (COL) vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE)
 Tennys Sandgren (USA) vs. Michael Mmoh (USA)
 Sergiy Stakhovsky (UKR) vs. Kenny De Schepper (FRA) (Stakhovsky shocked Federer in the second round in 2013)
 Reilly Opelka (USA) vs. Rajeev Ram (USA) (Opelka won the juniors in 2015)
 Alex de Minaur (AUS) vs. Jurgen Melzer (2016 junior finalist vs. former doubles champ)
 Taylor Fritz (USA) vs. Marco Chiudinelli (SUI)
Lukas Rosol (CZE) vs. Jason Jung (TPE) (Rosol upset Rafael Nadal in the second round in 2012; he’s not even seeded this year)
Sam Groth (AUS) vs. Simone Bolelli (ITA) (Streamed)
Well, what did you expect?
It looks like Monday will be a perfect day. So at least they will get the first round of men’s qualifying out of the way.
The women begin Tuesday.
And Tennis.Life will be on site as of … Tuesday morning.
Let’s cross our fingers.