Wimbledon is complicated this year.
As is just about every tournament, everywhere. Each day brings a new snapshot in terms of COVID restrictions.
So it will be awhile before Wimbledon knows how many people it can welcome to the All-England Club this year, as the tournament returns after being absent in 2020.
And it also will be awhile until they can discuss that crass issue of prize money. Because those two elements are intimately connected.
No more pandemic insurance
Wimbledon had pandemic insurance a year ago. So it was able to make the decision to cancel the tournament early – around this time last year.
It received a reported 174 million pound insurance payout – which went a long way towards balancing the budget. But that is not the case in 2021. And so the AELTC must do what every other tournament in the world has had to do – scramble, and adapt.
It must model every scenario imaginable, come up with a COVID-safe plan that will satisfy the government authorities – and hope for the best.
The AELTC announced during a Zoom conference Tuesday that it’s working on an expected fan capacity of 25 per cent for the 2021 event.
This year’s edition takes place from June 28 to July 11 (with the qualifying the week before).
New people in key roles
Spare a thought for a number of new people in new, critical roles at Wimbledon this year.
Because they are getting a baptism of fire.
Chairman Ian Hewitt, chief executive Sally Bolton, operations director Michelle Dite, head of professional Tennis and tournament director Jamie Baker and referee Gerry Armstrong are all new for 2021.
Wimbledon linespeople to stay
There will be electronic challenges on all the match courts this year.
But unlike many of the other tournaments, the line umpires – and their fabulous outfits – will remain.
There will be a serve clock both at the main event and the qualifying in Roehampton.
The grass seeding formula, which was used only for the men (with the women seeds being a judgment call) has finally been put to rest.
The seeds will follow the ATP and WTA Tour rankings. And since Roger Federer will all but assuredly remain in the top 10 in the rankings, no one there is sweating it too much. 🙂
Restrictions hopefully will be eased at Wimbledon
“But we will remain flexible as we await the outcome of the government’s Event Research Programme and clarity on the likelihood of restrictions relaxing beyond 21 June,” AELTC chief executive Sally Bolton said.
“We very much hope 25 per cent is a minimum position from which we can build – it is our absolute desire to enable as many people as possible to safely attend The Championships this year.”
Bolton said they want to “create the mix” of spectators for which Wimbledon is known while “also working hard to protect the financial performance of The Championships, including the surplus that we deliver for the benefit of British tennis.”
In other words, while they could keep a limited number of fans and them charge premium prices for the privilege, they also want to remember the regular folk if at all possible.
More courts to be ticketed
There won’t be nearly as much flexibility for fans to move around the bigger field courts and see their favorite players.
In addition to the ticketing of centre Court, No. 1 Court and No. 2 Court, fans will also need a ticket for No. 3, No. 12 and most people’s favorite, No. 18.
They will also be selling grounds passes.
There will be “some form” of social distancing. Which means that they likely will stagger the sold tickets to those courts.
And that also probably means they can’t let people pile up on the other field courts, as is usually the case – especially in those two hours before the two main stadiums open for play at 1 p.m.
They don’t know if the fans will require negative COVID tests – or even vaccines – to be able to attend. But they are “supportive” of the governments studies in that area.
Last year for the Middle Sunday
AELTC Chairman Ian Hewitt said that as of next year, 2022, Wimbledon will be a full 14-day tournament with no pause on the tradition (and much appreciated by the many who work there) middle Sunday.
“Thanks to improved grass court technology and maintenance over the past five years or so and other measures, we are comfortable that we are able to look after the courts, most particularly Centre Court, without a full day of rest,” he said.
But they key metric, of course, is revenue and television rights.
The AELTC statement:
“It has never been more important for sports events to be proactively taking steps to enhance their accessibility, in order to reach broader and more diverse audiences. Introducing an extra day to our schedule, on a Sunday, will enable us to do this at this important time.”
Manic Monday will no longer be as … Manic
And it’s doubtful that the permanent “Middle Sunday” will be like the crazy-fun ones improvised in years past out of necessity – 1991, 1997, 2004 and 2016.
But Hewitt said they would “create a different kind of atmosphere, with a strong focus on the local community in particular.”
Wimbledon typically gets these things just pitch-perfect. And while those on site will mourn the loss of a much-needed day away from the madness, the fans around the world watching on television and streams won’t have to go without their Wimbledon fix for 24 hours.
And, while “Manic Monday” won’t be what it was – arguably the best tennis day of the year – it will be better for the integrity of the competition in terms of fairness on rest days.