Wimbledon Tours at The All England Lawn Tennis Club
For tennis fans like myself, Wimbledon is the Holy Grail of tennis tournaments. The grass, the dress code, the intimate stadiums, and the presence of royals make it a very unique tournament. I've only ever been able to watch it on T.V., and unfortunately our time in London was just a few weeks too late to see it in person. However, the wedding we were in London to attend happened to be in the suburb of Wimbledon and actually took place in the church you see in the background of stadium shots in the television broadcast of the tournament. So, we took the opportunity to visit the club and take a tour. The tournament is actually called "The Championships" and is hosted annually by The All England Lawn Tennis Club located in Wimbledon. For all but 2 weeks of the year (during the tournament itself), the club offers guided tours and a museum filled with tennis memorabilia. As with everything in the UK for us Americans, the museum and tour are a bit pricey. Current prices are £12 for just the museum and £22 for both the museum and the tour (at the time, £22 was about $37 USD). There is no "tour only" price. If you're going to pay £12 for just the museum, you might as well fork over the additional £10 and get the tour. The Wimbledon museum is nice, but there isn't a lot to see other than the trophies (which were cool), and let's be honest, you're there to see Centre Court, right?
Booking a spot on a tour is easy. Just visit the Wimbledon website and click on "Guided Tours". The site will list available times and how many slots are available. Simply click through to book; you'll pay when you get to the club. If you're trying to get a same-day tour, there is a phone number on the site to call. We did this first and were able to book a slot within a few hours, but had to cancel before eventually booking online a few days later.
The tour, though a little lengthy for Eleanor's taste, turned out to be well worth the price of admission. The guide was a proper English woman who gave us lots of info about the club. Only about 500 memberships exist and at a cost of only $100 / year (!!). Of course, getting on that list is next to impossible. The joke amongst the members is that the easiest way to get a membership is to win the tournament. Hah!
The first stop on the tour was Court 1, the second largest "show" court next to Centre Court. I was immediately struck by how small it was and the realization of how close one must feel to the players even in the highest seats. We sat in the stands because, as with the entire club, touching the grass was strictly forbidden. It was at some point while the tour guide told us about Court 1 (she had a lot to say) that Eleanor's usual antics began to get the attention of the assistant guide who we think was responsible for keeping the guests from sneaking off and snatching a blade of grass from the precious lawn. Rather than scold us for having a noisy toddler, Keith took a liking to Eleanor and to us. He hung back with us throughout the tour and gave us little tidbits of info we wouldn't have gotten from the tour guide. This was much appreciated, especially since we spent most of the time corralling Eleanor and missed a lot of what the guide said. Keith became one of those people one meets while traveling. Our paths will likely never cross again, but we're glad the universe brought us together for that brief time.
The tour continued to Henman Hill, which we learned is actually named "Aorangi Terrace" (I see why nobody calls it that). Next we passed Court 18, the court where the American John Isner played the longest match in tennis history against the Frenchman Nicolas Mahut. The match lasted 11 hours and 5 minutes over the course of 3 days. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to take a picture of the court because there were members playing on it. We were informed at the beginning of the tour that anyone in a white shirt would be a member of the club as was not to be photographed.
After passing through a series of corridors that contained broadcast booths and control rooms of different television channels around the world, we were ushered into the press room where players are interviewed throughout the tournament. It looked mostly as I expected, but again smaller than its appearance on television. We got a few photos there and then we were off through a few more press rooms, up through the players' cafe, back outside, and finally to Centre Court.
The grass on the court was fresh, having just been replaced after the 2 week tournament had worn the baseline down to dirt. I remembered sitting in Deanna's parent's house watching the final between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. The score was still on the board; apparently it will be until next year's tournament begins. I looked around and thought how awesome it must be to sit in those seats and watch a match. I thought especially of the 2008 final between Federer and Nadal, in which Nadal won after a long match that also suffered a few weather delays. I could remember Nadal climbing into the stands in the dark, camera flashes flashing. I looked at the broadcast booth where John McEnroe sits to call the game and the royal box where Will and Kate had enjoyed the 2014 final. For a tennis fan, it was really something to see and if I had paid £22 for 5 minutes in that stadium, it would have been worth it.