Wimbledon, the world's oldest and most revered tennis tournament, can also be one of the priciest. A guaranteed ticket to see the big names play on Centre Court can cost anywhere from several hundreds to more than £5,000 (about $6,300).
But there are ways to get affordable, and incredible, seats. One option is to enter the public ballot, which randomly selects applicants and offers tickets to the show courts (Centre Court, No. 1 Court and No. 2 Court) at a reasonable price: £56 for the first day of play up to £190 for the final Sunday (about $70-$240). The only catch is that you don't get to choose the date you go or the match you see.
The ballot also tends to be oversubscribed, as I learned firsthand: Knowing that we'd be in London during the 2018 tournament, my two brothers and I put our names in. None of us were selected. So we tried another option, queuing for tickets, which can land you affordable tickets on the day of play: You'll pay between £43 and £160 (about $54-$202) to get on one of the show courts. For professional tennis matches, that's a steal.
You just have to be willing to wait in line overnight. There are a limited number of tickets available each day, and the earlier you join the queue, the better your odds of getting one.
I waited 25 hours, but scored sixth-row seats on the main court, Centre Court, for just over £100, or about $125. Here's what the experience was like.
Armed with a pop-up tent and snacks from Aldi, sheets and pillows from our Airbnb in London, changes of clothes and toiletries, my brother, a friend and I arrive at the queue at 9:30 a.m. on the first Thursday of the two-week long tournament.
The line starts in Wimbledon Park, which is adjacent to the All England Club where the tournament is played. It's marked by a big flag and managed by a team of stewards, who are available 24 hours a day to answer your questions. They check in with each tent periodically to prevent "queue jumpers" and make sure no one has left the line for long periods of time.
Having arrived 25 hours before the full grounds open at 10:30 a.m., we feel pretty good about our chances of getting Centre Court tickets, but there are seemingly hundreds of people already waiting.
About 500 tickets are handed out for each of the show courts every day. That means, we assume, that we have to be among the first 500 to secure Centre Court tickets.
We can't judge what position we're in, but our tent neighbors John and Charlie, a father-daughter duo from Worcestershire, think we're in a good spot. It's their 22nd year queuing up and it shows: They have individual tents outfitted with air mattresses and sleeping bags, recliner lawn chairs, a pop up table, coolers for their food and drinks and an iPad to stream the live matches.
Our other neighbors, a group from Seattle, have a similarly impressive set-up, with lawn chairs, an inflatable lounger and a camping cot.
While not as comfortable, our campsite is highly economical: We spent £37 (about $47) between the three of us (about £13, or $16, per person) on a pop-up tent, snacks for the day and a garden tennis set for entertainment.
About an hour after we pitch our pop-up tent, the stewards come around with queue cards, which are dated and numbered to show your position in line. We're handed cards No. 502, 503 and 504.
It seems like we've just missed the cut for Centre Court, but John and Charlie assure us we shouldn't worry because they, along with other people in front of us, are actually queuing up for Saturday — meaning, when we enter the grounds the next day on Friday, they'll stay behind in the queue, camp out for a second night and be among the first in line to get seats for Saturday.
Knowing that we have a good shot at being on the main court the next day, we relax and enjoy the 85-degree weather along with the thousands of other fans in the queue. People play lawn games, lounge in the sun, crack open beers and socialize. Not once does it feel like we are waiting in a line.
The garden tennis set helps pass the time and also makes us some new friends.
We bring enough snacks to last the day, but there are food vendors set up in the park, plus plenty of restaurants, markets and convenience stores within walking distance.
There are also water spigots, where you can fill up water bottles, and bathrooms on site.
Around 8 p.m., John and Charlie pack up one of their coolers and head to a friend's tent "to party," they tell us. Over the two decades they've been camping out at Wimbledon, they've made quite a few connections.
They return with three Pimm's cups, one for each of us, made with fresh strawberries, oranges and mint. John and Charlie embody the general vibe in the queue: Everyone is warm, welcoming and in high spirits, including the stewards, who are all unpaid volunteers.
People head into their tents when it gets dark out, around 10 p.m. This is when our ill-preparedness really starts to show. Our tent is made for two, not three, and quarters are tight. Plus, we aren't equipped for the temperature drop, but we make it through the night.
The stewards start waking people up between 5:30 and 6 a.m. to dismantle camping equipment. That's an easy task for our group.
We decide to toss our cheap tent, but you have the option of checking one for £5 (around $6). You can also store any luggage you don't want to carry around the grounds for £1 (around $1.25) per bag.
After packing up our few supplies, we grab our first coffee of the day and find my older brother and his fiancée in the queue. They'd arrived around 5:45 a.m. and were about 3,600th in line, a good enough position to secure them grounds passes — essentially a general admission ticket that offers access to all of the courts besides the show courts — for £25, which is around $32.
You're expected to be back in line with your area cleaned up by 7 a.m. Around this time, the line tightens up and we start snaking our way through the park and towards the turnstiles, where we'll purchase our tickets.
This is when things start to get exciting. For starters, everyone gets a free donut.
The path to the ticket booths is lined with coffee stands and television screens showing Wimbledon highlights and player interviews. We pass through gates like these.
There's even a mini tennis court set up along the way.
Around 8 a.m., stewards come by with wristbands that correspond with each show court. The number of wristbands issued matches the quantity of tickets available for each court that day. We request Centre Court and each get a blue wristband.
We go through TSA-style security around 9:30 a.m. and, just before 10 a.m., we make it to the ticket booth. We're among the last people in line to get Centre Court tickets, but still end up with three seats together for £102 apiece, which is around $127. Today, the first Friday of the tournament, No. 1 Court tickets are going for £78 (about $99) and No. 2 for £64 (about $81). They'll get more expensive as the tournament goes on.
This is the first year you can buy tickets with a credit or debit card, which we didn't know, so we pay in cash.
By 10 a.m., we're in the grounds. By 10:15 a.m., we've already made a few purchases.
Centre Court matches don't start until 1:00 p.m., so we head to Court 14 to catch some doubles action. Seats on all of the side courts are available to everyone on the grounds on a first come, first serve basis. If you're lucky enough to snag a seat, you'll be so close to the action you'll feel like you're in the match.
A little before 1:00 p.m., we head to Centre Court. John and Charlie had told us we'd be close to the court, but we couldn't have imagined we'd be just six rows away from the hallowed turf. Seats don't get much better than this.
The lineup could not have been better, either. We see Gael Monfils take down Sam Querrey in four sets. Next up is perhaps the greatest player of all time: Serena Williams.
And for the final match of the day, we see another legend: Roger Federer.
In total, I spend just under £175: £13 for the camping supplies from Aldi, another £15 for additional snacks and coffee purchased in the queue, £102 for the ticket, £23 for a Wimbledon hat and £20 on food and drinks inside the grounds.
That's about $220. Not bad for eight hours of up-close, world-class tennis on the most revered court in tennis. Especially considering the value of our seats at any other Grand Slam. At the U.S. Open, the next major tournament, courtside tickets were already going for over $1,000 on Ticketmaster in 2018.
We stop by the queue on our way out to say goodbye to John and Charlie. They are among the first 20 people lined up for Saturday's matches. We thank them for their kindness and insider tips and assure them we'll be back. Next time, we promise, we'll be the ones supplying the Pimm's cups.
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