November 28, 2023

Wimbledon, England – It was almost 10pm and Richard Hess, an 81-year-old American, was sitting inside his small tent and cheerfully preparing for his last sleep-deprived night in Wimbledon queue.

“You caught me inflating my mattress,” he said, removing his graying head from the tent and offering his visitor a seat on a folding chair.

Hess is an English lover from Rancho Palos Verdes, California, who memorized the names of all English kings beginning with William the Conqueror before his first visit to Britain. He received his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of California, Berkeley, and played on the junior tennis circuit in California at the same time as Billie Jean King. He’s been lining up at Wimbledon since 1978: he first lined up on the sidewalks for tickets, and then, starting in the early 1990s, camped overnight with hundreds of other tennis fans in search of prime seats on the center court and other major viewing courts.

“When I was a kid, I asked my dad, what is the most important tournament in the world,” Hess said, “and he said, ‘Well, this is Wimbledon.

On his first day, watching him and his eldest daughter Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe play first-round matches, Hess had spent his last day at Wimbledon watching new Spanish star Carlos Alcaraz before returning to his tent and community.

“It’s not just tennis that keeps me coming back; Hess said.

Among those people is Lucy Nixon, 42, from Norfolk, England, who met Hess on her first day on the waiting list in 2002 and is now close enough friends that she’s called Hess and Jackie, his 60-year-old wife. for her wedding.

This year’s Wimbledon was an opportunity to reconnect after the tournament was canceled due to the pandemic in 2020 and was held without a queue in 2021 for health and safety reasons.

There was no doubt that she would return. In the world of online ticketing, the queue is clearly an anachronism, but then Wimbledon – with its grass pitches, all-white base for players and artificially low-priced strawberries and cream – is hugely anachronistic.

“Some people are traditional,” Nixon said. “It’s like, we’ve always done it this way, we’ve always had a queue, we’ll always have a queue. Then there are other people like, you know, let’s do what every other Grand Slam team is doing and sell tickets online and we’re done with that. “.

For now, the waiting list remains, although many other Wimbledon traditions do not.

“The queue isn’t here because it’s just something we’ve always done,” said Sally Bolton, chief executive of the All England Club. “The queue is here because it is about accessibility to the tournament. This is really an integral part of our tradition.”

Nixon, who has had plenty of time to reflect on these issues during his 20 years of waiting outside the club’s gates, has his “love and hate” on the queue.

“I have participated in other tennis tournaments in Europe and in Indian Wells, and as a private person I can go online with my regular phone and book tickets using my regular bank account,” she said. “It was a lot easier to do. You have to work for your Wimbledon tickets, so in a way, it kind of looks like, are they really progressive and inclusive? Or are they making little people work hard for the crumbs they’re going to get, which is a tiny amount of 1,500 tickets out of the thousands of tickets available for the main courts?”

The All England Club, which conducts the annual ticket lottery and also has season ticket holders, has a capacity of about 42,000 people. About 500 seats each in District Court, Court No. 1 and Court No. 2 are reserved for those on waiting list, who pay face value for tickets. Central Court and Courthouse No. 1 seats are low, near the action.

“That’s the real calling,” Hess said.

If you’re among the thousands on the queue who don’t get a main court ticket, you can still buy a pass to get into the outer courts, although the wait can be long if you’re in a deep queue or another night in a tent if you want. Try again to get a place in the main court.

It is not clear exactly when the queue at Wimbledon began, but according to Richard Jones, a British tennis historian and writer, there were news reports in 1927 of fans queuing at 5 am to get tickets. Night queuing was happening by the 1960s, becoming more common as did the Borg and McEnroe, and for 40 years it happened on the pier that the British called it ‘the pier’.

“I was always waiting to run over someone,” Hess said.

In 2008, the increasingly multilingual and night-time queue turned into a rustic queue: move on to Wimbledon Park, the vast green space opposite the All England Club across from Church Road. Tents are set up in numbered rows on the lawn near a lake. It’s a lot quieter but tightly controlled, more of a trailer park than an adventure. There are food trucks, unisex restrooms, a first-aid post, security guards, and plenty of stewards to keep order and put up the flag that signals the end of the queue for new arrivals.

Volunteers begin clearing campers soon after 5 a.m. to give them time to pack their gear and check it out in the huge white storage tent before queuing before the All England Club opens at 10 a.m.

“Four or five hours of sleep is a good night,” Hess said.

Prospective ticket holders will be issued a ticket with a number upon arrival at Wimbledon Park. The lower the number, the higher your priority, and on June 26, the first night to line up at Wimbledon in nearly three years, the first person in line to hold a “Q-card 00001” was Brent Pham, 32, a longtime property manager from Newport Beach, California.

Pham arrived in London on the Thursday before Wimbledon, bought a tent and an air mattress, and spent Friday night sleeping on the sidewalk and Saturday evening sleeping in a nearby field in a group of about 50 before the queue officially opened at 2pm on Sunday. He paid off with a guaranteed seat in the District Court.

said Pham, who carries a paper printed with a picture of his father, Huu, with him on the floor every day. “So at least his spirit is capable of being at Wimbledon,” he said.

In a typical year, getting into the Central Court daily from a waiting list would have been nearly impossible, but the queue numbers have dropped dramatically in the first four days of this year: about 6,000 per day instead of the usual 11,000. Possible factors included declining numbers of international visitors, accelerating inflation, changing habits due to the coronavirus and rain. Then there is Roger Federer. The eight-time Wimbledon champion has not played in the men’s singles for the first time since 1998.

“During Federer’s years there were a lot of people camping for two nights to see Roger,” Hess said. “They would see his match, go right out, set up their tent – there might be 200 of them – and sleep two nights for his next match.”

Hess has spent more than 250 nights queuing and will score another 10 this year. Long ago, he set a goal of queuing until he was 80. The epidemic delayed the achievement, but he succeeded in achieving it.

“Now I’m reassessing,” he said, before returning to his uninflated air mattress. “But I expect to return next year.”

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