Thursday, May 15, 2014

Queuing for Wimbledon tickets

The following events take place between 11.30am Saturday June 30th, 2013 and 1.15pm Monday July 1st, 2013 J In a tennis fan’s terms, between the 1st Saturday and 2nd Monday of Wimbledon 2013.

I already had tickets for the 2nd Tuesday. I got them thru the ballot. I hope you already know how the ballot process works. If not, check out Wimbledon.org. I really wanted to go to the 2nd Monday. So I decided to camp for tickets. I got off the plane at 11.30am on Saturday. I was supposed to reach Friday but the original flight was canceled due to a storm in Louisville, KY (where I live) and I ended up reaching Saturday. As if that wasn’t enough, my luggage that had the tent and sleeping bag in it did not arrive. By the time I finished filing the missed baggage report and headed for the room, it was 1pm. 

I had booked the room thru AirBnB. The room was near the East Putney tube station. East Putney is one stop before Southfields. Southfields is the stop to get off for Wimbledon. Even though there is a Wimbledon tube stop after Southfields, the Southfields stop is more convenient to go to the courts. I arrived at the East Putney stop at 2pm. My cousin was waiting there. He lives in London and I had asked him to meet me there. It's a small station so it was easy to spot him. The room was a 5min walk from the station. It's an apartment building. It had 3 rooms and there were 2 other guests. It's not like a hotel, more like living in an apt where you have to bring your own things. I sort of expected this and brought my towel, etc. I booked the room only for those two days that I was going to camp for tickets and I was going to move to a hotel after that.

After a quick shower, I set out with my cousin to buy a make-do tent. He took me to a sports shop (I don’t remember the name) where we got a pop-up tent on sale for 20 pounds. I also got a sleeping bag for 15 pounds. My cousin said he didn't need one.

We headed out at 4.30pm, got off at Southfields station and walked towards the queue. It's hardly a 10 min walk from the station. After you get off the station, you have to go right. They have directions; you can always ask some one. The station itself is laid out in green carpet for Wimbledon like a putting course. As you walk towards the queue, you will see signs that tell you to go straight if you already have tickets and to go left if you don’t have tickets. The queue is in a big park (I think it’s called Wimbledon park) to the left as you walk. Really, it’s very obvious with a lot of stewards at the entrance and you don’t have to worry about missing it.

You can ask the stewards where the queue is and they will point you towards it. There are food stalls that you can see from the gate. The queue is to the right of those stalls. When you go there, there will be even more stewards and you can ask them where to join the queue. Its better you ask them since there is another queue with people standing. This is the queue for people trying to get the evening tickets for that day. Remember this - when in doubt, ask a steward J

We asked how many people were ahead of us and were told that we were probably in the 400s. We were ecstatic, since that meant we would get the choice for center court tickets. I hope you already know that 500 tickets are sold to each of the show courts every day for those in the queue. So if you want to guarantee a center court ticket, you need to be in the first 500. Some of the first 500 will opt for court 1. So even if you are not in the first 500, you may still get a center court ticket. If Murray is scheduled to play on court 1, it's quite possible that 400 of the 500 will opt for court 1. Also, we were in the queue for tickets to the 2nd Monday, which is considered as the best day of tennis in the entire year since all the men’s and women’s round of 16 matches happen on the same day.

We went to the end of the queue, laid our things down and sat. We started talking to the people next to us. Just behind us was a couple from New Zealand who live in London. They had done this 4-5 times in the past. In fact, most people we talked to had queued at least once before. Another guy close by was listening to the matches on the radio. Within a few minutes a steward came by and told us to set up our tents. The pop up tent was really easy to set up. As long as it doesn't rain, it does its job. Luckily for us, there was no rain expected.

By the time we were done setting up the tent, a steward started handing over queue cards. These are the cards that tell you what position you are in the queue. They are extremely important since you need to show them before purchasing the tickets. We were 436 and 437. 

You can leave the queue for a break. If you are with someone else, one of you can go away for 2-3 hours while the other is still there. No one is going to notice. Our neighbors told us both of them would be gone for a while and returned after an hour. We spent the evening playing cards. My cousin went to get some food and drinks for us. The instructions say there is a limit to what you can take inside the park but no one really cares.

One very important detail. The toilets are in the park itself at the other end. The urinals are pretty clean but I am not sure about the toilets. They were ok I guess. Since I had the option to go to the room I had booked, I never had to use the toilets at the ground. I didn’t have a problem using the urinals when I had to.

By the time we tried to sleep, I knew Monday’s schedule. The tent was spacious enough for both of us. But I did not have any thing to lay on the ground, except my sleeping bag. You can hear people talking in the tents close to yours. It was hard to sleep especially with my jet lag. I slept well for 3-4 hours late at night but not more. Once we woke up on Sunday, my cousin went to the room to freshen up. He was gone 2 hrs and then it was my turn. There's also a starbucks near the tube station. Throughout Sunday we were each gone for 2hrs at a time to walk around the area. Most of the area is filled with really neat houses and very quiet. The day was really nice, reaching 75F. The park was absolutely packed with people playing all sorts of games. You don't feel bored at all. The queue keeps filling in. Around 11am on Sunday, radio Wimbledon announced that center court and court 1 queue was full. Meaning there were 1000 people in the queue at that point. I think the center court queue was full at 8pm on Saturday night. Meaning that there were 500 people in the queue at that time. So if you want center court tickets for the 2nd Monday, you need to be in the queue by late Saturday evening at the least. I don’t know what it would have been if Federer, Nadal and Sharapova had still been in the draw.

While my cousin was gone, I finished a book I had started reading on the plane. The day went by fast. I really struggled to sleep Sunday night. May be I was anxious about Monday. It was almost as if I was getting ready to play :) We got up at 5.30 am Monday. It took us a while to put the tent back in the bag but it wasn't too hard. Once that was done, we went to the "Left Luggage" center.

These are basically big tents set up behind the food stalls within the park itself. People started lining up to leave their luggage. It took us about 5 minutes to leave our luggage there. Then we asked a steward if we had time to walk around and come back in an hour. We wanted to go to the room to use the bathroom :) He told us not to go anywhere since the the queue would start moving soon.

Around 7 am, we were asked to stand where our tents used to be. It was at this time that our NZ neighbors told us that we would be getting really good seats, basically the ones adjacent to the court. This was unbelievable news to us! All along I was thinking the queue was for tickets in the higher levels. Never did I expect such great seats. The ones I got in the ballot for Tuesday were higher level sections, so I was assuming that’s what I would get for standing in the queue. But it makes sense; they were saving some of the best seats for the true fans. My love for Wimbledon grew even more J My cousin immediately started to thank me for making him camp since he wouldn't have done it if not for me.

The stewards started lining us up and took us thru a gate. Once inside, they came to each of us, looked at our queue cards and asked us what court tickets we wanted. Obviously we chose center court. They tied a colored band around our wrists indicating the court we were to go to. After that, we were told there would be a wait for a while and we could go get some thing. There were a couple of stalls and restrooms near that queue inside the gate. I was able to use the rest room there and it was really clean. Around 9, the line started moving again. There's a small security check and then we move towards the stadium gates.

It takes about 45 mins to get to the ticket counter. Anyway, we had only 2 sections to choose from, and we picked the one at a 45 degree angle to the middle of the court. Since we were in the 400s in the queue, we could only get the ones on the referee’s side (the chair blocks the view a bit) and not the side facing the referee. I think if we were in the top 200, we could have gotten the ones facing the referee. Even better, but we would have had to be in the queue by Saturday noon! The tickets were some 80 odd pounds. They only accept cash.

We were inside the stadium just past 10. We spent some time in the Wimbledon shop. I was so excited, I wanted to buy a lot of stuff. In the end I got my cousin a shirt and a coffee mug. I figured I would buy some thing for myself on Tuesday when I would go back. We went to court 3 where Janowicz was playing Melzer. But there was already a line there. We waited till the end of 1st set hoping people would leave after a set but it wasn't to be. 

Even though a ticket to the center court grants you access to all courts other than 1 and 2, if you want to watch the matches on an outside court with seating (like court 3 or 10), you have to be there early. People with grounds passes will occupy them fast. You have to wait for someone to leave so you can get in. So we went to other smaller courts and saw the matches there. It was a great experience seeing so many matches going on next to each other. It’s like playing at any local tennis club.

We finally decided to go to center court around 1.15 or so after Serena’s match had started. It was a sensational feeling to walk in with it packed. I hope I get to do this again.