Doing Wimbledon tennis on the cheap

As I write, Andy Murray is preparing for his Wimbledon semi-final against Jo-Wilfred Tsonga. If he wins, getting onto Centre Court for the final could set you back a small fortune.

It’s not cheap at the All England Club at the best of times. Tickets for the show courts cost between £44 and £120 over the fortnight. Don’t even think about buying any strawberries and cream.

But if you want to see tennis of exceptional quality up close with a cup of something refreshing in your hand then it doesn’t have to break the bank.

For the past three years, me and a good friend have gone on the Thursday of the second week and paid £16 for Ground Admission. A better day out you’d struggle to find.

The order of play
The order of play

It’s traditionally the day of the ladies’ singles semi-finals on Centre Court. On the surrounding courts there’s mixed, ladies’ and veteran’s doubles, juniors’ singles and – best of all, invitation women’s and men’s doubles.

This last is an opportunity to watch some of the great names of the past couple of decades playing competitive tennis with a smile on their face.

And none does this better than the irrepressible Goran Ivanisevic, the larger than life Croatian who won Wimbledon as a wildcard in 2001 – the only person to have done so.

We saw him in rare form on Court 12 partnered with Cedric Pioline against Fabrice Santoro and Greg Rusedski – the former UK number one and probably the best of the former players now commentating for the BBC, Jon McEnroe excepted.

Goran Ivanisevic in full flow
Goran Ivanisevic in full flow

The laughter coming from the crowd had people queuing for around 20 minutes to get in while a women’s doubles on the neighbouring, and much larger, court three was two thirds empty.

At various points he danced across the service court as his partner was waiting to return, challenged Rusedski to hit a serve at 131mph and called it a double-fault when he, understandably couldn’t, gave forth exaggerated grunts while hitting the ball as softly as possible and decided that the final point should be played between him and the Brit alone. He lost, although that didn’t seem to matter.

The highlight though was when he developed an exchange of volleys with Santoro into something approaching slapstick as he climbed over the net and chased the Frenchman to the back of the court, all the while keeping the rally going – a rally that ended with the pair tapping the ball to each other’s racquet from a foot away.

The banter was relentless and the crowd lapped it up.

Goran Ivanisevic takes the applause
Goran Ivanisevic takes the applause

Elsewhere we saw super-Swede Anders Jarryd, the towering Dutchman Richard Krajicek, the even taller Mark Philippoussis, the elegant Frenchman Guy Forget some scarily talented youngsters and Martina Hingis, she of the dynamite smile.

And of course, you get the atmosphere – of walking between the outside courts and maybe catching Serene Williams practising with her coach, of the Armed Forces personnel who act as ground stewards, the outside of Centre Court dressed in purple and white flowers, the umpires in their Ralph Lauren-designed uniforms and ball boys and girls taking to the court with military precision. It’s so very, very English.

So, take a bottle of something fizzy and some pork pies and enjoy the day. If you’re lucky, it won’t even rain. It hasn’t for us in three years.

Girls' doubles on one of the outside courts
Girls’ doubles on one of the outside courts
Checking the height of the net
Checking the height of the net
Umpire in Ralph Lauren
Umpire in Ralph Lauren
Hosing down the grass at day's end
Hosing down the grass at day’s end
Court One – I think. Could be Centre
Don't forget your pork pies
Don’t forget your pork pies
I said, don't forget the bloody pork pies
I said, don’t forget the bloody pork pies
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Doing Wimbledon tennis on the cheap

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