A report from Paul Heltzel, senior producer at National Geographic Digital Media and tennis fan:
Despite its lofty image, Wimbledon is one major sporting event where you don’t have to be well connected–or well organized–to get in. The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club holds about 6,000 places for the general public to purchase tickets at the turnstiles. If you have time to kill, and twenty pounds (less as the tournament progresses), you can see world-class tennis on 18 different courts.
Here's a snapshot of what it's like: In a large field, thousands of people wait in six rows a few blocks from the grass courts of the 2008 Wimbledon Championships. A cheerful tournament steward welcomes the last person in line to the Wimbledon queue, presenting a card to hold the latecomer's place. These long lines are the saving grace of the average tennis fan: a little patience, and you can obtain the hottest ticket in tennis.
As the morning passes, some recline on blankets, converse, and enjoy baguette sandwiches, Pimm's and lemonade, and champagne. You can take your own soft cooler, food, and drinks into the tournament (a pleasant surprise, as inside the gates, a half-bottle of champagne can set you back 26 pounds).
On the first day of the tournament, I joined the queue at 8 in the morning and was in by 11:30 a.m. for a full day of tennis. On day three, I was able to show up at 10 a.m. and stepped onto the campus-sized grounds a little less than two hours later. The catch? After the grounds reach capacity, the queue comes to a standstill. At that point, you can get in only as fans exit. Come just a bit too late–there's really no judging when capacity is reached–and you could be in the queue until late afternoon, when large numbers begin to exit the tournament.
Get the scoop on how to snag hard-to-get tickets after the jump...
Once you step inside the grounds, there is a way to purchase hard-to-get seats for the stadium courts you see on the televised finals. Wait until late afternoon, then enter another queue at the resale ticket office and there's a good chance you will see some of the top names in tennis. You might only catch the final set of the day, but the cost is just 5 pounds and the proceeds go to charity. (As you might imagine, your chances are better during the early rounds of the tournament.)
The line for tickets used to wind through the streets of Wimbledon, and fans camped on the sidewalk for the best tickets. This year, tournament organizers set up the queue in a single grassy area (called Car Park 10). The changes result in a much more laid back experience. For tips on buying same-day tickets so you can have strawberries and cream at Wimbledon, I found the best guide was the official one they listed online.
Photos: Wimbledon queue, 6:30 a.m., by Matt Peskett; queue card via Paul Heltzel