Sunday 18 August 2019

Wimbledon: How to land yourself in court next summer

It's game, set and match for this year's Wimbledon, but Stephen Evans says you should be there next year's event...

Centre Court in Wimbledon
Centre Court in Wimbledon
Stephen and mum get pampered at the All England Tennis & Croquet Club
Stephen at Wimbledon
The swanky Lawn Club

Stephen Evans

Little else in the world represents tennis as well as Wimbledon. With its rich history and illustrious array of traditions, Wimbledon stands out from the rest as the perfect getaway for both tennis pros and those just willing to experience a couple of days of indulgence.

Borg, McEnroe, Navratilova, the Williams sisters — over the years, legends of the court have captured our imagination for a few short summer weeks.

As the crow flies, it’s just 290 miles from Dublin, yet it seems a world away. But you can be a part of it — and other major sporting occasions in London and beyond — easier than you’d think.

Keith Prowse Travel, which has a base here in Dublin, has been running tours to the big events like Wimbledon, football and Formula 1, for 40 years now, and as an official partner, you know you’re going to get a good seat in the house, with all the practicalities taken care of, including flights and accommodation.

Our base in London was the Royal Lancaster Hotel, across the road from the 500-year-old Hyde Park, the largest of four royal parks in the city.

The only big add-on we opted for (to maximise time in the city) was to book the Heathrow Express, taking just 15 minutes from the airport to Paddington Station. On foot, we were at the hotel in just five minutes from there. After check-in, if you’re feeling up for it, you can head to the 24/7 gym, or splash out extra for an in-room spa treatment to de-stress after your flight.

Stephen and mum get pampered at the All England Tennis & Croquet Club
Stephen and mum get pampered at the All England Tennis & Croquet Club

We were keen to explore the city and booked a London Explorer Pass each (londonexplorerpass.com). They’re a good way to pack in as much as you can, without it costing the earth in what can be a pricey city.

The pass gains your entrance to all the tourist favourites — from the Coca-Cola London Eye to Wembley tours to Tower Bridge and London Dungeon. Depending on the pass, you can choose three, five or seven of the 20 available attractions. Also included is a day’s travel on an open-top bus, with a choice of routes. We did the must-sees, passing Big Ben, over Tower Bridge and all the most photographable, iconic landmarks of the West End.

The hotel’s location is also a boon for shoppers, just a few minutes’ walk from high-street shopping and local restaurant, but also only three Tube stops from Oxford Circus.

As for the main event, Wimbledon is a little over 20 minutes on the underground from Lancaster Gate Station — with just one change at Notting Hill Gate to the District Line. It’s a simple trip for even the most timid of sightseers. After a full continental breakfast, you’re fully prepared for the day ahead.

The true Wimbledon experience comes to life as soon as you get out of the station at Southfields, tennis adornment envelopes the local landscape, almost reminiscent of the entry to Disneyland Paris. The roads leading up to the event are lined with people in typical Wimbledon-esque attire, donning dresses and suits which wouldn’t go amiss at a Hollywood awards night.

Upon arriving, you’ll quickly spot The Lawn (formerly the Gatsby Club), an area reserved for those availing of the package deal, directly opposite the Wimbledon courts. From here, you can relax and enjoy the games on the big screen, basking in the beautiful summer weather, making full use of the complementary bar and comfortable lounge furniture.

The swanky Lawn Club
The swanky Lawn Club

A full three-course á la carte menu, designed and prepared by renowned Michelin-starred chef Albert Roux OBE (of BBC MasterChef fame), alongside son Michel Roux Jr and granddaughter Emily Roux, is served. There’s a myriad of menu options, served with whatever cocktail or drink you desire.

In the comfort of The Lawn, it can almost become difficult to substitute one luxury for another and go to your championship game, but the predicament is amended with the help of the convenient golf-buggy transport provided for the admittedly short distance between The Lawn and our destination, Court No 1.

However, after a few hours going between the two grounds, you’ll be thankful of it — plus, it’s nice to feel exclusive at an event renowned for its exclusivity. It also beats the queues, and boy they are long, with thousands of hopefuls keeping their fingers crossed for a ticket to a match on the day.

On a full stomach of lunch, you must convince yourself to avail of the traditional strawberries and cream, that famous Wimbledon custom. The matches ooze tradition, providing a callback to days long gone by.

Centre court and Court No 1 generally house the ‘bigger’ games, with fan favourites draped in all white providing a riveting display for around 12,000 people, including some high-profile celebrities (Britain’s Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton, a patron of Wimbledon, was at one of our games).

Other majors around the globe are currently played on some type of artificial surface, but this historic tournament is the only major that is still played on natural grass, allowing it to stand out as unique amongst its fellow competitions.

We caught some big names, with three matches included on our day trip. And watching the likes of Rafael Nadal and women’s world number one Ashleigh Barty executing blindingly fast serves and volleys will live long in the memory.

Stephen at Wimbledon
Stephen at Wimbledon

The ability to go back between The Lawn and Wimbledon stands out as a massive advantage of the package, allowing you a break in between matches to run back, or more appropriately, “golf-buggy back”, to refill on a glass or two of Pimm’s.

Afternoon pastries and small dishes are served in the interval, a welcome meal in between matches, further enhanced by the truly relaxing foot stream supplied (towels supplied, of course, to dry you off too). This is all accompanied by live music, from jazz to soft pop, to add to the ambience of the scene.

Those wishing to further indulge can avail of the whisky and cigar bar, fitting in a final bit of relaxation before the end of the night.

The Lawn at Wimbledon is a perfect day out that appeals to both tennis enthusiasts or those who want to maximise the networking opportunity that the big event offers. From 10.30am to 7pm you can sit back and bask in a quintessentially British experience, and people-watch the power and moneyed classes at play.

It’s an experience that’s worth the investment to ‘bucket list’ in style.

How to get there

We went with Keith Prowse Travel, which offers a number of packages, so start thinking about 2020 and you could be one of the half a million people who will flock to Wimbledon for one of the most prestigious sporting events of the year.

The Lawn Experience package, which starts at €1,349pps, gets you a return flight from Dublin to Heathrow, an overnight stay in a central London hotel with breakfast, shuttle transfer from Southfields Station to The Lawn Experience, and one day at Wimbledon including a reserved seat on No 1 Court or Centre Court, with a full hospitality experience. Packages available for all dates, courts, and hospitality, up to and including the Men’s and Ladies’ Finals.  

Other sporting options include a three-night trip to the Italian Grand Prix on September 6, including flights, F1 tickets and hotel, starting from €599pps. Premier League hospitality packages include Liverpool v Newcastle, Arsenal v Brighton and Man United v Crystal Palace, featuring seats, overnight hotel and hospitality, starting from €185pps.

London Explorer Passes cost from £64 for adults and £52 for children. It definitely pays off to pack in the sights. (londonexplorerpass.com)

For the fastest way to the city, take the Heathrow Express, costing £37 return if paid on arrival, but good discounts are available when booked in advance. (heathrowexpress.com)

If you’re non-sporty, Keith Prowse Travel has Christmas markets in Europe packages from €434pps and next year’s Chelsea Flower Show is also available. For more info, call 01 8783500 or see keithprowseattractions.com

NB:This feature first appeared in The Herald.

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