Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
WIMBLEDON, England — "They want to know if they can drink," went the inquiry from one card distributor to a steward at Wimbledon Park as hundreds of tents in all hues dotted the still-green grass.
"Drink? Like, 'drink' drink? Why not?" arrived the hushed reply, quickly, conspiratorially, followed by, "But you didn't hear it from me."
Ah, yes, the Wimbledon Queue is back in all of its pre-pandemic glory, reappearing in a rather "nature is healing" manner, three years after its previous presence, giving people a way to wait in line to gain access to tickets — for a fee, of course — so they can attend matches at the grass-court Grand Slam tennis tournament that began Monday.
"Such a cool place to be. You meet people you've never met. You make a weekend of it. And then there's the thrill of getting a seat at a court," said Graham Auld, a 29-year-old from Newcastle. "It's so worth it — the trip, the camping, the waiting, all of it. It's brilliant."
It is an event unto itself, a happening, with long-term devotees and first-timers alike, sharing a fondness for tennis and the camaraderie that comes with sharing a field-as-home for a night or more with friends or family or folks who had been total strangers.
Auld, who said he works in the financial sector, had just gotten back to the park on Sunday evening, carrying two pizzas in red cardboard boxes, providing sustenance for himself and two pals after a game of cricket against other queue types they'd encountered.
Auld's group got to the area at about 6 a.m. on Sunday, eight hours before the sanctioned start. The process: You find your place at the back of the line, receive a numbered "ticket" — which isn't really a ticket to get into the All England Club, but a card to prove where your spot is — set up a temporary residence, make use of the toilets and water dispensers and food trucks on site, and start biding the time until the stewards' wakeup call at 6 a.m.
That's when tents and other belongings can be stored at a temporary office. At 7:30 a.m., the line begins moving, winding around the park, through an adjacent park and eventually to the ticket-buying window less than a half-mile (kilometer) away at the tournament grounds.
This is unique among Grand Slam tournaments, and there are about 500 tickets available daily over the first 10 days for Centre Court — which on Monday featured matches involving six-time Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic and a pair of popular British players, two-time winner Andy Murray and reigning U.S. Open champ Emma Raducanu — another 500 or so each for No. 1 Court and No. 2 Court, and several thousand grounds passes, which allow access to all smaller courts and cost 27 pounds (about $33) on Day 1.
The All England Club said Monday there were 431 tents at the park overnight and that 2,808 cards were distributed by 7 a.m.
In possession of card No. 1 was Brent Pham, a 32-year-old property manager from Irvine, California, who showed up Friday at around 11 p.m. — far too early to get in the official Queue — and initially staked his claim to first-in-line status by waiting on the sidewalk outside Wimbledon Park.
Eventually, he and others were told to move to another grass field for a temporary, unofficial, lower-case queue, until being allowed to get in the true Queue on Sunday.
"Coming this early, I thought I would be No. 1, but there was still that bit of doubt whether I would be," said Pham, who participated in the Queue for the second time and calls himself a big Serena Williams fan but was eager to watch Djokovic on Monday. "I like the fact that you can't just buy your way into the tournament, no matter the price. People who take the effort to wait get rewarded. That's a good system, in my opinion."
Wimbledon was canceled entirely in 2020 because of COVID-19, and when the competition returned a year ago with restrictions limiting crowd sizes, the Queue was scrapped.
Full crowds were out in force Monday, as was the Queue.
"The fact that we didn't have it last year really emphasized to everybody the significance and importance of it. It was hugely missed. The reason why the Queue is important is not because we think people enjoying queuing, particularly in the U.K. ... but it's really about accessibility," All England Club CEO Sally Bolton said. "It does also include lots of joy and excitement, and a festival atmosphere up in the park."
That certainly was on display, from the bottles of Champagne and fine crystal glasses, to the cans of beer, to the emptying vodka bottles, to the man strumming a guitar for those who gathered 'round, to the impromptu games of soccer, volleyball and frisbee.
Katie and Toby — two 21-year-old students at Cardiff University in Wales, about 125 miles (200 kilometers) away, who asked that their last names not be used — got to the park a little after 7 p.m. on Sunday, with a gray tent, two sleeping bags, an air mattress, a picnic and change of clothes.
Toby was hoping to see three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka on Monday.
"Anyone," she said. "Absolutely anyone."