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The experts are predicting a vintage Wimbledon this year. Anna Longmore serves up some winning hospitality at the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament
Wimbledon needs little introduction. There are other championships, but this one just has something else. Perhaps it’s the history. It is, after all, the oldest tennis tournament in the world, with 124 years of heritage and a raft of traditions still upheld by the All England Club, which is also famed for the most reverent spectators on the planet. Aesthetically it’s revered too: Wimbledon is the most attractive tournament on the circuit, with its chalky whites dancing across the lush green of the courts, the regal green and purple livery and – hopefully – blue skies and sunshine. It’s the perfect setting.
‘It feels like this is where tennis is meant to be played,’ says former champion Maria Sharapova, who has been chasing another Wimbledon title since her win in 2004. ‘It’s the most important date in world tennis,’ agrees Rafael Nadal, who will be hoping to repeat his win over Roger Federer in 2008’s epic final.
Centre Court tends to inspire gladiatorial battles between the world’s greatest players, and this year is shaping up beautifully. Last year’s tournament was missing the muscular form of everyone’s favourite Spaniard, but with Nadal back to his bouncing best, he looks the likeliest contender to the Federer supremacy.
However, Andy Murray, still chasing his first Grand Slam title, will not be shrugged off lightly on home turf. All the signs are pointing to a vintage year in the men’s draw.
For once, the forecast is bright in the women’s game. After nearly a decade of domination by the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, the comeback of popular Belgians Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters is already making an impression. Wimbledon is the only title still eluding the determined Henin, while Clijsters has already proved she means business with a US Open triumph last year. No one would bet against another all-Williams final, but with Venus on the wane, the door is opening.
Naturally, this combination of heritage, atmosphere and sporting brilliance adds up to one of the hottest hospitality tickets of the season. No one turns down an invitation to Wimbledon. The queues, crowded dining areas and over-priced, dubious public catering means that hospitality is the only way to entertain at the tournament.
Last year saw the debut of the Centre Court roof, which means that spectators are now guaranteed a full day’s play, whatever the weather. It’s great news for fans with Centre Court tickets, especially as the prices haven’t been hiked up accordingly. It does now make No.1 Court a riskier proposition. However, on the plus side, you’re guaranteed all of your seats together on No.1; on Centre Court, you’ll get only pairs.
Wimbledon is all about the tennis, so the best place to be is inside the grounds. Unless you’re lucky enough to be in with the sponsors, the top-end hospitality facilities at the tournament are the
Skyview Suites, run by official provider Keith Prowse (tel: 0845 415 0628,
squaremeal.co.uk/kp-skyview). Set high up on the fourth floor of Centre Court, the suites, as their name suggests, have views stretching out over the leafy surrounds out to the City skyline.
There are eight swish modern suites, and a three-course lunch for £345 upwards, or the budget-friendly Baseline package, which provides fans with tickets, as well as a meeting point and breakfast in the morning, starting at £275 per person.
Next door to The Gatsby Club, the facility inside the clubhouse of The Wimbledon Club is run by Mike Burton (tel: 020 7223 7769, squaremeal.co.uk/burton) – not an official provider but well-established and reputable nonetheless. The limited capacity imposed by the permanent structure gives the facility an exclusive restauranty feel and catering is a strong point here. Of the three spaces, the Executive Restaurant is the largest, with capacity for 140 guests. The sunny balcony looks out over the practice courts.
Groups of 40-60 who want more privacy can take the ground-floor Garden Restaurant, which has its own lounge, bar and garden, or the Lake Room, a new first-floor space opening in 2010 for up to 80.
Packages start at £595 per head with No.1 Court tickets.
There’s only two months to go before Federer strides on to Centre Court to defend his title. With such a breadth of hospitality available for 2010, the world’s greatest tournament is more accessible than ever. Don’t miss your chance to be part of it.
l• Don’t rely on websites. Always phone the hospitality provider directly for up-to-date availability
• Prices for the early stages might look appealing, but you’re unlikely to see any truly captivating clashes. Book for the business end of the tournament for seed-v-seed matches
• Don’t think it’s too late to book. If the tournament is shaping up nicely, you might be able to sneak in with a last-minute package
• Invite guests well in advance and soak up the months of goodwill leading up to the tournament
• Make it a full day. Insist on a 10.30am arrival for coffee, orange juice and Champagne, then eat early so you can get over to watch the tennis by 1pm
• Put sun cream and branded caps on tables
• Offer guests cooler bags to take over to courts
• Pick up Pimm’s from the bar in covered plastic cups to take over to the tennis. It’s an expensive faff to buy drinks from the bars on site
This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events in April 2010