Wimbledon is taking the unusual step of breaking with tradition by scrapping its day of rest on the middle Sunday of the tournament from 2022.
Wimbledon is currently the only grand slam that has a day off during the fortnight but this provides scheduling challenges, particularly when there is bad weather in the first week, and denies the All England Club what would be guaranteed to be a lucrative day of ticket sales.
At the tournament’s spring press briefing, chairman Ian Hewitt said developments in the care of grass courts meant 14 days of play was now deemed possible.
Hewitt said: “Thanks to improved grass-court maintenance technology over the past five years or so and other measures, we are now confident that we will be able to look after the courts, most particularly Centre Court, without a full day of rest during the fortnight.
“This provides us with an opportunity at an important time to make this move. We consider it’s in the best interests of tennis fans and the sport that Wimbledon should be able to be watched and attended throughout that middle weekend.”
Play has been held on middle Sunday four times in the last 30 years – most recently in 2016 – when delays during the first week have deemed it necessary.
The change means fourth-round matches, which have all been played on a packed day known as ‘manic Monday’, will be held across two days instead.
The tournament will return this year after it was cancelled in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic but it will be in a reduced capacity, and there is no doubt adding an extra day’s play will be useful in helping to make up the financial shortfall in years to come.
Hewitt revealed that Wimbledon’s foresight in taking out pandemic insurance paid off to the tune of just over £180million, which enabled the AELTC to give the Lawn Tennis Association its annual surplus pay-out of around £36million.
Wimbledon are working closely with the Government on the arrangements for this year’s tournament, beginning on June 28, and a lot will depend on guidance at the time.
A minimum capacity of 25 per cent is currently being planned for with the hope that this can increase, with tickets expected to go on sale in June.
The outcome of the Government’s Event Research Programme will dictate many measures but visitors can expect to be required to wear masks indoors and adhere to social distancing requirements.
The All England Club has not ruled out Henman Hill being accessible to spectators in some form.
If the Government’s roadmap continues as scheduled, all restrictions on social contact could be lifted on June 21, but Wimbledon does not want to be in the same position as the French Open last year, which had to dramatically scale back its plans at the last minute.
“What we’ve been focused on doing is planning a tournament with a set of guidance that we understand today, but also planning for how we are able to be flexible and agile to adjust to changes in those conditions. It’s not easy.”
For that reason Wimbledon will also not announce prize money until June but tight restrictions on the players, who will have to stay in designated hotels and will have their freedoms severely limited, are effectively set in stone.
The restrictions were a Government requirement to allow such a large number of people into the country without quarantining, and Bolton said: “I think players really understand what the tournament’s trying to achieve here keeping the sport moving, and I think buy into the need to be part of these environments in order for them to continue to go about their jobs.”
Wimbledon will not follow the trend of replacing line judges with automated technology but a shot clock will feature for the first time.