Wimbledon is preparing to throw open its doors for a fourth ‘People’s Sunday’.
The phenomenon began in 1991, since when the middle Sunday of the championships has seen play in 1997 and 2004.
It is traditionally designated a day when the groundsman and his staff tend to the courts and all other workers take a rest – but tournament chiefs have decided the best way to clear the growing backlog of matches from a rain-hit first week is to play through the entire fortnight.
Previous middle Sunday action has seen more animated crowds than Wimbledon usually attracts, with the corporate visitors replaced by avid sports fans keen to seize the chance to watch on Centre Court and around the grounds.
The scheduling situation became more serious on Friday as a rain-disrupted afternoon and evening saw a number of matches either postponed or unfinished. A Wimbledon spokesman said the tournament was 78 matches behind schedule, with heavy rainfall on Tuesday and Wednesday having eaten into the match programme.
Wimbledon is aiming to ensure all third-round singles ties, and as many doubles as possible, are completed by the end of the weekend, so the tournament can proceed back on track from Monday. Four second-round matches remained unfinished on Friday night.
A full day’s play on Saturday would ease problems – but Wimbledon is taking no chances. Tickets for Sunday play, set to involve Serena Williams and a number of top names, will go on sale online on Saturday afternoon.
A statement released by Wimbledon organisers said: “The move has been made in order to reduce the backlog of matches and to allow the championships to finish as scheduled.
“Tickets will only be available for purchase in advance online on a first-come first-served basis with a limit of two per household. None will be available for sale on the day.”
The two-ticket limit looks to rule out families making day trips to Wimbledon for the day, and may have been taken with the intention of preventing touts buying up in bulk.
In 2004, play on the Wednesday and Saturday of the opening week was lost to wet weather. Wimbledon put 28,000 tickets on sale for the Sunday, and many fans queued overnight to secure a prime position, although the occasion did not prove a sell-out.
The backlog then was such that of the 376 matches which should have been played by the end of Saturday, only 262 were completed. This time it could be a similar number, come the end of Saturday’s action.
Tim Henman, who beat Hicham Arazi on the middle Sunday in 2004, said after that match that ‘People’s Sunday’ should become an annual event. A dozen years later and Henman now sits on the order of play committee at Wimbledon.
Press Association Sport