Wary Wimbledon cuts ground capacity as temperatures soar

Hot Seat

The hottest day of the year hit Wimbledon, as it did the rest of Britain, causing organisers to reduce capacity in the grounds as a precautionary measure.

As fans huddled in scraps of shade under trees and overhangs around the All England Club, and formed lengthy queues at the free water fountains, the tournament cut capacity by more than 5,000 to give the spectators a little more breathing room as temperatures nudged above 30C during the hottest part of the day.

Monday’s play had been watched by a total of 43,275 spectators, a Wimbledon spokesman said, but the club had opted, initially at least, to restrict Tuesday’s gate to 38,000, reducing capacity in the ground by around an eighth.

“The daily capacity is dependent on the number of courts in operation and the prevailing weather conditions so it would not be the first time we have regularly adjusted the daily capacity,” he said.

A spokeswoman for St John Ambulance said their volunteers had treated 123 people at the ground, mostly for heat-related conditions, and transported two to hospital. “It’s been absolutely manic for our team because they’ve been treating so many people,” she said.

The service was particularly concerned about Wednesday, she said, when temperatures are expected to rise further to 35C, potentially breaking the tournament’s all-time record of 34.6C in 1976.

The result, unusually for a sunny lunchtime in front of the tournament’s big screen, was that there was plenty of room on the steep slope of Murray mound as the day’s play got under way.

Andy Murray delighted the fans who did make it through the gates, opening his campaign to regain the title he won in 2013, by overcoming world number 59 Mikhail Kukushkin on Centre Court in straight sets, despite the broiling courtside conditions.

Murray, the number three seed, who has said he enters the tournament playing the best tennis of his life, wobbled in the second set when he allowed his opponent to push him to a tiebreak, before regaining his dominance in the third. “There’s definitely work to be done,” said the Scot of his own form.

Asked after his match about the temperatures on court, Murray said: “It was very very hot, and that changes the way the court plays and the way the match plays out too. I was glad to get off in three sets, in a couple of hours, because ideally you don’t want to be playing extremely long matches in those conditions because it’s tough.”

While row upon row of panama hats inside Centre Court were taking advantage of breaks in play to open umbrellas and parasols and fan themselves in the heat, for most of the players, the heat appeared barely to register.

“It was not hot, it was the perfect conditions,” said a predictably unflappable Roger Federer after his own effortless straight sets freewheel past Bosnian Damir Dzumhur.

Britain’s Heather Watson overcame the early afternoon temperatures to win the delayed third set her opening round match against the 32nd seed Caroline Garcia. Five set victories by both James Ward and Aljaz Bedene later in the evening brought the total number of Britons through to the second round to five, following Liam Broady’s victory on Monday. 

It wasn’t the temperature of the court but the “heat of the moment” that Watson blamed for a swearing outburst that saw the umpire deduct a point for a code violation in the seventh game of the set.

“I don’t even know what I’m doing till after it’s done. I say things that I shouldn’t say. I apologise to anyone who is offended.”

Many of those who had opted to brave the sunshine had evidently planned carefully for a scorching day, proving that it is not only soggy Wimbledon afternoons for which the British come prepared.

Evelyn Rawlinson has been coming to the tournament for 27 years from her home in County Durham, but this was the hottest she remembered, she said. With experience comes the best spots, however, and she and her niece Evelyn Wilson had bagged a coveted patch of grass on the mound that allowed them some shade, and where they could open their umbrellas (“they do us for rain or sunshine”) without obstructing other spectators.

As well as hats and plentiful sunshine, Wilson had brought a facecloth, which she had moistened during a trip to the ladies’ and draped over her feet. “Just keep it wet and it’ll keep you lovely and cool,” she said with a smile.

Others, however, found themselves caught out by the weather. “I’ve come without a hat and I don’t know if our tickets will be in the sun or the shade, so I’m a bit worried,” said Fiona Seitler, trying on a wide-brimmed cricket-style hat in the main Wimbledon shop, as staff restocked the rapidly thinning shelves around her.

“It’s seriously hot out there. I’ve slapped on the factor 50 and I’ve just had a drink to keep hydrated, but I think I might need one of these, too.”

At the small pharmacy under court one, the only place selling sunscreen, staff said they had spent the day continually re-stocking their shelves with protective lotions. They have placed a large order for more stock to arrive on Wednesday, in anticipation of an even hotter day to come.

Matthew Lechtzier, a Canadian now based in west London, said he was loving the hot weather.

“I’ve lived in Britain for 30 years now and there is a certain point in the middle where no one is complaining, but if it goes just a bit too hot or cold people complain about it.

“Now we’ve got this heat but it will be over and back to normal in a week.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Esther Addley, for The Guardian on Tuesday 30th June 2015 19.47 Europe/London

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010