Not-so-traditional Wimbledon prepares for tennis arms race – The Irish Times

When you walk in London’s Hyde Park, you can’t escape monuments. In one of the city’s longest uninterrupted views, looking from Kensington Palace across Round Pond and towards the north shore of the Long Water section of the Serpentine Lake, a semi-abstract sculpture by the artist Henry Moore stands six meters tall.

Towards Knightsbridge there is the Albert Memorial and Albert Hall and closer to the water the Peter Pan statue. Not far away, London’s wild green parrots fly down from the trees and feed from people’s hands.

In another section next to Park Lane, they played Pink and Guns N’ Roses at the end of June, and in the first few weeks of July it’s Lana Del Ray, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel. You can listen to bands doing a morning drive-through session while drinking coffee on the lido.

It is still part of the English psyche to think big, and in a city as economically muscular as London, huge projects can be allowed to work. They can sweat the London asset, its scale, its income and its sense of itself and where it stands in the world.

Wimbledon is part of that thinking and also does its own kind of monument building, although that’s not the word they care to use as it suggests something immovable and a part of the past, when their idea is exactly the opposite. Far from static, they have set their sights on cutting-edge tennis development that is good for “London and Great Britain”.

The big plan is to expand the current site, a long, thin strip of land that runs to a point. A road called Church Road separates Wimbledon from what was once Wimbledon Park Golf Club, which the tennis club has already bought. They see it as a future-proof decision to upgrade and migrate into golf country to maintain their position as no less than the world’s best tennis facility. It’s kind of part of the tennis arms race.

It’s not just a golf club either, the proposed development is on the grounds of a large park originally designed by renowned landscape architect Capability Brown, who lists Blenheim Palace, Warwick Castle and Milton Abbey among his works.

Monumental in its scale, the new complex’s footprint is almost three times the size of the current Wimbledon venue. Far from stuffy and stodgy, it represents bold thinking. Then again, the All England Club has always been a set of contradictions.

Conceived of as an establishment organization with a strong classical feel and married to the history of the tournament and the champions that have passed through, the other side of the boardroom character is a hyper-modern body that is aggressively innovative.

The drive comes from its current status as the top Grand Slam event. Anecdotally, most of the players asked the question say that Wimbledon is the most important of the four Grand Slams, even though it is played in a narrow window of an extremely short grass court season.

The ivy that grows up the outer walls of Center Court is a deliberate play on the idea of ​​being long established. The club works hard to hold on to an idea of ​​the past as a point of difference and defining character. It celebrates its age as the oldest in the world, but never stands still.

To facilitate the consumption of the ‘big idea’, they use typical picturesque language. As it stands, Wimbledon is tennis in an English garden. They want people to think of Wimbledon as tennis in an English parkland with an emphasis on the English.

With a new 8,000-seat stadium, called the Parkland Show Court, the building would increase the competition’s daily attendance capacity from 42,000 to 50,000 and the number of seats available for the tournament to 43,842, with Center Court remaining the jewel in the crown with a nearly 15,000 capacity.

The club bought the land from Merton Council in 1993 for £5.1 million and in 2018 offered the golf club £65 million to end the lease early. The deal was accepted and each member of the club, including TV celebrities such as Ant and Dec, received £85,000 in exchange for finding a new place to play golf.

Hearings on planning permission will take place later this year. If they go well, construction could begin in the early 2030s on what would be one of the biggest redevelopments in London since the 2012 Olympic Games. There have already been objections and it is expected that a significant number of local people will argue against the proposal.

The new courts mean that the entire qualifying tournament can be played on site. There will also be extra parking space and a promenade around the lake in Wimbledon Park is planned. Seven of the grass courts will be available for community use after the competition.

The timeline depends on how the planning permission proceeds. But the club hopes some of the community access will open in 2026, with the grass pitches completed in 2027 and in use for the qualifiers and championships in 2029 after they mature. The Parkland Show Court was due for completion in the early 2030s.

A monument to tennis, something the city has become quite good at.

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