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Sunday, July 14, 2024

Wimbledon’s New Era: Big Money and a Youth Movement

  • The emergence of young stars and retreat of several older ones give the venerable tournament a new look.
  • The All England Club continues to pursue a proposed, and politically divisive, expansion of its facility.
Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

A youthful new era is rapidly emerging at the 147-year-old Wimbledon, one destined to shake up one of the most tradition-bound events in not only tennis, but all of sports. 

The major begins Monday in London, but many of its former champions and established stars are either absent or participating in a limited capacity. Two-time Wimbledon winner and 22-time major champion Rafael Nadal is skipping the tournament to prepare for the Paris Olympics. Novak Djokovic, a seven-time Wimbledon champion and last year’s runner-up, is still formally in the draw, but how effective he’ll be is still an open question after recent surgery for a torn meniscus in his right knee. A similar situation surrounds Andy Murray, another two-time Wimbledon winner but dealing with a back injury, and he’s waiting until Monday to decide whether to compete in singles. 

Spotlighting this year’s field instead is a rising wave of young stars including 2023 Wimbledon men’s champion Carlos Alcaraz (21 years old), top men’s seed Jannik Sinner (22), and top women’s players Iga Świątek (23), Coco Gauff (20), and Qinwen Zheng (21). 

New Money and Maybe New Facilities

This year’s Wimbledon also has a new monetary look as the All England Club raised the prize money fund by 11.9% to a record $64 million. Last year’s 8% bump in Wimbledon prize money helped prompt similar increases at the other three tennis majors, and is fueled in part by still-rising fan demand for tournament tickets. 

“Interest in attending Wimbledon has never been greater, with unprecedented demand for tickets through our public ballot and corporate hospitality,” said Deborah Jevans, All England Club chair.

The All England Club, meanwhile, is still attempting to pursue a dramatic, $250 million enlargement of its facility. Local officials have shown concern about the effort—several years in the making—to build a new, 8,000-seat stadium and 39 additional courts, but the matter is now in front of the office of London mayor Sadiq Khan in what remains a divisive local issue politically.

“I’m all for expanding. It’s bumper-to-bumper crowded when you walk into Wimbledon,” said Chris Evert, Tennis Hall of Famer and an ESPN broadcaster. “I definitely think that all the Grand Slams are going to continue [to pursue expansion]. It’s not going to stop now. I mean, whatever will suit the spectators, because they’re really the most important people in this whole thing, what makes it easier, more comfortable, more doable for them to roam around.”

Bristol Focus

ESPN’s “First Ball to Last Ball” coverage of the tournament will span more than 240 hours across the network and several other Disney-owned platforms.

The network’s coverage includes the addition of recently retired star player John Isner and the currently inactive Nick Kyrgios as guest commentators, something also advancing the theme of changing on-court talent at Wimbledon. Kyrgios, a finalist at this tournament two years ago, will also appear in the BBC’s event coverage.

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