It's Friday night, when much of the rest of the world says “Thank God It’s Friday” and marks the end of a working week. Inside the grounds at Wimbledon, however, the call to “go home” coincides with the arrival of armies of specialist staff who beaver away through the night to prepare for the following day. Wimbledon never sleeps. The players go, the spectators leave, the day staff clock out, the night stewards take over the Queue management – and then Wimbledon nightlife starts.
Two years ago John Isner and Nicholas Mahut put on the longest match in tennis history – playing a total of 183 games for 11 hours and 5 minutes, over three days, with a final scoreline of 6-4, 3-6, 6-7(7-9), 7-6(7-3), 70-68. The night staff could be forgiven for considering them lucky. Isner and Mahut may have had the feeling they were providing a time-suspended continuous backdrop of exemplary tennis action for the real-time progress of a tournament, but, hey, they had two nights' sleep in the course of their marathon match!
From dusk to dawn, it's all action inside the All England Club. First in, from 10.30pm onwards, is the army of cleaning staff who pick up litter, pressure-wash floors, empty bins, wipe and polish. The court cleaners aim to get around the entire bowls of Centre and No.1 Court in half an hour. From quite a distance, you hear the cry of “Bucket!” as the cleaners, working with bin liners to dispose of the rubbish and plastic Pimm’s cups, have to share a bucket to slop out any undrunk Pimm’s. Regardless of the weather, the court attendants cover the courts and inflate. Security continues at the same level around the clock with a guard and dog positioned on Centre Court all night.
In the broadcast centre, the rooftop is busy with al fresco highlights-package filming. Suddenly the European studios lie deserted, but the American broadcasters have a five to 10-hour time difference to accommodate, so it’s lights out quite late in there.
Catering staff – on the late, late shift – re-stock the shelves, chiller cabinets and fridges in all the food and beverage outlets. The rubbish is systematically crushed and removed. Night deliveries of fresh food and extra supplies of drink arrive in waves culminating in the lorries bearing the precious daily cargo of 2,000kg-plus of iconic strawberries at 3am. Kitchen staff – on the early, early shift – arrive to hull strawberries and chop, slice and mix salads, and prep fillets of chicken and salmon.
Campers in the Queue are up by 5am and packing away the overnight kit ready to leave in Left Luggage. As the sun rises, Imogen Davis of Avian Control brings in the new man of the moment above Wimbledon – aka Rufus, the Harris hawk, complete with his staff photocard pass and twitter followers – to do his pigeon deterrent work. The programmes, printed overnight once Order of Play has been confirmed, come in. The ground staff count the blades of grass in a given area on each court to compile the record of how each court deteriorates throughout the fortnight. The sniffer dogs start their professional prowling … and then, hello, it's the day staff back … and the players on the practice courts, and the spectator sprint to their favoured courtside position ...
Another Championship Day dawns ready for Ladies’ Final Day.