Wimbledon has bounced back from the Covid-19 pandemic with more than half a million people flocking to the south-west London tennis championships after a sluggish start.
The grand slam came to a close on Sunday after Serbian Novak Djokovic triumphed against Australian Nick Kyrgios in the men’s singles final.
It followed Elena Rybakina winning the women’s singles title on Saturday after defeating Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur.
Figures from the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC), which organises Wimbledon, show that 515,164 people attended the SW19 grounds during the two-week tournament.
The attendance figures have only twice surpassed the half-a-million mark, with 511,043 in 2009 and then 500,397 in 2019 – the last time it was hosted without coronavirus restrictions limiting capacity.
This year’s figures are the highest ever for the grand slam but this is partly because matches were played on Middle Sunday.
The first Sunday, which is usually used as a day off to allow the grass to recover, saw 39,427 people in 2022 where there would usually be no attendance.
So discounting Sunday, there was a total of 475,740 people – a 5% decrease from the equivalent 2019 figures.
The numbers still show a bounce back from the pandemic, which saw the tournament cancelled in 2021 and just 301,837 attend in 2021 due to reduced spectator capacity.
The second week figures for this year’s championship were around the same level as the pre-pandemic years.
Glorious sunshine and plus-30C in the last few days saw fans crowding the hill to its 1,500 capacity to watch the quarter-final, semi-final and final matches.
Another draw was British number one Cameron Norrie, whose profile rocketed as he progressed in the competition, becoming the last British singles player standing until he was beaten by Djokovic in the semi-final.
But in the first week of the grand slam, the AELTC was dogged by disappointing attendance figures after it had expected 42,000 tickets to be sold daily.
Just 36,603 people entered the SW19 grounds on the opening Monday – a 14% drop from 42,517 in 2019.
The cumulative number of spectators was 153,193 from the first Monday to Thursday – the sparsest attendance since 2007 when 148,986 people turned up.
Fans attributed the drop to a combination of the cost-of-living crisis, fears about catching coronavirus, and the absence of eight-time Wimbledon winner Roger Federer who normally draws in swathes of international observers.
Meanwhile, tennis-lovers said attendance in the famous Wimbledon queue for premium on-the-day tickets, which also returned after a Covid-induced two-year hiatus, was at least five times lower this year than in 2019.
Almost everyone in the queue who spoke to the PA news agency about the issue mentioned the absence of 20-time grand slam winner Federer while many suggested anxieties around Covid could be a factor.
AELTC chief executive Sally Bolton said demand was only “soft” at the end of the queue, especially later in the day, while show court ticket sales were “as high as ever before”.
Speaking to reporters on the second Monday, Ms Bolton said organisers had been gathering information and talking to people in the queue about their experience to gauge why there had been a fall in demand in that area.
“Everything about the championship, particularly fan behaviour, is more of an art than a science and so of course we look at the things that will be different on any given day and what that results in,” she said.
Ms Bolton went on to say that Wimbledon were looking to “evolve” and “protect” the queue so that it “stays relevant” in the future.
“In the box of thinking about all the things that might have contributed to the experience we have had this year, certainly the fact that we haven’t had a full championship since 2019.
“Stating the obvious, the world has changed and all our behaviour has changed and that is certainly something we will think about.”
She spoke about the “real delicate balance” of promoting the queue but not to the extent that they see excessive numbers and have to turn away people.
“Again, we’re learning this year, and we will take that away and think about what we do for the future,” she said.
During the tournament, reports emerged that the AELTC is considering making the queue partly digital after the marked dip in attendance at the start of the week.
Potential changes are said to include allowing fans to leave the line once they have scanned in and then receive an alert when they can enter, while tickets could also become available online.
The physical queue is expected to remain in some form but most likely with a reduced capacity.
But veteran fans opposed the idea of a virtual queue in any form, saying it would detract from the atmosphere and allow people to claim tickets easily only to drop them later.
A spokesperson said: “This year was a special and memorable year for The Championships, as we celebrated 100 years of Centre Court.
“It was fantastic to welcome back full crowds for the first time since 2019 to share in the joy of the Wimbledon fortnight.”