Tennis stars duel over Wimbledon digs
For the world's best tennis players, the charm of Wimbledon isn't grass courts, ivy or the tradition of all-white clothes. It's the chance to live in a lovely Wimbledon home.
The tennis season runs from January to late November, and many players spend as little as six weeks at home. On the road, life's everyday perks — living rooms, commodious refrigerators, washing machines, backyards — are rare. So when Wimbledon arrives, players don't just compete for trophies, but to find and secure the best digs.
First order of business: meet with Joanna Doniger, Queen Mother of Wimbledon rentals for the past 19 years. She brokers about 150 rentals a year during Wimbledon, all within walking distance of the All England Club. She's doubly busy this summer, as the Olympic tennis tournament will be held at Wimbledon.
For the security of players, owners who rent their homes are sworn to secrecy about the identities of their famous tenants, though they are known to brag among neighbors after the tournament ends.
"People in Wimbledon are pretty well-heeled, and there is a competitive edge," Doniger said. "They want to have a top player in their bed."
Doniger closes many of her deals at the Sony Open in Miami in March. The best houses go early to the best players, who have more money — and also know that they'll rank high enough to play in the tournament, so they can afford to sign early. Then there's the inevitable English class distinction between Wimbledon Village, a restaurant-strewn, posh section a short walk from the club, and less-expensive Southfields, at the bottom of a very steep hill.
"Southfields is for the up and coming," Doniger said. "The village is for those who have arrived." In the village, homes generally cost about £1,500 ($2,345) per week per bedroom. In Southfields, a two-bedroom, one bath flat runs about £1,400 a week. Svetlana Kuznetsova, winner of two major titles, remembers her days at the bottom. "I hate to walk up the hill," she said. "It's like you never get there."
Doniger says that men and women prefer the village for different reasons. "The girls are all business and like to be very close to the courts, and the guys like to be in the village so they can walk around and strut their stuff," she said. "Let's face it, they're good looking, tennis players. They're very tall."