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Welcome to Fortress Wimbledon ... with players kept in strict coronavirus bubble

·3-min read
Novak Djokovic will be hoping to repeat his Wimbledon victory of 2019 (PA)
Novak Djokovic will be hoping to repeat his Wimbledon victory of 2019 (PA)

The full extent of the extraordinary “bubble” to protect tennis stars and ensure this year’s Wimbledon can go ahead can now be revealed.

Last year’s tournament was cancelled for the first time in three-quarters of a century, another casualty of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It returns on Monday, but all players will be kept behind closed doors as part of the Covid safety operation.

In previous years, tennis fans might have spotted 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams enjoying dinner in Wimbledon Village or seen five-time world number one Rafael Nadal shopping in nearby Southfields.

This year, everyone, including tennis greats Andy Murray, Roger Federer and reigning champion Novak Djokovic must stay at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge. This, the All England Lawn Tennis Club says, is to create a “minimised risk environment” — meaning the chance of Covid infection or spread among players is decreased.

After arriving in the UK, players are required to take a rapid Covid test to prove they are negative before gaining access to the hotel. A negative test is also required for their three elected team members — which can include coaches or other professionals, or a member of their family. In normal years, a player could have a team and family group of 15 people plus.

The Park Plaza Westminster Bridge is home to the players for this year’s tournament (Jeremy Selwyn)
The Park Plaza Westminster Bridge is home to the players for this year’s tournament (Jeremy Selwyn)

Once competitors have joined what players are calling the “Wimbledon bubble” they are not allowed to interact with anyone outside until they are knocked out of the competition. They are not allowed to leave the hotel — other than in a special fleet of Wimbledon vehicles to take them to the Championship site in SW19 and back again.

Andy Murray has been granted a wild card for this year’s event (Getty Images)
Andy Murray has been granted a wild card for this year’s event (Getty Images)

Players and their teams will be tested for Covid-19 throughout their stay.

Other than training on court at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, players are only allowed to use the hotel facilities to pass the time. Park Plaza Westminster Bridge has 1,019 rooms and suites. For the public, rooms start at £150 for the most basic and go up to over £800 for the presidential suite. The hotel has views of the London Eye and Big Ben. It has a 15-metre swimming pool, sauna and steam room, plus an extensive gym.

Simona Halep lifted the women’s title in 2019 - but injury has forced her out of the 2021 Championships (Getty Images)
Simona Halep lifted the women’s title in 2019 - but injury has forced her out of the 2021 Championships (Getty Images)

The hotel has four restaurants — Brasserie Joël where breakfast is served, Ichi Sushi and Sashimi Bar, Primo Bar which offers cocktails, and the Illy Caffe serving coffee and pastries.

Junior players are staying at alternative accommodation. Competitors from around the world began arriving at the hotel earlier this week — with some offering a snapshot of life inside on social media. Defending women’s champion Halep posted a picture of herself on a balcony overlooking the London Eye with a Wimbledon-themed cake. However, this morning she was forced to pull out of the tournament due to injury.

Meanwhile, Brandon Nakashima’s coach Dusan Vemic posted a video of the American player practising in his hotel room.

Wimbledon Village is bouncing back from last year’s cancellation (Jeremy Selwyn)
Wimbledon Village is bouncing back from last year’s cancellation (Jeremy Selwyn)

British hope Harriet Dart said: “Of course we are restricted but then the whole year has been restricted so I don’t think that is anything new. I heard there are lots of restaurants in the hotel and I am looking forward to trying some good food.”

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