It is an unmistakable spectacle of British summer: across a stretch of well-kept green, Tennis Players shoot balls over the net while spectators – some seated, others stretched out on the grass banks – watch in the lazy afternoon heat.
This is Wimbledon – the third major tournament of the calendar year – but the venue and the competitors are not quite as well known. At this tennis club, the crowds are smaller, the cheers are quieter, and the courts crowd together close to the All England Club three miles away.
While the main draw at Wimbledon may not start until next week, the journey of getting there for more than 250 players has already begun.
The four-day qualifying tournament in Roehampton, London could be a golden ticket to the main stage of Wimbledon – a place where some players dream of competing for the rest of their careers.
American Mitchell Krueger said: “I haven’t actually been to the main group at Wimbledon since my final years with the juniors in 2012. It’s been 10 years.” CNN Sport.
“And in fact, that’s where we stay by the Wimbledon gate. Every day I’m so close – I can see it, but I haven’t actually gone through the gates in 10 years, so obviously it would be amazing to be there again.”
Prior to Monday, Krueger had never won a Wimbledon qualifier – affectionately known as the “Qualifiers”. But a 6-1 6-4 win over Briton Luca Pow made the 28-year-old take a small but important step towards a key tie.
“I played a lot of close matches in the first rounds, but I didn’t really get over the humps,” Krueger continued. “The fact that I was able to get close is really big. I am excited to keep the grasscourt season going.”
Most players qualify for the Grand Slam by their ranking positions, but up to eight slots in each lottery are reserved for wild cards – decided by tournament organizers – and 16 are in the playoffs, meaning those with a good rank outside the top 100 have An unlikely chance of winning big. Hello glory.
Until last year, no player in the playoffs had ever won a Grand Slam title. But Emma Radocano’s victory over Leila Fernandez In the US Open final, he spawned one of tennis’ most famous stories, as the 18-year-old triumphed without dropping a set during the course.
Even progressing through qualification is not easy. Players must either win all three of their matches, or hope to secure a place as a “lucky loser” after a late withdrawal from the main draw.
“There will always be some nerves, especially for a slam, but I think the good thing about qualifying is you kind of fall behind,” says Krueger, who first qualified for the main draw at a major slam. at the US Open 2018.
“You’re going to have three tough matches under your belt, while the others come with nothing. If you can handle it physically, being able to qualify is sure to be an advantage.”
Success in qualification can also be a huge payday for those in the lower rankings.
Eligible men’s and women’s singles have a combined prize fund of £3,648,000 (about $4,465,000) – an increase of 26% in 2021 – and just making it to the first round of the main draw is enough to earn a one-time payment of 50 £1,000 (about $61,000).
In this year’s Wimbledon qualifiers, some stadiums are equipped with temporary stands, while in others, spectators can occupy a viewing site meters from the event, creating an intimate atmosphere for the players.
It can take time to adapt to playing conditions – especially for those with limited grasscourt experience. Swiss Alexander Richard, ranked 192nd in the world, is competing in his second championship on grass.
“It’s very different,” Richard told CNN Sport after his 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 win over Britain’s Stewart Parker. “But it’s definitely a fun surface with a bounce I’ve never seen before. I feel like I don’t have as much control of the ball as I usually do on other courts.
“I’m also surprised that while it’s kind of fast, it’s kind of slow,” he adds. “I can’t do that yet – I’m working on it.”
Richard did not make the main draw at a Grand Slam, but came close to participating in this year’s French Open when he lost in the third round of qualifying. He says it would be “very special” to go to Wimbledon.
“This would definitely be a dream come true,” he says. “Growing up, you always talk about Wimbledon when you were a kid.
“I would also like to play on the main site – that would be cool. Those stadiums look great… The last time I was there I think I was eight, just as a fan to go and watch. I don’t quite remember what it looked like.”
Some of the players competing in the qualifiers have already graced the main stage of Wimbledon. Ukraine’s Daria Snegur won the girls’ singles title on Central Court three years ago and is now looking to compete in her first major tournament.
“I love the grass courts,” she told CNN Sport after winning her opener playoff game. “This is my favorite spot…and the grass is my favorite surface. Of course, I want to play in the main draw.”
Snigour plays in Roehampton with the Ukrainian flag hanging on her tennis set and thinking about her homeland is close to her heart.
Snigur is behind Wimbledon’s decision to exclude Russians and Belarusians, which she says is “very important” to her as a Ukrainian: “For me, it doesn’t matter – with or without points,” she adds.
The removal of ranking points from this year’s Wimbledon did not prevent players from competing in the tournament, which will include nine of the top 10 players in the women’s rankings and seven of the top 10 in the men’s. The four absent due to injury and the exclusion of the players of Russia and Belarus.
The tournament has the added incentive of additional prize money – the total purse is just over £40 million ($49 million), a 15.2% increase on last year – but the prestige of the competition at Wimbledon is also an attraction – as are those who play In qualification are fully aware.
For some, just standing on manicured lawns for a championship is the fulfillment of long-standing dreams.
“At Wimbledon, Wimbledon is always going to be special no matter what happens,” Krueger says. “Playing in the main group at Wimbledon is everyone’s goal – it doesn’t matter if there are points or not.”