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Tennis | Wimbledon

Empty seats put ticket policy in spotlight



Wimbledon's ticket policy came under scrutiny on Tuesday after several of the tournament's top stars played against a backdrop of empty seats.

As the defending Wimbledon champion and reigning world No 1, Serena Williams' Centre Court opener against Mandy Minella should have been a guaranteed full house.

But instead the 16-time Grand Slam champion was greeted by vast swathes of empty seats when she walked into the arena.

Those seats stayed unfilled for the majority of Williams' comprehensive victory, while out on Court Two British contender Heather Watson played in front of a surprisingly small crowd for her defeat against America's Madison Keys.

If Serena couldn't persuade fans to stay in their seats, it was hardly surprising there were also plenty of empty spaces for the start of world No 4 David Ferrer's unglamourous tie against Argentina's Martin Alund on Centre Court.

Serena tried to play it down rather than alienate her fans, saying: "I didn't notice. When I go to a sporting event, I don't walk around so much.

"But I think people have to do what makes them happy. Like if I'm at an amusement park, I don't really get on the rides. I'm always eating.

"Maybe there's really good food here. But I think when a match starts, usually it takes a little while for the crowd to roll in.

"I don't really know. Whatever people want to do is fine with me."

But it was the second successive day that the large numbers of empty seats had raised eyebrows after defending men's champion Roger Federer started his victory over Victor Hanescu in front of a less than capacity crowd on Centre Court.

And former England footballer Gary Lineker, now a television presenter in Britain, was one of a number of viewers to express his frustration on Twitter.

"Lots of empty seats on centre court. Corporate lethargy no doubt. What a waste of tickets so many could give their right arm for #wimbledon," he tweeted.

Others suggested tickets had been "wasted" on businesses and sponsors.

The criticisms echoed the controversy which broke out last year after numerous empty seats were spotted at the Olympics. This led to accusations that organisers gave too many tickets to sponsors and media.

However, a spokesman from the All England Club tried to play down the row and said spectators would naturally leave their seats to get refreshments at what is an all-day event.

Traditionally tickets for Wimbledon are hard to come by with dedicated fans camping out in a nearby park for days on end in the hope of securing a highly-prized Centre Court or Court One ticket.

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