This is Wimbledon – the third Grand Slam tournament of the calendar year – but the place and the competitors are not exactly as most people know it. In this tennis club the crowds are smaller, the applause is quieter and the courts are closer to each other than in the All England Club three miles away.
Although Wimbledon’s main draw may not start until next week, for more than 250 players, the journey has already begun.
The four-day qualifier in London’s Rohampton district could be a golden ticket to the main stage of Wimbledon – a place where some players have dreamed of competing throughout their careers.
“And actually, the place we’re staying is right next to Wimbledon Gate. I’m so close every day – I see it, but I haven’t actually been through the gates in 10 years, so it would obviously be amazing to be there one more time.”
Before Monday, Krueger had never won a Wimbledon qualifier – lovingly known as the “qualifiers”. But a 6-1 6-4 victory over Britain’s Luca Poe allowed the 28-year-old to take a small but significant step towards the mainstream.
“I played a lot of close matches in the first rounds, but in fact I never overcame the hump,” Krueger continued. “The fact that I managed to get out is really big. I’m busy to continue my season on the grass.”
Most players qualify for Grand Slam tournaments by their position in the standings, but up to eight places in each draw are reserved for wild cards – decided by the tournament organizers – and 16 for qualifiers, which means that those out of the top 100 are unlikely. chance for grand slam glory.
Even advancing through qualifying is not a trivial feat. Players must either win all three games or hope to be able to take the place of the “lucky loser” after a late retirement.
“There will always be nerves, especially for the helmet, but I think the good thing about going through the qualifiers is that you somehow stay behind,” said Krueger, who first qualified for the main draw at the 2018 US Open Grand Slam.
“You’ll have three tough games under your belt while everyone else comes in with nothing. If you can do it physically, it’s definitely an advantage to be able to qualify.”
Success in qualifying can also be a significant salary for those who are lower in the rankings.
Qualifying singles for men and women have a combined prize pool of £ 3,648,000 (about $ 4,465,000) – an increase of 26% over 2021 – and just entering the first round of the main draw is enough to win a one-off payment from £ 50.00 (about $ 61,000).
‘A dream come true’
This year’s Wimbledon qualifiers, some courts are equipped with temporary grandstands, while others can take a spectacle meters away from the action, creating an intimate atmosphere for players.
Adapting to the conditions of the game can take time – especially for those with limited experience on grass courts. The Swiss Alexander Richard, ranked №. 192 in the world, competed only in his second grass tournament.
“It’s very different. “I’m absolutely not used to it,” Richard told CNN Sport after his 4-6 6-1 6-2 win over Britain’s Stuart Parker. “But it’s definitely a fun bounce floor I’ve never seen before. I feel like I don’t have as much control over the ball as I usually do on other courts.
“I’m also surprised that while it’s kind of fast, it’s also slow,” he added. “I still can’t figure it out – I’m working on it.”
Richard has never played in the main draw of the Grand Slam, but came close to this year’s French Open when he lost in the third round of qualifying. Going a step further at Wimbledon, he says, would be “very special”.
“It would certainly be a dream come true,” he said. “As you grow up, you always talk about Wimbledon as a child.
“I would also like to play on the main site – that would be great. These courts look great … The last time I was there, I think I was eight, just like a fan to go and watch. I don’t remember exactly what it looks like. “
Some players in the qualifiers have already decorated the main stage of Wimbledon. Ukraine’s Daria Snigur won the girls’ singles title at Central Court three years ago and is now applying for her first Grand Slam tournament.
“I love the grass court,” she told CNN Sport after winning her first qualifying match. “This is my favorite place … and the grass is my favorite pavement. Of course, I want to play in the main circuit.”
Snigur plays in Rowhampton with the flag of Ukraine hung on her tennis team and thoughts of her homeland are close to her heart.
Snigur is completely behind Wimbledon’s decision to exclude Russians and Belarusians, which she says is “very important” for her as a Ukrainian: “It doesn’t matter to me – with or without points,” she added.
The removal of this year’s Wimbledon points 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 rankings. The four absentees are due to injuries and the exclusion of Russian and Belarusian players.
The tournament has an additional incentive of extra prize money – the total portfolio is just over 40 million ($ 49 million), a 15.2% increase over last year – but the prestige of Wimbledon is also a lure – as those who play during of qualification are fully aware.
For some, just stepping on the tournament’s maintained lawns is a long-held dream come true.
“Wimbledon is Wimbledon, it will always be special, no matter what happens,” says Krueger. “Playing in the main set of Wimbledon is everyone’s goal – it doesn’t matter if there are points or not.