There will be 15,000 spectators when Wimbledon's Centre Court fills for the opening day of the championships this afternoon, but no more than 24 will be truly wrapped up in each match.
Those will be the occupants of the Players' Box, the strangely angled corner segment of the arena which seats the competitors' nearest and dearest, their Svengalis, coaches and agents.
Other than the court itself it is the most photographed and filmed part of Wimbledon as the likes of Judy Murray (Andy's mum), Mirka Federer (Roger's wife) and Richard Williams (Serena and Venus's dad), attempt to stifle their emotions as their loved ones compete. Wimbledon's players' boxes (there is also one on No.1 court) are also unique on the circuit. Usually there is simply an area of seating set aside for players' guests.
It is the place the players turn to if a match is drifting away, or when seeking a second opinion before challenging a line-call through the Hawkeye replay technology. Coaching of players during a match is illegal, but it goes on, and many a secret signal is exchanged between player and coach.
Centre Court's box had been there, a Wimbledon spokesman said, "for as long as anyone can remember". Yet for all the television cutaways that captured the impassive features of John McEnroe's Beanie-hatted father as his son exploded in an tantrum, or the more volatile Gloria Connors, who once shouted out to her son, "hit him in the slats, Jimmy", it was not until 1987 that the box took centre stage. That was when Australian Pat Cash won Wimbledon and marked his triumph by clambering through and over the spectators to embrace his family, his girlfriend Anne-Britt Kristiansen, and coach Ian Barclay, in the box. Many first-time champions have since followed suit, though they usually take a more sedate route.
Each player used to get six tickets but, with the growth in support networks, that has been increased to a dozen. No one is likely to need the extra tickets more than Murray who, unlike most payers, works not with one lead coach, but with a retinue.
Watching can be stressful. Goran Ivanesevic, the 1997 champion, banned his father, Srdjan, from watching him for two years after a heart operation. The knee of Patrick Cash senior would jump, seemingly involuntarily, whenever his son served. However, even when the players had six seats apiece and their guests would sit in two rows, one in front of the other, neither family members nor coaches appear to have exchanged cross words, let alone blows, despite the close confines. It is suggested that the aura of Wimbledon keeps them in check.
Spare seats – the box holds about 39, and they are the same tip-up seats as elsewhere in the arena – are usually distributed to officials of various tennis organisations and other notables who cannot be found a place elsewhere. One seat is always occupied by the same person, familiar to many television viewers for his goatee beard and black stetson. This is David Spearing, the Honourary Steward, whose job is to make sure everyone sits in the right place and is looked after. The role goes to the Championships' longest-serving steward, a position Spearing has held for 15 years. Now in his seventies, he knows what a privileged position he holds and has said: "When I leave this box, it will be in another box."
In prime position is the British No.1's mother, mentor and first coach, Judy Murray. Alongside her is usually Kim Sears, Andy's long-time girlfriend. Brother Jamie only occasionally appears as he has own schedule to keep as a leading doubles player. His father, Willie, who is divorced from Judy, is rarely seen. Murray's professional entourage is led by Dani Vallverdu, a former Venezuelan Davis Cup player who trained alongside Murray as a junior in Spain, and Sven Groeneveld, an adidas coach. Making up the support are Jez Green and Matt Little (fitness trainers), Andy Ireland (physio), Matt Gentry (PR) and Simon Oliveira, and other staff from the 19 management agency. Murray occasionally invites a celebrity or two: cycling gold medallist Chris Hoy, boxer Ricky Hatton, and comedian Billy Connolly have supported him during his Australian Open finals.
The defending champion and No.1 seed will be watched by his coach and uncle, Toni, who it has been suggested indulges in some sideline coaching. Indeed, at the Italian Open once, Roger Federer was moved to shout, 'Stop coaching, Toni' during the match.
Also watching will be Nadal's parents, Sebastian and Ana Maria, and probably girlfriend Maria Francisca Perello. Fitness trainer Rafael Maymo and PR Benito Perez Barbadillo will also be there. Nadal is regularly followed by members of the Spanish royal family, but at Wimbledon they would be found in the wicker seats of the Royal Box.
The six-time Wimbledon champion's wife Mirka, who he met while both were playing tennis for Switzerland at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, will be there, although their 23-month-old twin daughters are usually elsewhere. His parents, Robbie and Lynette, will probably be present along with coach Paul Annacone, the Swiss Davis Cup captain Sverin Luthi, fitness coach Pierre Paganini and agent Tony Godsick. Federer is also prominent on the celebrity circuit and his guest seats have at times been filled by the singer Gwen Stefani and her husband, Gavin Rossdale, and the US Vogue editor Anna Wintour, although the latter has so far only been seen at tournaments in New York and Paris.
Ana Ivanovic, one of the most eye-catching players on the women's circuit, has been a guest of Djokovic but the relationship is a platonic one – both are Serbs. While Ivanovic's presence depends on her tennis schedule, Jelena Ristic, Djokovic's girlfriend, will be there along with his parents, Srdjan and Dijana. His younger brothers, Marko and Djordje, both players themselves, may attend. His coach, Marian Vajda, certainly will.
The Danish No.1 seed will be watched by her Polish parents Piotr and Anna, who were, respectively, a professional footballer (Caroline was born in Denmark because he moved to a Danish club) and a volleyball international. Her agent, John Tobias, will be present along with coaches Max Merkel and Sven Groeneveld – unless her opponent is also on the books of adidas, through whom they work for Wozniacki. Her brother Patrik, a professional footballer with the Danish club Hvidovre, may appear. She would probably like to invite Steven Gerrard – she is a Liverpool fan and wore one of his signed shirts on court in Qatar this year.
Wozniacki, who has reached No.1 without winning a major, is known for her humour. She pretended to be a journalist at Wimbledon at the weekend and interrogated Novak Djokovic (who was in on the joke, and is her next-door neighbour in Monte Carlo) in the press conference.
Serena and Venus Williams
Richard Williams, the most famous father in tennis, will be absent only if his daughters face each other, when he cannot bear to watch. He may not be in the box, however, as he and his ex-wife Oracene often to take turns to watch from there. Richard, rarely seen without a camera round his neck, climbed down from the box to the court when Venus won the Williams' first Wimbledon title in 2002, shouting out, "straight outta Compton", a reference to the Los Angeles ghetto the family came from. He celebrated Serena's first title by dancing on the roof of the BBC commentary box in front, terrifying the occupants. The sisters sometimes watch each other, depending on their playing schedules, and may be joined by other siblings Lyndrea and Isha, although tragically not Yetunde, who was killed in a gang-related shooting in Compton in 2003.
Li Na, who became the first Chinese grand slam winner when she triumphed in Paris earlier this month, will be watched by her husband – and former coach – Jiang Shan, right, his successor, the Dane Michael Mortensen, her fitness coach, Alex Stober, and her agent, Max Eisenbud. Her mother won't be present – Li recently said she had asked her mother to watch, but "she really doesn't enjoy the sport". Li told Time magazine: "I've asked her many times. She always answers, 'No, I have my life, and I don't want to change'. So even after the French Open, I didn't call her. I sent a text message saying, 'I'm good. Now in Paris, on my way back to Munich.' And she said, 'I heard you won a tournament'."Reuse content