What Serena Williams said about the Aga

Wimbledon residents can net a fortune from letting out their homes to tennis stars. Nicola Smith hears all about Greg Rusedski and the CD collection, not to mention Pete Sampras and the bouquet of flowers
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The Independent Online

Lucy Woodruff is confident that, financially speaking, the evacuation of herself, her husband and her three children from their five-bedroomed Victorian house in Wimbledon to let a world-famous tennis player move in once a year is worth it. Her family are not so sure. "I'm really awful with the whole family just beforehand - I'm frantic. God forbid any stray sticky fingers or socks are left around. They say 'we're not going through all this again next year.' But we do."

The Woodruffs are among the hundreds of home owners in the sought-after area of Wimbledon village who vacate their homes for between two and six weeks while the All England Club (AEC) hosts the annual Wimbledon tennis tournament. With the world's tennis stars prepared to pay upwards of £1,200 per week for two-bedroom accommodation in close proximity to the AEC, local residents happily take off to warmer climes, rediscover long-forgotten relatives or impose themselves on understanding friends, if Andre or Venus give them the nod. However, while some do little more than run the vacuum cleaner round, others will execute a full-blown military operation in order to make sure the house is just right.

"To me, it's a business," said Woodruff, who first rented her home to Ivan Lendl 15 years ago. "I take it very seriously. If Tennis London (the only accommodation agent recommended by the AEC) comes round with a player's representatives to have a look at the house, I'm selling a product. It has to be immaculate." Woodruff estimates that it takes two months to fully prepare the house prior to Wimbledon fortnight, cleaning out cutlery drawers, buying new linen, checking and replacing crockery, servicing appliances and putting away personal items to leave it as impersonal as possible. "I work very hard to prepare the house and I earn a salary from it."

The Woodruffs can expect to pocket in the region of £3,000 per week for their efforts and, in recent years, both Swiss player, Martina Hingis and three-times American champion, Pete Sampras have taken advantage of the property's location, less than one mile from the courts.

By contrast, Chris Limm, who lives in a two-bedroom conversion apartment in an old house 10 minutes' walk from the courts, spends just two hours preparing his home for its famous guests. "I've got two double wardrobes in the main en-suite bedroom and I'll cram my clothes into one half to create enough space for whoever stays. I buy new linen, but I leave everything else as it is - photos, CDs, wine rack all stay."

This lived-in look is favoured by the Swiss player, Roger Federer, who rented Limm's last two-bedroom home out in 2001. "Apparently he really liked the décor so came back to stay in my new place last year." Limm, who charges in the "low £2,000s" per week said it is important for owners to enter into the spirit of trust. "Basically, you let this stranger live in your house; they have the run of the place and can use anything they want to." Last year when he moved back he spotted that his wine rack was several bottles down. "I just put a claim in for expenses and Tennis London sorted it out."

Ann Borg and her husband, who first let their £2m lodge out to David Lloyd 20 years ago, find their CD collection is quite a draw. "We have over 2,500 CDs and Greg Rusedski had great fun going through them a couple of years back. He was such a nice boy. His coach told us he would be the next Wimbledon champion and we waited and waited, but it never happened."

Champion or not, no player knows exactly how long they will need a bed in Wimbledon. "If they get knocked out in the first few days, they will just go," said Joanna Doniger, owner of Tennis London. Players therefore commit to the week before Wimbledon and the first week of the tournament and then have the option to extend at a daily rate.

The uncertainty doesn't put people off. Tennis London has more than 150 properties on its books for Wimbledon fortnight, and owners accept that they must be flexible. While Borg plans to indulge her passion for travel, the Woodruffs are constrained by school holidays and will decamp to relatives, while Limm plans to visit Portugal. Players can't afford to be as relaxed and Doniger must be exacting about selecting suitable accommodation.

"It is very location-driven. Most players want to be in Wimbledon village, but some prefer to be in Southfields. Some want gardens; walk-in power showers are usually requested."

Kitchens are not high on the list of priorities, as most players will eat at the club or eat out. But most players have their own unique demands. Andre Agassi goes to great lengths to hide from the German paparazzi, defending men's champion - Australian Lleyton Hewitt - needs somewhere away from the buzz and Goran Ivanesevic likes enough garden to kick a ball around.

Doniger also has to take cultural differences into account. "I showed Serena Williams round a house last year and she looked at the Aga in the kitchen and said, 'What on earth is that?' She thought it looked like something out of the Middle Ages."

Old trainers and sweaty towels are sometimes left behind, but the Borgs received a bunch of flowers from the thoughtful Sampras. Sweaty trainers, smelly towels, fragrant flowers - who cares what's left, when a top athlete is paying you thousands of pounds to sleep in your bed?

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