Jobs at Wimbledon: All play (and a lot of work) in SW19

Sun and Sharapova are a match made in heaven for students working at Wimbledon, says Nick Jackson
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The Independent Online

Forget the football, nothing says it's summer like Wimbledon: strawberries, Maria Sharapova, and the cheerful pessimism of knowing this is one tournament we will never win.

For three months in July, a rather dull stretch of opulent suburbia becomes a glorious herald of lazy days and warm evenings. The only drawback is having to pay for it. With a little forethought, though, there is no need. Applications begin in the autumn and close early in the year, which means you have to think ahead, but it is well worth it. Wimbledon could not be better timed for students looking to earn a little extra cash at the beginning of the holidays. There are plenty of jobs and if you are willing to put up with the minimum wage on offer for most, there are few better ways to start the summer break.

Not many people will have an easier job than Henry Barstow this summer, nor one with a better view. Barstow, 23, is relaxing after history finals at Edinburgh by working as a court coverer at Wimbledon. This is his third year as one of the fine young folk who, when the cameras swing to a crooning Cliff Richard, go into action, making sure the courts do not get muddy.

"It's literally the most basic job going," admits Barstow. Of course, Wimbledon is supposedly timed to avoid the rain, and if the sun continues to blaze away Barstow will be free to wander the courts, watching whatever games catch his eye. Even if the dark clouds loom, court coverers can pretty much kick back and watch the tennis, moving into action for only a tiny part of their working day. "It's the best job I've done," he says. "You sit there watching tennis all day, getting a bit of a tan if you're lucky - and you get paid for it."

Not surprisingly, you do not need any previous experience or qualifications. Some training is necessary, though, and you will need to be available for four training days in the fortnight before the tournament. Tennis is only one part of Wimbledon, however. There's nothing that builds up an appetite like watching someone else sweat it out in the sun, and there is an army of waiters and cooks to cater for everyone from the elite diners in the Members' restaurant to the ice-cream stand.

"Generally it's all students," says Madeline Zajdler, 21, an archaeology and anthropology student at Edinburgh who is working in the Members' restaurant. "There's a really good atmosphere, it's really sociable, really fun." Even more so if, like Zajdler, you arrange for a bunch of friends to work there together.

Waiting tables is no doddle, but at least you get to bump up your wage with tips, and there are other compensations. "It's hard work but when the tennis starts you just sit and you've got a perfect view of some of the courts," says Zajdler. "And we've had a few celebs in. That's quite exciting."

Zajdler has previous experience of working in restaurants and bars, but she is pretty modest about the effect her CV had on the recruitment team. "If you apply on time you'll get the job," she says.

Zajdler and Barstow both play a bit of tennis for fun, but never in serious competition. Obviously, you do not need any specialist tennis knowledge to cover courts or wait tables. If, however, you are more serious about your game there is the chance to be more engaged with what is going on on court.

IBM relays all the statistics on play, numbers of aces, double faults and the like, to the BBC, and from there the world. Each year it hires a team of 30, with students brought in as tennis experts to analyse the points. The experts get a perfect view of the court from the commentary booths, but there is more pressure than other jobs.

"You're making decisions analysing the shots that go live across all the TV screens and the internet in less than half a second," says Blake Hutchins, 22, a former national junior player and economics and politics student at Edinburgh. It's quite a responsibility, but if you love the game it is a great chance to watch some stellar players.

To qualify, you need a good knowledge of the game, and playing experience at least of county level. But although the company is a bit more elite than among the Barstows on the court, Hutchins says the main reasons to work at Wimbledon are the same for everyone. "It's a great way to start the summer," he says. "You get to watch the tennis surrounded by cool people. If you love tennis, want to get a bit of sun and work with some great people, it's ideal."

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