Wimbledon fans have attributed a lower-than-expected turnout to fewer international spectators due to the absence of grand slam great Roger Federer.
Attendance at the Championships over the opening four days is down 11% compared with 2019 – the last time it was hosted without coronavirus restrictions limiting capacity.
From Monday to Thursday this week, the cumulative number of spectators was 153,193 – the sparsest attendance since 2007 when 148,986 people turned up.
The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) told the PA news agency that the main courts were being fully booked each day, but general ground passes were not selling out.
Officials added that any refunded Centre Court tickets were being resold on the website and bought “immediately”.
Almost everyone who spoke to PA in the famous SW19 queue for on-the-day tickets on Friday mentioned the absence of 20-time grand slam winner Federer and the hundreds of international fans he attracts.
The 40-year-old Swiss player has won Wimbledon eight times but is not competing this year as he recovers from undergoing knee surgery.
Fans also said the cost-of-living crisis and coronavirus are likely to be keeping spectators away.
Engineer Martin Jeffs, 61, who was queuing with Clive Cummings, 65, after they met in the line on Friday, told PA that in the 30 years he had been coming to Wimbledon, this year was notably the quietest.
When asked what he thought was behind this, he said: “Possibly Roger Federer.
“People came from all over the place to see him – America, Germany, South Africa.
“The crowd used to be mostly foreign visitors, which made it a good atmosphere, but it’s quite down this year.
“Covid might have dropped the crowd a little bit as well.”
Mr Cummings, a retired engineer from Worcester, added that they had arrived on Thursday hoping to secure Saturday tickets – but the queue was so short they could have got in on Friday.
Friends Louie Birchnall and Daniel Hill, both 23, also mentioned Federer’s effect.
Mr Birchnall, a student from Ashby in Leicestershire, said: “Last time we were here we got the diehard Federer fans with their country flags, and we haven’t seen that this year.
“Maybe international fans aren’t really present this year.”
He added that the return of the queue after a two-year hiatus due to coronavirus had not been well advertised and local people may not know about it.
Sue Potter, 65, a legal secretary from Devizes in Wiltshire, said she has been to Wimbledon around 20 times and this year is “the quietest one ever”.
She told PA: “Cost of living, Covid have all had an effect on it I imagine.
“We said normally the queue is full of Aussies, and we’ve hardly heard an Aussie accent as well.
“You normally see a lot of Swiss flags when Federer is playing. Obviously we haven’t seen any of them.”
Jacek Brudnicki, 35, and his wife Magdalena Stojer Brudnicka, 36, travelled from Warsaw in Poland to see their compatriot Iga Swiatek, who is also the women’s world number one.
They said Swiatek would have a lot of support from Poles living in the UK but by contrast to previous years, they had not come across anyone else who had flown from the country and felt “surrounded by Brits”.
When asked if they had noticed it being quieter, Mr Brudnicki, a lawyer attending Wimbledon for his fifth time, said: “Yeah, much.
“We were very surprised.
“We thought we would not be in such a high position in the queue and that we would not be able to get on to Centre Court.
“I feel that it is because Federer is not here.
“My impression was that there were really many of his freaky fans that you could already see people coming here for Federer, because you could see people dressed with his caps, with his logo, and T-shirt and so on.
“Every year it could be hundreds of people who just came for him, and maybe some people didn’t know that the queue is back on because it’s the first time after Covid.”
Speaking about Swiatek, he added: “There are a lot of Poles here in the UK so she will definitely have a lot of fans in the stadium.
“The majority will be UK residents.
“We’ve mainly met British people, but there are some Polish.”
Ms Stojer Brudnicka, an interpreter, said: “The last time we arrived here in the tent we came at about 10pm, and we got number 2,800 in the queue, in 2016.
“This year, we arrived two hours earlier, but still, we got the number 218.
“Maybe some people are afraid of travelling and Covid is still playing a role.”
She added: “The only way to get tickets for international fans is to stay here in the line who just don’t want to do it.
“If you don’t live here, you can’t buy them, there’s only a ballot for UK residents.”
Some 114,573 fans poured into SW19 over the first three days of matches, with 36,603 on Monday, 39,450 on Tuesday, 38,520 on Wednesday and 38,620 on Thursday.