(Reuters) - The Wimbledon Championships will become a 14-day tournament from 2022, with matches set to be played on Middle Sunday, traditionally a day off at the grasscourt Grand Slam, the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) said on Tuesday.
The first Sunday of Wimbledon is normally a rest day, on which tournament organisers work to get the courts back into top shape for the latter rounds, resulting in a so-called "Manic Monday" featuring the entire fourth round of both the men's and women's singles.
"From 2022, to coincide with the centenary of centre court, Middle Sunday will become a permanent part of the tournament schedule, turning the Championships into a 14-day event," AELTC chairman Ian Hewitt said.
"Thanks to improved grass court technology and maintenance over the past five years... we are comfortable that we are able to look after the courts, most particularly centre court, without a full day of rest."
Middle Sunday has rarely been needed and only when bad weather has required some catch-up time for organisers. It featured in 1991, 1997, 2004 and 2016 -- allowing fans a rare chance to buy on-the-day tickets.
Wimbledon is the only one of the four Grand Slams that includes a rest day in the middle.
Hewitt said there had been no pressure from the ATP or WTA to alter the scheduling.
"The most logical thing is that the fourth round will be split over two days to do justice to that important part of the tournament," he told a news conference.
"We are confident we can make it a special day."
NO PRIVATE HOUSING
This year's tournament is eagerly-awaited after Wimbledon was cancelled last year for the first time since World War II because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But it will feel different.
Organisers have had to ensure a Minimised Risk Environment to satisfy health protocols, meaning players will be limited to a maximum of three in their entourage and they will have to stay in designated hotels, rather than the plush private housing the top players generally prefer.
"The minimised risk environment we created for the players is a requirement from the government to bring athletes without them going into quarantine upon entry into the UK," AELTC chief executive Sally Bolton said.
"Players enjoy private housing and we hope to bring it back next year but it's just not possible this year."
The rule applies even to British players such as Andy Murray, who lives a short drive away from the grounds, and instead will have to stay in a hotel this year.
Wimbledon is planning for a 25% capacity but hopes that will be increased as lockdown restrictions ease.
The tournament starts on June 28, a week after the Government hopes to free the country of COVID-19 restrictions.
However, organisers say that even if the country is unlocked, players will still have to remain in a bubble.
"What might happen in the UK is different to what happens to international travel," Bolton said. "The minimised risk environment is part of the permission for staging the tournament."
Ticket prices will be the same as last year while prize money allocations will be announced in June.
"It's premature to make a judgement on prize money," Hewitt said. "We will take a sensible judgement in June."
Wimbledon was the only Grand Slam cancelled last year and Hewitt said the tournament had collected an insurance payout of 180 million pounds ($250.15 million), of which 36 million pounds went to the Lawn Tennis Association.
($1 = 0.7196 pounds)
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge and Toby Davis)