Sun’s shining, strawberries are ripe ... it’s time to cash in on Wimbledon
Joanna Doniger won’t be getting much sleep tonight or for the next couple of weeks, but she will emerge the other end a couple of hundred thousand pounds richer.
, 63, is on call night and day to meet the needs of her often-demanding clients: the world’s best tennis players, their coaches, sponsors and the media. For the past 26 years Doniger has been convincing residents of well-heeled Wimbledon village to move out for the first two weeks of July and rent out their homes to the likes of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and the Williams sisters.
“This is the prime street,” she says, while driving down Bathgate Road, which sweeps between the All England Lawn Club and the practice courts. “They [the homeowners] are in Ibiza, Mallorca, the US, having an all-expenses paid holiday.”
It is holiday weather in Britain too. With temperatures set to reach 30C this week, thoughts at Wimbledon are turning to strawberries and cream, ice-cream sundaes and ice cubes. More than 34,000kg of Kent strawberries and 10,000 litres of cream were , and even more of the £2.50 tubs of strawberries and cream are expected to be sold this year if the weather holds.
The driveways of Park Road – the route from Southfields underground station to the club – have been rented by ice-cream vans paying thousands of pounds to be able to target fans on their way back into central London.
Ed Savitt, 27, is preparing for his first Wimbledon as owner of DropShot, the last independent coffee shop between the station and courts. “I’ve drafted in extra staff and we’ve bought a new ice machine,” he says in front of the tennis-cake window display. “Tomorrow we’ll start our tennis-themed cake services. It’s strawberries and cream, naturally.”
The biggest houses on Bathgate Road and neighbouring Queensmere Road and Oakfield Road (which is favoured for the extra security of being a dead end) can command weekly rents up to £15,000.
“They have to be taken for a minimum of two weeks, the length of the tournament,” Doniger says. “So players have to feel they have a good shot at the trophy.”
She joked that a few owners of the houses – some of which recently sold for more than £6m – have their fingers crossed that the player who has rented their homes gets knocked out of the tournament early. “Once they lose the players pack up and leave immediately, so the owners can move back in and still collect a full two weeks’ money,” Doniger says. “If a player has a really bad tournament they will refuse to stay in the same place next year. They can be very superstitious.”
The men and women’s single’s champion will take home £2.25m – a £50,000 increase on last year – but the top players’ accommodation budgets cannot compete with the big corporate sponsors, Doniger says. “Players take very nice apartments or smaller houses but few of them book big houses unless their wider families are coming with them,” Doniger says. “Most of these big houses are taken by sponsors – Nike, Adidas, banks. They do a lot of entertaining and have a lot of product to promote.”
Doniger, owner and chief executive of short-term rental specialist Tennis London, is renting out 150 homes this year: “Almost everyone’s checked inbut we’re waiting for the finalists of the Eastbourne International [women’s ATP tournament] and we had a very last-minute booking this morning from ESPN wanting an extra flat,” she says. “I’ll be able to relax a little soon.”
The ESPN crew will be moving into a two-bed flat in a tower block overlooking the club with unobstructed views of court 19. Waiting for their arrival is a variety pack of cereal, tea bags, flatscreen TV and the wifi password in giant print. Location and wifi are the two deal-breakers when Doniger considers new properties. “It must be less than a 20-minute walk to the club, and it has to have good wifi.”
Doniger has been dashing about London this week trying to ensure everything is ready. There has been an emergency trip to Ikea for new beds (“people don’t realise how giant tennis players are”), and a hunt for air-conditioning units and fans as temperatures are forecast to be in the late 20s all week. She has also despatched two helpers to the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley, Surrey, to buy plants for a property, the garden of which she described as “a disaster”.
It’s a busy few weeks, but worth it as Doniger, who lives in Chelsea, collects 15% of the rental price. She declines to state the total amount she expects to collect and points out that many of her properties are relatively cheaper (“doubles players like to stay in Southfields where they can get a very nice two-bedroom terrace house for £2,500 a week”). A conservative estimate puts her cut at more than £200,000.
Doniger bought Tennis London from its founders for £100,000 in 1992. The company was founded by two female Wimbledon drivers who came up with the idea of renting houses after years of battling traffic ferrying players to the championships from hotels in Victoria. There are now several companies who also specialise in renting out homes for Wimbledon, including Wimbledon Tennis Lettings, run by the former manager at the International Tennis Federation, and Wimbledon Accommodation, set up by the husband-and-wife team David and Janet Thurtell.
Demand increases every year, she said, and she spends a good part of the year trying to find new properties. “I target new developments because while most people who live here know about us, new residents might not know they can do this and have their holidays paid for.”
While the number of local families moving out increases every year, some are determined to stay put. Maria Christopher, who lives opposite the practice courts on Queensmere Road, said there was no way she would rent out her home, even though she hates the disruption caused by the tournament and isn’t much of a tennis fan. “I don’t want people in my bedroom, going through my things, no matter how much money it is.”
Most years everything goes smoothly, Doniger says, but there has been the occasional disaster. One year a player left without telling anyone, with food left out and the shower running. It was a few days until anyone noticed and the owner was not pleased. Another year the husband of a female player ran out of clothes and borrowed from the owner’s wardrobe.
The biggest worry, Doniger says, is if a player has not mentioned allergies. “I really need to know if they’re allergic to cats. A lot of owners have cats and if a player is allergic it could ruin their whole tournament.”