Before Wimbledon, There’s Practice on Grass at an English Garden Party

Even for the best tennis players in the world, the days before a Grand Slam can be filled with nerves and stress, especially the time leading up to Wimbledon, the grandest Grand Slam of them all.

Days can become a blur of hunting for hitting partners and time on the limited practice courts a tournament has available, or one last try to win some tour-level matches at competitions in Eastbourne or Majorca.

A handful of pros, including several clients of Patricio Apey, a longtime agent, end up at a classic English garden party called the Boodles that is unlike nearly anything else on the tennis calendar — a Gatsby-like few days on an estate outside London that makes Wimbledon’s All England Club, supposedly the apotheosis of tennis elegance, feel like a gathering of the masses at the local park.

“Driving in this morning, I was kind of shocked,” Lorenzo Musetti, the rising star from Italy, said of the 300-acre property that the Ambani family of India bought for roughly $70 million in 2021. “Not every day you see a property like this.”

Or a high-end jewelry show masquerading as a tennis event at a sprawling former country club called Stoke Park that is now one of the private residences of one of the world’s richest families.

“The best event we do all year,” said Michael Wainwright, the managing director of Boodles, the Liverpool- and London-based jewelry company that his family has owned since 1880.

When he started the Boodles two decades ago, Apey wasn’t thinking about putting on a tennis event that would feel more like a polo match. He just knew that players who won Wimbledon made more money than players who won the other major tournaments. (Wimbledon’s men’s and women’s singles champions will earn nearly $3 million each this year.)

He represented a number of players who excelled on clay courts but not on grass. They struggled to acclimate during the few weeks between the French Open and Wimbledon because they often lost early in the few tournaments available during the brief grass court season.

“I needed to get them more matches,” Apey said.

The only way for him to do that, he reasoned, was to create a grass court exhibition event near London ahead of Wimbledon. Stoke Park, with its some two-dozen-bedroom mansion, a rolling golf course — tennis players love to relax with rounds of golf — and immaculate grass tennis courts provided the perfect location.

Through an acquaintance, he landed a meeting with Wainwright and his older brother, Nicholas, who warmed to the idea. It was a soft sell opportunity: Put their jewelry in front of hundreds of their top customers and thousands more in the upper echelon of the tennis demographic (think pocket squares and long, flowery summer dresses) whiling away a summer afternoon drinking champagne and Pimm’s, eating multicourse catered lunches, enjoying high tea, browsing a tented pavilion filled with sparkling baubles and perhaps taking in some tennis in a small stadium under high trees surrounded by perfectly manicured gardens.

Boodles sponsors another high-end sports event, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, a well-heeled equestrian race, but women like tennis more, Wainwright said, and horse racing doesn’t offer the same “dwell time” that tennis does.

In other words, with all of tennis’s changeovers and the breaks between sets and matches, and the fact that the matches don’t actually matter, the 10,000 patrons who come to the five days of the Boodles tennis event have plenty of time to peruse that $2.9 million diamond ring, or the more affordable $80,000 necklace. There were several cases of Patek Philippe watches on display as well.

Boodles also threw an evening gala on the Stoke Park grounds for roughly 40 of its top customers Wednesday night. Wine and champagne flowed, and jewelry was sold, into the small hours of the morning.

For players, the Boodles can offer an appearance fee and — just as valuable — a chance to chill. Sebastian Korda and his coach, Radek Stepanek, joined Wainwright for a round of golf earlier in the week.

There is an expansive gym for the growing cohort of lifting obsessives on the tour. Perhaps most important are the moments of calm practice on the Stoke Park grass before the chaos of Wimbledon.

“It’s a chance to work on a few things,” said Korda, who played in Eastbourne the week before Wimbledon last year and lost his first match.

Borna Coric of Croatia, who was winless in two grass court tournaments this year, said he had arrived at Stoke Park this week harried and worried about his form. He had then climbed into bed in a luxurious room.

“I had the best night of sleep I’ve had in weeks,” Coric said.

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