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Countdown to Wimbledon

Strawberries and cream are being prepared, jugs of Pimm's are being stockpiled, and umbrellas are about to be unfurled. It is that time of year again, and the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club is about to play host to the Wimbledon Tennis Championship. As the only Grand Slam tennis event still to be held on grass, Wimbledon retains a traditional feel which makes it the most prestigious event in the sport. Following the modernization which has taken place over the last few years, the Championships blend history and modern efficiency flawlessly, making the event a major draw for visitors from across the world.

The Championships have been held every year since 1877, with the exception of World War I and World War II, and almost all of the greatest tennis players in the history of the game have played at there at one time or another. There have been few greater than Serena Williams, however, who is the favorite for this tournament as in so many before. This is hardly surprising, given both her outstanding form and her history of lifting the trophy five times previously. The sixteen time Grand Slam winner is fresh from victory at the French Open, and few women currently look capable of beating her, even on their best days.

It is always unwise to write off a former champion, however, and Maria Sharapova seems determined to add to her own collection of silverware. Few can forget the emphatic way in which she announced her entry into world-class tennis by defeating Serena at Wimbledon in 2004, and she has gone on to win the French, Australian and US Opens since that time. Indeed, she reached the final of the French Open again this year, and on her day is an extraordinarily dangerous player. At number three in the world, she looks a certainty to reach the latter stages of the competition. Unfortunately for her, however, she has now racked up an astounding 13 consecutive losses against Williams.

Someone with less psychological baggage when playing against Serena is Victoria Azarenka, who also happens to be the world number two. Winner of the Australian Open in both 2012 and 2013, her best achievements at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships so far have been semifinal places in both 2011 and 2012. It seems likely that she will be eager to go one better, and to challenge Williams in the final this year.

With all of that action, it is no wonder that the crowds are flocking to the tennis in South West London. Fortunately, the Championships are situated close to a number of excellent public transport links, with the underground station at Southfields probably the best bet for those who are willing to walk for 15 to 20 minutes to reach the venue. Once there, you might want to have packed a picnic rather than relying on the sometimes expensive and oversubscribed food providers, and you certainly shouldn't forget your umbrella. Whilst Centre Court now boasts a retractable roof, spectators on the minor courts aren't so lucky!

As is to be expected from an event which takes place in a major urban centre, there are plenty of excellent hotels to choose from, all of which are never far from a train or underground transport link. Tourists often enjoy some of the boutique, independent hotels near to the venue, although others will opt for the reliable service and excellent standards of hotel chains such as Holiday Inn or Crowne Plaza. You can find a number of hotels located close to the tournament, including:

Whether watching in person or from home, however, this year's competition is bound to be superb! (photos: Tennis Buzz)

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