Players relish new-look raucous Wimbledon

LONDON Mon Jul 30, 2012 9:00am EDT

Outside courts are surrounded with Olympic hoarding at the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) as preparations are made for the London 2012 Olympic Games, in London July 9, 2012. REUTERS/Ki Price

Outside courts are surrounded with Olympic hoarding at the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) as preparations are made for the London 2012 Olympic Games, in London July 9, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Ki Price

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LONDON (Reuters) - Players do not have to wear white kit, the traditional dark green color scheme on court has been replaced by bright pink and purple, music blares from speakers around the grounds and the crowds are raucous.

Welcome to new-look Wimbledon, the British institution steeped in traditions the world's top players were very familiar with - until the Olympics rolled into town.

"Wimbledon is so quiet. You don't hear much talking. But here you do hear talking. It's a really big crowd. It's exciting," said Serena Williams, returning to Centre Court less than a month after winning her fifth Wimbledon title on it.

Since the tournament ended, the All England club grounds have undergone a complete transformation. As well as the bright colors, Olympic rings now adorn the courts, even hanging from the nets.

"It's just like being in Wimbledon but not being in Wimbledon," mused Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova.

With spectators sporting their country flags, chatting, cheering and clapping at every pause of play, the atmosphere on court is very different from the usually sedate Wimbledon crowd and more like the U.S. Open in New York.

Not everyone is finding it easy to get used to, with crying babies being asked for "quiet please" by the umpire and spectators shushing the raised voices of international media commentating animatedly from the back of the stands.

"The Wimbledon crowd is (normally) very mellow and traditional but you go out today and everyone's representing their country, shouting and screaming with flags all over the place," said former Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova who made her Olympic debut on Monday after missing the 2008 Games through injury.

"It's a completely different atmosphere but it's really magical."

With tickets for Wimbledon - allocated through tennis clubs, a public ballot and a daily queue at the gate for the most hardcore fans - heavily oversubscribed every year, many spectators are visiting the club for the first time.

"It's a slightly different crowd to Wimbledon," said Britain's Andy Murray who received a reception at his first-round match against Switzerland's Stanislas Wawrinka.

"It's just weird - there are so many colors, there is a lot of noise with the music and stuff when you come out that you don't get at Wimbledon, which is slightly different. The support was great."

While not all have warmed to the changes, with Israel's Shahar Peer lamenting the missing sense of tradition after going out in the first round to Russian Sharapova, most have enjoyed the experience.

"They have the Mexican wave going basically after one set, which is unusual. That took me an entire tournament and four sets against Murray in the finals to get the first Mexican wave," said world number one Roger Federer, whose victory over Murray won him a record-equaling seventh Wimbledon title this month.

"Things are clearly a big change from a few weeks ago. I'm happy I've had a taste of it." (Editing by Ed Osmond)

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