Why are there so many empty seats at Wimbledon this year?

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LONDON, July 4 (Reuters) - This is the first time since 2019 that Wimbledon has been able to stage matches in front of capacity crowds but, unfortunately for the world's best tennis players, they have often been greeted by rows and rows of empty seats.

Millions of desperate local fans usually compete with those living in far-flung places such as the United States, Australia and India to get their hands on Wimbledon tickets which are considered as gold dust.

The chance to enter the 13.5-acre, leafy-green grounds of the All England Club and see players such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and the Williams sisters battle it out for the most famous trophies in tennis has attracted growing numbers in recent years.

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In 2019, the last championships held before the COVID-19 pandemic, a total of 500,397 spectators attended the then 13-day tournament, the second highest in Wimbledon history.

On the opening day of this year's competition, however, even the presence of Britain's first women's Grand Slam champion in 45 years failed to attract a full house on Centre Court.

When U.S. Open champion Emma Raducanu walked on to the lush green carpet for the first time last Monday, the half-full stadium that greeted her arrival was not what she, or organisers, would have expected.

So why are there not enough spectators?

With 42,000 spectators allowed into the grounds at any one time, not including ticket re-sales, 256,808 fans attended the championships over the first six days in 2019. In contrast, 237,927 spectators filed in through the gates over the corresponding days of this year's event.

The banks of empty seats, along with the decrease of almost 19,000 fans, does not make great headlines for an event that is considered to be one of the highlights of the British summer, especially when there are thousands of disgruntled television viewers complaining that they unsuccessfully tried to buy tickets.

Many of the empty seats have been visible around the Royal Box, which is usually reserved for corporate guests or members of the All England Club and the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA).

In previous years, punters waited anxiously to discover if they had managed to get their hands on a ticket after throwing their names into the mix in a public ballot.

This year, however, there was no ballot as those who had secured tickets for the cancelled 2020 championships were offered seats for the same day and court this year.

How many of those fans snapped up tickets for this year's tournament has not been made public but it has meant that tickets for 2022 have been hard to come by.

Organisers were also frustrated on the first two days of the tournament when technical issues impacted re-sales as the original Centre Court ticket holders decided to leave the grounds.

The glitch led to long queues at the re-sale hubs, and empty seats inside the arena.

Wimbledon organisers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Clare Fallon

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