A small mountain of dirty towels, stray underwear left in the washing machine or a pile of well-worn tennis shoes are some of the souvenirs landlords in south-west London often find when they return home after letting out their houses to players competing at Wimbledon.
They are the lucky ones.
“A Swedish player, who is now a coach, once left the house [he was renting] suddenly without informing anyone that he was leaving early,” Joanna Doniger, who runs a short-term letting agency that specialises in renting out private homes to players during the Wimbledon fortnight, told Reuters in an interview.
“The owner went back five days later and saw that there was an infestation of flies as it was a really hot summer and food had been left out to rot.
“She then went into what had been her white bathroom and it had turned green because there was mould growing everywhere. The player had left the hot shower running and the steam caused the mould growth. The owner was very, very upset and beyond angry.”
Surely that scene must have convinced the owner never to let out her house again?
“Of course not. Not when the homeowners can earn three times the going rate for a short-term let,” added the bubbly Doniger, who rents out around 150 properties every June through her company Tennis London.
Residents who live within walking distance of the All England Club can land a windfall every summer if they are willing to vacate their homes for at least two weeks during the grasscourt major.
In an area which lacks hotels, one-bedroom flats can earn £1 000 ($1 598) a week while a top-end, five-bedroom house has a price tag of £10 000 ($15 985) a week.
In the 17 years Doniger has been in the business, she has built up a client list that has included the greats of the sport — such as Pete Sampras, the Williams sisters, Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer — and thrives on the challenge of finding houses that meets their varied tastes and needs.
Businessman Chris Lim has a two-bedroom, ground-floor flat in a building once owned by the Dutch Royal family and was suitably excited when he discovered his home would be taken over by tennis royalty.
“I’m a keen tennis player myself and was very excited when I found out Roger Federer was staying here. I had another home before this one in Springfield Avenue up in the Village and he stayed there the first time he won Wimbledon. So he has stayed at two of my properties,” Lim told Reuters.
“Apparently his reason for staying here was because he liked my furniture — even if he did put it in the car park. I saw some pictures in the papers with my best leather chairs in the gravel drive. [I] did think that was a bit cheeky but there was no damage.
“This is where he slept,” Lim added showing off a dark-wood, four-poster bed dressed in pristine white linen.
Landlords such as Lim get a rare glimpse into the lifestyles of their VIP tenants.
“His coach at the time was staying with him and they did a lot of cooking. He left some food behind in the fridge. There seemed to be a lot of ingredients they had bought like chillies and spices. They were obviously cooking,” said Lim, who has also rented his flat to former top-10 American James Blake.
“There was also a lot of red wine consumed but whether that was Roger or his coach you’d never really know.”
Lim also found an unexpected stash had been left behind for him one year.
“I’m not sure if it was after Roger Federer or James Blake stayed here, but I came in through the front door and into the hallway and there was a stack of towels left there like a pyramid,” he said.
“They were all Wimbledon towels but they were the cheap, white ones. They weren’t the nice ones you see them go on court with. But they were all dirty. So I had them all laundered and I have been using them for years. I had about 30 or 40 of them and I’m now down to the last six or seven.”
Lim’s experience is not an isolated case.
“Often owners come back and find a lot of tennis clothes left for them,” explained Doniger, whose company takes a 15% cut of each rental and turns over about half a million pounds a year.
“Tennis shoes, tennis balls, clothes, they are always leaving those behind. They are usually worn, left in the washing machine … forgotten. I once had Nadal’s knickers left behind,” she grinned.
“You should see some of the shoes left behind. John Isner’s shoes are huge, they are like this,” Doniger (56) indicated by holding her hands about a metre apart. “He needs a suitcase for each shoe.”
Her partner Ken, who is roped in to help during the championships, added: “They [players] get a lot of clothes and shoes from their sponsors so it’s not worth their while packing.”
During the Wimbledon fortnight, Doniger’s black Mini becomes the nerve centre of her business and she can be seen whizzing around the streets surrounding the All England Club.
Despite its small size, she crams a multitude of items in every available space in the car.
“Players are far too focused on tennis to have prima donna demands. They want something very spacious, very modern, very clean and very private.
“The one thing they do want is blackout blinds. I have to go and put up blackout blinds.
“We travel in the car with yards and yards and yards of material for blackout blinds. We have scissors and Velcro and staple guns. Everything goes in the Mini.”
From Monday, Doniger and her Mini will once again retreat back to their Chelsea base — for the next 50 weeks anyway. – Reuters