Joanna Doniger’s clients have included journalists, sponsors, and players like Rafael Nadal (right).
Joanna Doniger/Getty Images
Joanna Doniger rents homes to players, sponsors, and TV networks during Wimbledon.
Her clients have included Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and the Williams sisters.
She’s renting 150 homes for this year’s tournament. Here’s her story, as told to Claire Turrell.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Joanna Doniger, the owner of Tennis London, which rents out homes for those attending the Wimbledon tennis tournament. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Wimbledon Village comes alive during The Championships. From June 27 to July 10, shop windows will be filled with tennis-ball decorations made out of flowers — purple, green, and white flags hanging in the doorways — and tennis players can be spotted in the cafes.
But each year I persuade 150 homeowners to leave so I can rent out their properties to players, sponsors, and media networks.
I’ve rented private homes to Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and the Williams sisters for the Grand Slam.
As I run my own company, it is hard work. But with clients like this, it’s definitely not a drudge.
You have to think fast and solve problems, and I’m good at that.
The homeowners usually take a two-week vacation while I rent out their home for up to £15,000 (about $18,400) a week for two weeks. As I have been running the company since 1993, I’ve been letting out some owners’ homes for the past 20 to 25 years.
I start work letting private homes in Wimbledon Village near the All England Club for the tournament each January. Media are generally the first to book, because they know they will be coming, but players may not book until the end of May, as they might not know until the last minute if they have a place in the tournament.
Tennis players are very superstitious, and if they have done well in the tournament, they will want to rent the same house as they did the previous year, as they think it’s lucky. But if they haven’t done very well, they don’t want to see those four walls again.
I rent out modern-looking homes, as the tennis players are young
They don’t want to be staying in their grandmother’s house cramped with chintzy antiques. They’re looking for modern bathrooms, a big comfortable bed with a large TV set, and good WiFi.
What they choose to rent depends on who they are traveling with. If they are a top player with a big team that comprises a manager, a masseur, and a coach, they will want a six-bedroom detached house with a garden on roads very close to the tournament.
Corporate clients, who want to wine and dine their guests in the grounds, will also want to be there. Players who don’t have such a large entourage will choose a smaller private house on Newstead Way or Somerset Road in the Wimbledon Village.
A one-bedroom flat in the Wimbledon Village will rent for up to £1,880 a week, while a six-bedroom house within a 10-minute walk to the tournament is going to rent for up to £10,000 a week. The homeowner will pay me a 15% commission on the gross rent.
There are properties that can rent for £15,000 a week, but players rarely choose these. These houses will be booked out by corporate clients.
The busiest time for me is the week before the tournament starts and players begin to arrive
I will start work in Wimbledon Village at 7 a.m. I need to be there to greet players who have arrived on early flights.
My two assistants and I leapfrog from house to house. If the player hasn’t stayed in the house before, we will run through how things work and make sure they have the WiFi password and know how to work the TV. We will then leave them to it. If there is a problem, they will call me.
We have a pop-up office for the tournament, which is my Mini Cooper car. We don’t have time to travel back to our office in Chelsea. Lunch is on the run, and if flights are delayed, we need to wait for them.
Our day tends to finish around 10 p.m. This goes on from Monday until 7 p.m. on the following Sunday, the day before the tournament, when every player, sponsor, or TV company should have arrived.
Even with the best-laid plans, things can still go wrong, so I have a contact book full of emergency telephone numbers for electricians, plumbers, carpet cleaners — you name it. You have to be on the ball.
If a player gets injured before the tournament, such as in the French Open, and has to cancel, we have cancellation clauses. But we will do our best to get someone into that house and mitigate their loss.
Once the tournament has finished, we have mountains of paperwork to do, as we need to return everyone’s deposits
The players are very well behaved, but there have been a couple of issues in the past where young juniors have taken ice baths in the house and water has gone everywhere — but now the All England Club provides ice baths, so that doesn’t happen anymore.
We also had one player who was rushing to the airport and left the hot shower running by accident, and the owner returned to find the bathroom full of steam and mold. The owner was livid. But things happen.
The past two years have been the most difficult. In 2020 the tournament was canceled, and in 2021 it went ahead but the players had to stay in a hotel near Westminster and be bused into the All England Club. I was able to rent out 60 houses to TV networks and other media, but it was strictly controlled.
Now it’s back to normal. We are renting 150 properties this year. It’s been two years of hell, but now we are going gangbusters.
I still won’t get to see the tournament live, though, as we will be so busy, but I will make sure I see it on TV.