Wimbledon players 'smuggle towels off court'

Last updated at 18:22 07 July 2006

The opportunity of winning one of the most prestigious tennis tournaments just hours away, beating their opponents should be foremost in the minds of players at Wimbledon today.

But, it seems for some there is a more pressing challenge at hand - the competition to steal as many of the official All England Club towels as possible.

They earn millions of pounds a year, but it seems Wimbledon's top tennis players can't resist stealing the tournament's official towels.

The All England Club has lost hundreds of the distinctive towels it provides for players to use during their rest breaks on court.

Once smuggled off court in their gym bags they appear to make great gifts for friends and family.

World number one doubles team and twin brothers Bob and Mike Bryan have been detailing their exploits at the tournament on their internet blog.

There is a picture of 28-year-old Bob and coach Dave Macpherson with the towels on their heads,

Bob, who played in the doubles semi-final yesterday with his brother Mike, writes: "My tennis bag is stuffed. I brought home 5 big bottles of water and 4 official Wimbledon towels. These towels have been a long tradition at Wimbledon and players make a habit of stealing as many as they can get their hands on. They make great gifts.

"For every match there are two new towels on your chair. When the match finishes, the ball boys try to snatch them from you, but if you shove them deep in your bag and run, they're yours. I played two mixed doubles matches today... I was two for two with the matches, but more importantly, I was 4 for 4 with the towels."

Players are allowed two official towels - available to the public at £24 each - per match.

A spokesman for the All England Club admitted many of the players like to keep as many towels as possible. He said: "On court players are requested to give them back but people do like to keep mementoes."

The US Bryan brothers face Daniel Nestor and Mark Knowles in the semi-finals of the men's doubles event later today.

Meanwhile, Wimbledon has cracked down on the number of touts flogging their tickets on the internet this year. Centre Court tickets have been available for up to £1,500 a pair.

Thanks to a joint effort by the All England Club, police and local authorities the number of people selling tickets on websites such as eBay has dropped to 745 this year compared to 1,000 last year.

Nick Bitel, Wimbledon's lawyer said the tickets are traced back to the original purchasers. Around 20 people have been turned away from the gates this tournament while 12 people have already been served with injunctions.

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