By Pritha Sarkar
LONDON (Reuters) – Wimbledon was invaded by thousands of flying ants on Wednesday, causing much annoyance to players, officials and ticket holders alike – but there was little anyone could do to drive out the pests.
Rising temperatures and humidity caused swarms of ants to make themselves at home in every nook and cranny of the All England Club.
French umpire Kader Nouni was seen slapping his face as he tried to squash the irritants, while Croatian Donna Vekic was spotted applying insect repellent during the changeovers of her match against Briton Johanna Konta on Centre Court.
However, other players who were not as well prepared tried to swat the insects away with their rackets – with little success.
“I definitely have taken home a few both in my belly and
in my bags,” sixth seed Konta said after squeezing past Vekic in a three-hour thriller.
So had she swallowed a few?
“I’m pretty sure I have.”
With the temperature soaring above 30 degrees Centigrade, the sticky conditions seem to have given the flying ants the perfect opportunity to spread their wings.
“That was strange. There was flies, flies,” said French 12th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga after his second-round win over Italy’s Simone Bolelli.
“It was in my nose and in my ear.”
American Sam Querrey encountered a similar problem out on Court 18 as he beat Nikoloz Basilashvili in four sets.
“I almost wanted to stop because they were hitting you in the face when you were trying to hit balls. (They were) all over the place,” Querrey said.
“I lost a set when the ants came. If I had won that set, probably wouldn’t have bugged me as much.”
When the ants were too tired to continue flying, they crawled around the courts, causing unsightly black patches on Wimbledon’s famous green grass.
The phenomenon behind the unlikely scenes witnessed at Wimbledon is known as “flying ant day” and is triggered when a queen leaves her nest in search of a mate to start a new colony.
The colony sends out a large number of swarmers because only a very small percentage make it through mating to start a new generation.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)