My first visit to Wimbledon
I don’t mean to sound morbid but I have often said that once I get to attend all four tennis Grand Slam tournaments, I can die happy. Well, I don’t think I’m ready yet to embrace death but on Saturday, Day 6 of this year’s Wimbledon tournament, I moved on step closer to making that dream come true.
I made it to Wimbledon.
It wasn’t with a lot of hard work. When I first moved to London last year, I was pretty excited. Being a local, and so close to France, I thought I would be able to visit both Wimbledon and Roland Garros. What I didn’t expect was how difficult it was to get my hands on the ticket. I had missed the balloting deadline Wimbledon tickets and the day tickets for the French Open went on sale, I spent half the day online trying to purchase tickets to no avail.
Last week, I spent every morning refreshing my browser at 9am when Wimbledon releases a few hundred tickets for the next day’s show courts matches. Twice, I got my hands on Court 3 tickets but Ticketmaster failed me both times. On Friday, however, it all came together. Centre court tickets!
The picture right at the top showed what a beautiful day it was, something that Wimbledon fans will know doesn’t come very often. Not that I had much to worry about; having centre court tickets mean that matches can continue throughout the day so long as the roof comes on.
What the gorgeous day did was give me a chance to truly appreciate the grounds for what it was. Besides the thousands of people strolling all around getting to the various ground courts (non-show courts), I could get into the many different Wimbledon traditions – glasses of Pimms, strawberries and more.
All of that just made the day one of the best of my life, even if I was there alone. It truly made my >£70 ticket worthwhile. I have always enjoyed watching tennis (and have played it a little since I was a kid), but there is nothing like being there in person soaking in the crowd – at centre court even.
Unlike this folk, my seat was pretty far back. Considering that these were last minute release tickets, I’m not surprised. In fact, I was quite far back but still the view was great. It must have just been the way the courts were built; I couldn’t see the wrinkles on the players faces but I could see every shot vividly.
This also meant that I was in the covered part of the stands, which worked fine for me as I hadn’t brought any sun tan – and I saw loads of people who were burnt! It did get a bit colder towards the evening (I got there about 2pm, an hour after match had started due to transport problems, and left just after 11pm), although when the roof came on about 9pm, it got warm again.
Being among the crowd there was amazing. In between games, when the players were resting like Serena Williams and Jie Zheng below, people would leave to go to the loo, get some food or just check out other matches. That was also the only time other people who had left their seats (or not yet arrive) were allowed in. I got caught out there a couple of times, but there is a TV screen outside each area to watch the match. There was something strangely thrilling about watching the match on a screen with no commentary but hearing the crowd reaction live from behind the courtains.
But no matter what I tell you about the traditions and the experience of being there, nothing can compare to watching some of my favourite players whom I had followed for years on television. When I first realised which day I had gotten the ticket for, I was lamenting the fact that Rafael Nadal had lost and won’t be playing then. Because Wimbledon don’t usually post their schedule of play up until the night before, I had no way of knowing which players would appear on centre court until very late.
Well, I was not disappointed. The game between Jie Zheng and Serena Williams was fantastic, and it was tight all the way to the end of the third set. This was great for me because I missed the first set that Serena had lost.
Then there is Andy Roddick who has been my favourite player of all time. I’ve been following him since the days he had one arm bigger than the other, when he won his first Grand Slam and even now, in his “twilight years”. Other than the fact that I simple love Andy, it was also a great match which David Ferrer eventually won. The rallies between the two were at times breathtaking, it was such a thrill to be able to soak it all in.
It was also the match that I saw what it meant to have a great grass court player like Andy have the support of the British crowd, you could just feel them rooting for him. As he left, the crowd – myself included – gave him a standing ovation. As he was leaving, he waited for Ferrer to be done and let the latter walk ahead of him. He paused, gave a wave and a goodbye kiss.
This has led to many people suggesting that it might be his last Wimbledon (when asked at the press conference, he wouldn’t give a yes or no answer). I would be terribly sad if that was the case, but I guess his time really seems to be up (having lost at Queens a few weeks ago). If it’s true though, then I’m so glad I got to watch his last Wimbledon match live!
Another player I managed to see, but who wasn’t playing was Venus Williams who was in the box supporting her sister. What didn’t occur to me before was that the two of them would be playing doubles in the tournament. It was only midway through one of the matches when the scoreboard showed the score of the others around the venue, that I realised that they were playing on that day!
Having a show court ticket means that you can go and watch any of the ground matches so I left it for a while to rush to catch them in action. After all, Venus is one of my favourite female players ever – alongside Steffi Graf, Martina Hingis and Lindsay Davenport (all of whom are now retired!) – and it would have been great to see her playing. Unfortunately, as the picture above showed, I was not the only person with that idea.
I didn’t want to queue up because there was another exciting match going on in centre court that I had left, the last of the day. It was the one with Andy Murray playing Marcos Baghdatis. The first three sets were extremely exciting but Baghdatis crumbled in the fourth set – no doubt due to the crowd reaction and also the pressure of the looming 11pm deadline when play had to end.
There really is no way to describe the atmosphere of having a stadium full of locals supporting their home talent (many of whom, like me, had to sacrifice some parts of public transport due to the time – I had to burn my return ticket on the shuttle and walk 20 minutes to the station). So, I captured the last point on video instead; just hear the crowd roar!
What a great end to a fantastic day at Wimbledon, and for me especially. I don’t think I can afford anymore tickets this year but I’m going to try and get tickets for the finals anyway. I loved it so much that I don’t think watching it on TV will ever be the same. I keep feeling like I want to go back. Oh oh … there goes my credit card bills!
12.01 Greenwich Meridian Time