Watching people bat around balls at the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club in Wimbledon
25.06.2008 - 25.06.2008 24 °C
It has been more than 2 months now since I last worked, and as such haven't had any reason to set an alarm to wake up. You get used to it, the sleeping until you feel like getting up. That's not to say that I am sleeping in until noon, at least not any more. I am usually up and about by eight or eight-thirty in the morning, so I am not a complete, lazy slug. I'm just not used to having to get up because an mechanical buzz tells me to, and so it was shocking to hear the alarm go off at six o'clock in the morning yesterday.
Hanging my feet over the side of my bed, I rubbed my eyes and wondered if it was worth it. "I could just go back to bed," I think. No, I decided, this event only happens once a year and when it rolls around next year I'll probably be too busy working to get a chance to go. So I stood up and headed to the shower to get ready for a day at the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club to watch "The Championships, Wimbledon" known for those outside of London simply as Wimbledon.
Wimbledon is one of four major Tennis grand slam events and is the only one played on grass. Wimbledon is also the only grand slam that allows non-ticketed fans to line up to get tickets to centre court, court 1 and court 2 on the day of play. With only 500 seats for each court, however, you have to get up a lot earlier than I did. Specifically, you need to spend the night camping in Wimbledon park to get those tickets.
In addition to the 1500 or so tickets mentioned above, there are also 6000 ground passes given out every day. Ground passes allow you onto the ground and you can see any match at any of the other 16 courts (though only 14 were in play this year as they are building a new court # 2), as well as giving you the option to line up for standing room for Court 2.
This year, Wimbledon has instituted a queuing system to prevent "queue jumpers." Figures that if anyone was going to invent a better way to queue, it would be the British. But seriously, the queuing system is a lot like how some places do lining up for concert tickets - you arrive and are given a card showing your place in line. Those who get the premium court tickets get wrist bands as well.
Arriving at around 7:45 at Wimbledon park, I was number 3,890 in line, so no wrist band for me. I got was my queue card and "Guide to Queuing," a booklet that tells you how to line up (in case you didn't already know).
There was a group of 8 guys in line who had bags full of ice and cans Carlsberg beer, and 8:30 in the morning. I guess that's one way to have breakfast at Wimbledon. (Only North American's will probably get that joke).
Around 9:30 we started moving, the line snaking its way from Wimbledon park through the Wimbledon golf course, for the tournament in use as a car park and eventually over a bridge and up to the ticket office. £20 and about an hour and a half later, and I was in the grounds of Wimbledon.
Checking the schedule of play I saw that Canadian Frank Dancevic is playing American Bobby Reynolds on court 18, starting at noon. I took a quick wander around the site and grab a bite to eat before heading over and getting my seats. There is no reserved seating (save for a few seats for player's families and trainers) in the courts, so it's first come first serve. I got a seat one row back (there's only three rows) about 10 feet from centre court.
About 10 minutes before noon the ball boys and girls (ball kids? - what's politically correct here?), line judges and chair umpire come out and start getting ready for the match. I couldn't help but feel that in their jackets with the white striping, all the line judges and umpires look like people who lived in The Village from the freaky 1960s The Prisoner.
With a few minutes to go before noon, Frank Dancevic and Bobby Reynolds arrived and took their seats on the sidelines. The chair umpire looked up at the sky and frowns. Clouds were rolling in and there were drops of rain falling. He delayed starting the match to see what the weather would do.
Luckily the clouds pass without releasing their rain onto us, and play started just a few minutes behind schedule.
Canadian Frank Dancevic serving. Wild hair, no?
American Bobby Reynolds, getting ready to receive. He looks suspiciously like actor Ryan Gosling, but I knew it couldn't be because Ryan Gosling is Canadian, and wouldn't pose as an American tennis player, even if he is researching a role. In the foreground you see one of the ball-children... or is it ball-young-adults?
I was cheering for Frank Dancevic as he is Canadian, and was wishing I had a little Canadian flag to wave when an American woman sat down beside me. She obviously was going for the American, and brought out her little American flag to wave, which brought snickers from the British folks in the crowd. That made me glad I didn't have my flag.
Now it is here that I should probably make an admission. I don't know much about tennis. I know that between two and four people stand on opposite sides of a net and hit a ball back and forth using a racquet, which for the first 10 years of my life I thought was a toy that one used to simulate guitar playing when a cool song came on the radio. When the tennis balls are not being used, they can apparently be tossed in parks to make dogs run endlessly after them and tire themselves out.
I only knew that Frank Dancevic was Canadian because there was a little Canadian flag beside his name on the schedule of play, and on seeing that I seemed to vaguely recall his name being mentioned in sports broadcasts in Canada after they had covered hockey, baseball, basketball, football (both American and Canadian), soccer, lacrosse, auto racing, track and field, swimming, kayaking, skiing, tiddle-winks, competitive eating and contract bridge. But I never let my ignorance get in the way of my blind patriotism, so I was all out cheering for Dancevic.
Now, "all-out cheering" at tennis matches is a very subdued affair. It appears that mostly you get to say the phrase, "Come on, Frank" at points when play was not happening, and clapping politely at the end of a point if your man got the point. One time some guy said, "That's the way, Bobby," and I must admit I think I saw some raised eyebrows in the crowd, no doubt thinking that abandoning the tried and true "Come on, <insert name here>" was just not cricket.
The first few minutes of the first set Dancevic looked strong, but couldn't close. It's a good thing I had a basic understanding of the rules, because if I had formed an opinion of the rules based on Dancevic's play, I would have assumed that the point of the game is to get the other player out of position and then hit the ball into the net. However, Dancevic managed to settle down and won the first set.
During the second set at a pause in play he went and lay down on the sidelines.
"Kind of a strange time to have a rest," I thought. Turns out he had injured his left oblique, a muscle so mysterious they named it with a synonym of obscure. A trainer came out, sprayed some stuff on Frank's side and applied a bandage. Not sure why the bandage, perhaps it's like when you were a kid and you hurt your knee, your mom would put on a bandaid even if the skin wasn't broken, just to make you feel better.
Anyway, after that the match continued, but Dancevic didn't look the same, and after a tightly fought tie-break during the 2nd set which he lost, Frank lost the next two sets and the match 4-6, 7-6 (12-10), 6-4, 6-4.
Strangely, I probably know more about women's tennis than men's tennis. I think that has to do with the fabulous set of blonde clones coming out of the former soviet countries, who when not playing tennis seem to be on TV advertising expensive watches. As such, the next match I went to watch, which was already in progress, was between Russian Elena Dementieva and Italian Maria Elena Camerin. As the match was already in play and folks had staked out their seats, I had to watch from inglorious vantage points like through a hole in the fence or over a hedge. Given the youth and grace of the players, it made me feel a little like a dirty old man, peeping tom...
Camerin, who some drunks in the hedges with me kept cheering on with a chant of "CAMEROON," pronouncing it like the African country, always a popular chant during the FIFA World Cup.
After Dementeiva won, I decided to grab some food and try out a few of the traditions of Wimbeldon, specifically Pimms and Strawberries and Cream.
I'm not really sure what Pimm's is, but it was a brownish, cold liquid poured into a cup with ice, mint and a slide of lemon and lime. It tasted a little like cold tea. I don't mean iced tea. I mean hot tea that has gone cold. Like all strange, foreign foods I don't know, it was worth trying, and then it was worth switching over to beer.
It's only £3.80 for a pint of Grolsch. That's actually not too steep a price compared to the price of a pint in a nice bar in central London. I'm used to be gouged at sporting events. This price was just a small gash.
After finishing off my strawberries and cream, I took a wander around, taking in the sites.
The sun was beating down and I was starting to fear sun stroke, so I staked out a chair in one of the covered courts. The match in progress finished up and I looked at my order of play to see who was up next. "Oh, I know that name," I said, reading that Amelie Mauresmo from France was set to play at this court.
I watched most of the first set, which Mauresmo lost before going on to win 4-6, 6-1 and 6-1 over Virginia Ruano Pascual of Spain. I noticed that most people were doing what I was doing, hopping from match to match without really watching any one in full. Other than the Dancevic-Reynolds match, I didn't see any match from beginning to end.
I hopped in an out of a few more matches as the sun started to go down and the shadows started to get long.
I looked at my watch. 6:30 in the evening. I grabbed some food and a couple pints of Grolsch, and headed up onto the hill overlooking the big screen TV attached to court 1. For those of us with ground passes, this was really the only way to see the action on the main courts. When I arrived, Roger Federer was playing, and the Swiss fans were cheering loudly.
Federer won easily. The TV switched over to the match between David Ferrer and Igor Andreev. Along the bottom of the screen scrolled the notification:
Centre Court and Court 1 resale tickets are now available. The cost is £5 and the proceeds go to charity
Folks with tickets from the top courts who decide to leave can put their showcourt tickets back into circulation. In the evening, those inside the grounds can then buy these tickets at a low price to get a chance to see action on one of the big courts.
I thought about. After all, £5 is a small price to pay to get a chance to see one of the main courts at Wimbledon, even to just see the building.
I decided against it though. The sun was going down, leaving most of the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club in shade, but it was still sunny on the hill. In front of me the action played out on the big screen, with the Centre Court building behind, and off in the distance a church steeple in Wimbledon. Off to my left I could see London - Westminster and the London Eye, "The City" with the Gherkin standing tall, the Docklands with the tall buildings at Canary Wharf and the four white stacks of the now defunct Battersea Power Station. Behind me a pond and water feature gurgled away.
Kids played in the grass, rolling down the hill. Young adults laughed and flirted as they drank their beers and Pimms. A couple of kids who worked on the grounds took a nap after a long day of work. Two couples grabbed a picnic table, brought out four glasses and a bottle of Champagne and uncorked it with a pop.
The sun was warm. The grass beneath my body was soft. My drinks were cold.
Nah, forget Centre Court. This was the place to be.