Wednesday, 1 July 2015

England – The wonders of Wimbledon

29-30 June

Hello everyone!

Another year of teaching has been finished, leaving us to enjoy the sweet splendour of summer. We have two months of gallivanting to look forward to; our first stop, however, is arguably the most exciting. It’s certainly something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. One of the highlights of a British summer: Wimbledon.

The tournament at the spiritual home of tennis starts at the end of June and lasts for two weeks. Usually the first week coincides with the last week of the school year and the second week is almost impossible to get tickets for. From this year though the tournament has been shunted back a week to give the players more time to prepare. It also lets me, for the first time, visit the hallowed turf of the All England Club.

Of course, Wimbledon is an immensely popular tournament and tickets are difficult to obtain, yet what is great about these championships is that you can get tickets if you put some effort in. By effort, I mean camp overnight in a queue. Four of us – myself, Hannah, Helen and Carl – arrived at Wimbledon Park shortly after nine in the evening to see that a small village had been constructed, all in ordered sections. A queue card is collected and then tents are built.

A photo from section 4 of the queue, where our tents were pitched

After a couple of issues building our tent, we settled down to enjoying our late-night pizza and wondering about the players we would be watching the following day. The atmosphere amongst the tents was completely cheerful and positive.

You’re woken up very early the following morning – if you’re not awake before, marshals get you up at 5:30am – and have an hour to disassemble your tent and leave it in storage. You then reform in line according to the number on your queue card and wait for the stewards to say to you what court choices are available.

Many people were awake from 4:30 am

Wimbledon awaits...after progressing through a long, snaking queue

Wimbledon has three show courts: Centre, 1 and 2 (in that order of importance), and 500 tickets for each court are made available every day for hardy queuers. We were close to the 1300 mark. Centre was hosting Federer & Murray; Court 1 had Nadal. We thus had to settle for Court 2.

A queue card is traded for one of these wristbands

The queue at 7am

Not that this was a bad thing. On the contrary, we now had tickets to see Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (one of the tour’s great entertainers) and Caroline Wozniacki (very talented, very beautiful). These tickets would also let us roam the grounds and watch all of the other courts, featuring many famous names and possible stars of the future. We were therefore still incredibly excited as we patiently waited in line to enter the grounds of SW19.

Denmark's hottest tennis property

We were dressed for the occasion, patriotic flags and hats blowing in the slight morning breeze. Surprisingly to us, such paraphernalia was a rare sight, meaning that we attracted quite a lot of attention before play began. Hannah and Helen were interviewed on ITV’s morning show sporting Union Jack hats and face-painted strawberries. They were also snapped by freelance photographers and their photo appeared in the Evening Standard, London’s local paper. The following day we were also informed that they had appeared in Wednesday’s edition of The Times newspaper.

Preparations for ITV's morning broadcast from Wimbledon Park

Hannah and Helen in the Evening Standard

Hannah and Helen in The Times

Most impressively, they were also included on BBC’s Wimbledon 2Day coverage. Carl and I were filmed for this as well but didn't make the final cut. Life lesson if you’re going to Wimbledon and want to be seen: wear a plastic UK hat and be a pretty girl. Stereotypes, eh…

This was just in the queue. Upon arriving through the gates of the All England Club we were interrupted by a camera crew representing ESPN who asked us to pose for their coverage. Shortly after this, we were invited to take part in a live radio interview with Radio Wimbledon, in which Carl and I were quizzed on our tent-building skills, amongst other trivial matters. All of these media experiences just added to the sense of occasion and ceremony about the place, not to mention making us feel incredibly important.

Preparing for a live interview on Radio Wimbledon

You could almost forget at this point that we weren't the main event and that we were here to watch the tennis. Soon enough, the security cordons were relaxed and we were able to amble around Wimbledon for a while before matches started. What’s lovely is that players are doing this to, as well as spending time on the practice courts. I spotted a Czech player, Radek Stepanek, and shouted at him. Clearly my Czech accent still isn't fully honed as he responded with a bemused wave.

First up for us was the entertaining Frenchman and thirteenth seed, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who was playing against a man who is undoubtedly Luxembourg’s most famous current sportsman: Gilles Muller. Well, how many more are there? Our seats were incredible; the second row behind one of the ends.

Court 2

Some people may not want to be this close to the action for fear of their own safety. Indeed, one mishit return by Tsonga whizzed inches past my head. My hand raised to catch the ball about a second after it had almost decapitated me. Tsonga looked back and smiled, before knuckling down to business and winning the first set on a tie-break.

The Frenchman's serve regularly exceeded 130mph

Tsonga won the first set 10-8 on a tiebreak

It was a glorious, scorching day in southwest London. Factor 70 was being applied to pinking skin and water was guzzled at a rapid rate. After the second set finished we had to escape the clutches of the sun to find some shade. Well, that was the plan anyway. We ended up with strawberries and cream watching Britain’s finest on Aorangi Terrance. You may know it as Henman Hill or Murray Mount…

A staple of Wimbledon: strawberries and cream

Andy Murray, 2013 champion and carrier of the hopes of a nation once again, was in action on Centre Court. People congregate on the terrace to watch his matches on a giant screen. The atmosphere was surprisingly flat, possibly owing to the heat and it being an early match, but the volume was ratcheted up during the second set tie-break.

Murray beat Mikhail Kukushkin in straight sets

Incredibly, our first match on Court 2 was still going on. We returned to watch Tsonga and Muller duel in a final set showdown. To the delight of the vast majority in the crowd, the Frenchman prevailed. He responded to a French lady’s shouts by giving her his towel.

Tsonga eventually prevailed in a five-set thriller

Rather than stay for the next match, we opted to wander around the smaller courts, hoping to see familiar faces or ends to epic matches. We watched one of my favourites, Germany’s Dustin Brown, smash his way to victory before spotting other notable names such as Sam Stosur and Viktor Troicki.

Germany's Dustin Brown

Action from the men's doubles

We’d already seen the biggest name whilst meandering to Court 2. This Swiss master happened to be practising on a smaller court…

Roger Federer

After watching and supporting a couple of Brits on smaller courts, Carl and I returned to Court Two to watch Gilles Simon, seeded 12, finish his match with ease.

Nicolas Almagro, who Gilles Simon comfortably defeated

We then received a phone call from the girls. Somehow they had snaffled tickets to the biggest stage of all: Centre Court. Being nice, they’d also got some for us as well. We raced across the grounds to enter one of tennis’ most famous venues. Caroline Wozniacki had been moved there from Court Two. It is cavernous.

Wozniacki being congratulated by Saisai Zheng

It was a very long, breathtaking and brilliant day, something I’ll never forget. The mystique and aura of Wimbledon was in full abundance. Watching on the television doesn't do the place justice.

Our trip to Wimbledon, and everything that encompassed it, was one of the best experiences I've had in a long time. From the fun and friendly vibes of the queue to the fierce hitting of forehands and backhands, it was everything I’d dreamed of and more. As I told Josh Widdicombe when he interviewed us (again, didn’t make the cut!), I spent the whole day being giddy with excitement.

Josh Widdicombe preparing for our interview

A wonderful time at Wimbledon

Love you all


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