Sunday, June 27, 2010

Wimbledon!

We collapsed into our seats on the District line train Tuesday night, excited and exhausted from our afternoon/evening at Wimbledon. On the ride home, JT says, "That was awesome. I wish we had seen someone famous, though." I stayed quiet, because I really only know the super rock stars of tennis and wouldn't have known someone famous if they came up and shook my hand. As it turns out, we had spent more than an hour watching a certain match on Court 18 between two players who, if they weren't famous before, certainly are now: We watched John Isner and Nicolas Mahut play the fourth set of what would become the longest professional tennis match in history.






 That's all 6'9" of John Isner in the back unleashing one of his unstoppable serves on Nicolas Mahut. He didn't know at the time that he'd be playing this same match for two more days.

***


When we were trying to decide where to go for a long weekend, the realization that Wimbledon started this week sealed the deal: We would go to London. Don't tickets sell out months in advance, you ask? Nope. You either apply months in advance to get tickets by lottery, or you show up the same day and stand in a loooong queue (American: line). Or, you're a member of the club, or you're royalty or famous etc. etc. But for the rest of us punters, we queue.

There are a couple of choices for queuing: You can camp out or show up reaaaally early to get one of the 6,000 grounds passes that get you access to 14 courts and, if you're really early, tickets that get you into the show courts. the other option is to turn up in the afternoon. They let more people into the grounds as other people leave, and if those people who leave had show court access, they resell these tickets to anyone willing to buy them.

We set aside Tuesday, Day 2 of Wimbledon, to try the afternoon queue. After a leisurely and incredible lunch at the Harwood Arms (post to come on that), we went a few more stops on the District line to Southfields station, followed by a quick bus ride to the All England Lawn Tenns & Croquet Club that everyone knows as "Wimbledon." The Queue at Wimbledon is as much a part of the experience as the tennis itself. The queue is across the street from the tennis at the Wimbledon Park Golf Club, up against a treeline and therefore in the shade. People in the queue have access to proper toilets and refreshment stands. There's even a booklet to read on queuing at Wimbledon.

We joined the queue at about 4 p.m. and were into Wimbledon at 6:30. This may sound dreadful, but there are far worse ways to spend 2 1/2 hours than outside in the shade with a book on a beautiful 75-degree day. Regardless, once we made it in, we were quite happy to be there. We immediately checked the board to discover that there was a minimum of one match left to play on every court -- some courts had two matches left. They play until 9 p.m. or so, so we would see plenty of tennis.

And indeed we did. The first actual tennis court we saw was Court 7, and the players are Right. There. Wow. This is awesome, we thought. No massive security (though our corkscrew was confiscated on the way in), no restrictions on photographs (though surprisingly few people actually are taking pictures during matches), just honest tennis with a very respectful crowd. We saw a queue had formed at Court 12 for the Williams sisters' doubles match later on in the evening, but the men's match before it had just started. No thanks -- we had done enough queuing for one day. We carried on, watching 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there, then enjoyed a Pimms and some strawberries and cream that Wimbledon is famous for.

We wandered to the other side of the club to get a glimpse of Henman Hill, where you see spectators gathered watching the top matches on a big screen. Nearby, we noticed a decent-sized crowd gathered around Court 18, so we easily slipped in between the third and fourth sets, grabbing two seats right in front at one end of the court. We were treated to more than an hour of excellent tennis between Isner and Mahut before officials suspended play as twilight descended on south London. We remarked at the time that it was a fairly long set and the players were really well matched. It was so exciting, then, to see the rest of the game unfold over the following two days knowing that we had seen one piece of this epic match.

For two people who are, at best, casual tennis fans, it's hard to imagine a more perfect Wimbledon experience.





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