The Fourth of July holiday always brings back fond memories for me of family celebrations sparked with fireworks, BBQ and homemade ice cream. But it’s also the final weekend for the championship play at the celebrated Wimbledon Tennis Club http://www.wimbledon.com. I’ve spent more than one Fourth of July glued to the televised match. I crossed another item off my “bucket lis”t a couple years ago when I finally had the chance to go to Wimbledon during the championship tournament. Of course I always thought that I might be stepping onto one of those grass courts as a competitor when I got there, but I by the time I arrived my chances of doing that had long since passed.
For tennis players, going to Wimbledon is like making a pilgrimage to a holy shrine. No sooner had I arrived at my friend, Nancy’s home in Wimbledon, after a trans-Atlantic flight, than we headed out the door for the 15-minute walk from her place, tucked back on one of the less noticeable side streets in town,to the club. With tickets in hand , we walked up to the gate, missing the long queues at the entry as we went late in the day. Play had been long underway. Stepping inside, you are met with the big scheduling board detailing which players are on what court and at what time. There’s no shortage of games to watch.
The biggest competitors, of course, can be found on either the renown Centre Court or Court 2. You must have a ticket for those courts specifically in order to get a seat there. But every other match is open to everyone with the price of a general admission ticket, as ours was. And the seating for these matches is right there at court side, unlike the stadium seating for Centre Court and Court 2. You hear the swoosh of the racquet as the player comes down on their serves and strokes. Needless to say anyone with a camera is pretty much guaranteed of getting excellent action shots of the players made even more up close with a telephoto lens. With the audience sitting or standing so close, the concentration level of the competitor must be a challenge.
Of course it’s all still very proper. Ball boys and girls wear uniforms sporting the club’s purple and green colors. Linesmen and women wear the tailored and traditional blue blazers and white pants, socks and shoes. The grounds are immaculately kept, just like the grass courts. There are gardens and green spaces where you can go sit, eat a bite and watch the action on the large television monitors.
At one time or another all the tennis greats have donned their tennis whites to take their place in tradition at the famous British tennis club. A few have made it onto the club’s Wall of Champions. Viewing that wall is to see a pictorial history of the sport. It’s a thrill just to look at all the names of players, past and present, who took home one of the championship trophies.
Inside the club museum you can peruse exhibits between matches although I didn’t make it there. Unfortunately for us, the rain started to fall not long after we had snared a court side spot at one of the matches. And while everyone else fled for the food service area or the gift shop, we stayed covered up by our rain jackets to watch the very well choreographed grounds crew quickly roll out the cover across the court. That in itself was entertaining.
Even if you don’t attend a single match, you can participate in the festive mood of the championship just by being in the town of Wimbledon. Street signs remind drivers that the tournament restricts curbside waiting times. Shop windows are cleverly decorated with the tennis theme. Restaurants and pubs of course celebrate with offerings of the tournament’s famous dish of strawberries and fresh cream as well as the other standard pub fare. And everywhere you spot vans or cars shuttling players and coaches to and from their places of lodging to the courts.
If you’re lucky, you may see one of the current or former stars of the game, as we did when Martina Navratilova walked into the restaurant where we were having dinner one evening. Locals seem to take it all in stride, some even leave to let out their homes during the tournament,but I couldn’t imagine missing it. My one visit there was a treat and a dream come true. Not even a little rain could dampen either my excitement or the thrill of the finally getting to experience for myself the traditions of Wimbledon.