Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wimbledon 2012 (Pt. 2)

The pre-dawn portion of Wimbledon Pt. 2 was much the same as the pre-dawn portion of Wimbledon Pt. 1: zombie-ritual and semi-conscious stumbling. Our taxi driver to the grounds was much chattier this day, however, so he forced us to remain awake (one part conversing to three parts accent-riddling). I'd say we arrived within five minutes of the exact same time as the day before, and yet--and yet!--we were two hundred numbers further up in the queue. We could only presume that fewer people had camped the night before; after all, we were now into the second round of the singles tourney, which meant fewer overall matches. Could we get Centre Court tickets with our improved position? We knew we'd find out -- in about five hours!

We were less fortunate in our queue-buddy selection, which is not to say they were terrible; they just weren't as convivial and friendly as Faye and Tom, the good folks from Oz, had been. In fairness, we weren't as convivial either; we attempted napping. Despite the cold hard ground, if we'd had a blanket over top of us, I'm convinced we would have succeeded.

Knowing what kind of wait to expect made the morning proceed overall much quicker. We bought a newspaper from a rolling cart to see the day's lineups, sipped more coffee, munched our breakfast-in-a-bag, and chatted the hours away. When wristband time came around, our options were once again limited to Courts 1 and 2. Which made sense -- the queue was overwhelmed with folks sporting RF gear (not, as I so foolishly supposed the first day, "Republic of France," but "Roger Federer" -- who, I must say, has a very well designed logo), and the Fed was appearing on Centre Court that day. Ah, well -- Court 1 had plenty of matchups we were excited to see, anyway!

Same as before, Court 1 play didn't begin until 1:00, so we had a good hour and a half of match play on the outer courts before finding our reserved seats. We shuffled on down to Court 3, where one of Jenny's favorite upstarts from last year, a German girl named Sabine Lisicki, was taking on Jovanovski. We cheered our hearts out for the peppy German -- I think in equal parts appreciation of her sense of humor, her perma-smile, her real (and not stilt-like) legs, her whoops-equivalent squeal when she made a boo-boo, and her hustle around the court. Perhaps we shouldn't root for her; after all, she does have a tendency to give us stress-attacks and make games go much closer than they should be. (This match went three sets, though Lisicki was clearly dominant; in the fourth round, she handled Maria Sharapova easily -- oh what fun THAT was to watch! -- then beat herself in another three-setter against Kerber.) But root we did, and in the process I found a tennis player to be my favorite. The game is wholly different when you're pulling for a specific player in the tourney (I'm a surrogate Federer fan, thanks to Jenny!) and not just picking a favorite in each match.

After the match, we clamored out of the bleachers and around to the players' exit. Jenny identified the right door, and we got there just in time to catch Lisicki leaving. I had our program and a Sharpie in hand, and I got her autograph! Not only that, I got to have a (very brief) exchange with her -- auf Deutsch! I was busy watching her sign the program, so I didn't see her face; but Jenny says that she lit up hearing someone speak her native language. Talk about a highlight of the tournament!

The way the Lisicki match was drawn out, we had nearly missed all of the first match on Court 1. But we weren't about to leave it! Besides, it was a match we didn't particularly care about. The second one on 1, however, was a must-see -- the completion of the Roddick/Baker match from the day before. The crowd still grew boisterous behind their native Jamie, but in the end Roddick pulled off a victory. We had to be proud for our countryman!

Then the infamous Rain Delay swooped down over the skies of ol' SW19. The rain wasn't too unbearable -- we sat outside for much of it -- but it was enough for them to pull out the court covers. All in all, the delay wasn't too long, and as soon as it wrapped up we welcomed Maria Sharapova (the then-world number one) and Tsvetana Pironkova to the court. Pironkova was a feisty little thing, and we cheered her on mightily (neither one of us being big Sharapova fans). She gave the #1 a good run for her money, but we sensed that she got nervous when she was actually close to winning the first set; ultimately she lost it, and was down 3-1 when they called the night for darkness.

(Side note: you don't get to see this much on TV, but Sharapova has the strangest rituals. I wonder if she in fact has OCD. I mean for real -- not the sort of mildly compulsive behavior about which we always jokingly say, "That's just my OCD." And not the sort of routine that many athletes like to utilize. Fascinating to watch.)

Exhausted, damp, and thoroughly reluctant to leave, we took our final pictures in front of the standings board. Then we joined the throng filing through the gates of the AELTC, wandered up the street, and hailed a cab outside of the mayhem. I was converted from "tennis appreciator" to "tennis fan," and I now know how Jenny feels sitting with me during a baseball game -- the sport truly is more fascinating, the more you understand it.

I could hardly think of a more fitting end to a first (and second) Wimbledon experience than falling straight into bed. I was asleep before my knees finished buckling!

Thank you, Jenny, for sharing such an enlightening and thrilling sporting experience with me!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Jolly Holiday: Wimbledon 2012 (Pt. 1)

Oohhh, it's a jolly holiday in England which is where Zach and I spent the last week. Specifically, we journeyed to Wimbledon to see the Tennis Championships! I attended my first Wimbledon Championship tournament back in 1998 and have been raving about it ever since. It was a dream come true to finally get to share the magic and wonderment of the whole experience with my best friend, fellow-writer, muse, and confidant: Zach! Thus it was a natural decision to go once more while living abroad (because traveling from Ireland to England is cheaper and quicker than from New Mexico).

Attending Wimbledon requires patience. First you must endure the hours-long queue for tickets. That's right, get in line! Wimbledon has a tradition (er, rather lots of them) that they will not sell their tickets online before the tournament. You can enter a lottery to win tickets, and if you're are friends with someone rich and famous, they can give you a free ticket or two, but for the rest of us (Proles, plebians, peasants), there's the queue.

Used to be one could queue at about 4 a.m. just outside the grounds in a long line that wound its way through the surrounding neighborhood. Nowadays, the queue starts in a park near the tennis grounds, so campers come way in advance and hold their spots. And for good reason too. The first 500 tickets are for the legendary, mythical Centre Court, the next 500 for Court No. 1, and then a bunch for Court No. 2. Admittedly, I was tempted to go rent a couple of sleeping bags, but fortunately for Zach, my tennis-mania knows a few bounds. So (unfortunately for Zach) we got up at 3:00 a.m., performed in our sleepy-zombie state some ritual not unlike dressing and caught a cab bound for the All England Lawn and Tennis Club.

We guesstimated that there were only about sixty early morning people between us and the overnight campers, which is to say, there were only sixty people crazier than we were. Two people only slightly less crazy took up their spots behind us and we became fast-friends in queue terms. Faye, from Perth Australia, introduced herself as an annual Wimbledon attendee, while Tom--a youngster like us who was also, coincidentally from Australia--was attending for the first time, like Zach. But the Honorary Stewards keep the lines in order and keep up the moral. They come by in their fine suits and Panama hats with jolly announcements and pleasant conversation about tennis and the weather. It is everything a line should be in the civilized world, and the British would have it no other way.

Zach and I found out from our queue-buddies that even though we were the 1,099th and 1100th persons in the actual line, we could still be in contention for Centre Court tickets as many of the campers were students who could only afford the ground passes. So, we anxiously waited, dozed, chatted, waited, read the morning paper, waited, bought some coffee from one of the nearby burger stands erected to feed the queue of dedicated fans...and yes, waited some more. Just before nine, the wristband distributors worked their way down the line. We could hear them way off in the distance calling out "Centre Court! Who wants Centre Court?" But by the time they reached our section of the line, they had only Court 1 and 2 bands. We gladly took our bands for Court 1, which boasts its own fine array of celebrity players destined for outstanding matches (as does any other court at Wimbledon). But I did so want Zach to experience the grandeur of Centre Court.

As it turns out the grandeur of the grounds themselves was enough. I was overwhelmed with nostalgia, while Zach was all-amazement at how vast the tennis center is, with its many cafes, courts, stadiums, trees, fountains, and celebrity tennis legends who walk among the masses hauling their own massive racket bags on their way to courts. Yes, they just walk in and among the crowds. (The more unfortunate players have been known to get accidentally knocked down by eager, young fans racing across the grounds to land a seat at a smaller court. I'm not naming names, but there may have been a young girl in 1998 who literally plowed into a player, and who felt mortified after the fact.)

Although we had reserved seats on Court 1, play did not start there until 1:00 p.m., leaving us to roam all the outer courts where limited seats are open to anyone quick enough to nab them. Nab we did, for a bit of gentlemen's doubles, which is fast-paced nuanced tennis not often aired on television, but well worth the watch! Then we were off to Court 1 where we were delighted to find Faye seated next to us! We enjoyed  a match there, then scuttled back to Court 15 for ladies' doubles, then back to Court 1 for the rest of the day.

Cheering for the underdogs became our modus operandi. First we dug in as the few and the brave to cheer on Wimbledon first-time players Michael Russell and Donald Young (both from the U.S.). Then we cheered on Mona Barthel in her match against Vera Zvonereva, not just because she was German but also because we was the low-ranked seed in the match. We applauded Nadia Petrova and her partner Maria Kirilenko because even in the high-pressured moments of an intense doubles match, they giggled and had fun (and won in the end). We even managed to get their autographs afterwords. We cheered as long as we could for poor Lleyton Hewitt, who was no match for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (now playing in the semi-final against Andy Murray as I write this!). And we made our voices heard for poor Andy Roddick who had the misfortune of playing one of Britain's young hopefuls. Their match was incredible. Forget nail-biting. This one drove you knuckle-biting, it was so close point for point. They wound up having to suspend play once darkness and a bit of rain set in, but we resolved to get up early the next day and see the end of it (unless we nabbed Centre Court tickets...).

But for more on our second day at Wimbledon and the conclusion of our adventures in England, you'll have to switch over to Zach's post.