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.

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