Being blessed with infinite good fortune, I went to the first day of Wimbledon this year. It’s a heady tale of Roger, Rafa and British despair with cameo appearances by my Dad.
Before I begin, a bit of back story. My Dad has been an LTA official for over 25 years. He was a linesman in the 1981 Bjorg-McEnroe final (my greatest claim to fame!) and luckily he’s able to get us a few tickets each year in the umpires’ ballot.
So it was by this feat of fatherly love that I found myself at the gates of SW19 on Monday morning having driven in VIP-style to the umpires’ parking area. I slightly envied the hardy souls in the famous ‘queue’, who were no doubt loving the experience as only the British can.
First stop of the day was the Order of Play where I decided that Court 12 would be the place to go. Lots of good seeds playing and Brit James Ward too. This is why you definitely don’t need Centre Court tickets on Day 1. There’s just so much quality tennis happening around the grounds.
But setting off I saw a large crowd had gathered around Court 11 so I went over to investigate. Lo and behold, who do I see casually warming up with Martin Cilic and Goran Ivanesivic (!?) but …
It was funny to see how casual and calm he was. A few leisurely back-hands here, a couple of top-spin serves there. This was the Fed in first gear and you wouldn’t have guessed he was hours away from kicking off the defence of his Wimbledon title. And all the while he still managed to radiate his consummate awesomeness.
Still giddy after my encounter with tennising greatness, I then looked to my left and the day got even better. Rafa and crew had rocked up! Court 11 was clearly the warm-up court of choice for the big names.
Never have I seen such a marked contrast between two tennis players. Whereas the Fed was all effortless grace and easy does it, Rafa was a picture of intensity and focus. Uncle Toni would feed balls from the baseline and Rafa would whip them back with that wicked left-handed top-spin flourish. Just look at the eyes in the picture and you can see the intensity.
I managed to scramble my way towards the front of the crowd as they were leaving and I got Rafa to sign my ticket. Everyone was wishing him ‘Good Luck’ in English so I thought I’d push the boat out for him and make him feel at home.
‘Buena suerte’, I said.
‘Gracias’, Rafa replied.
I’d just spoken to Rafa Nadal in Spanish! Chuffed to bits and feeling like every hour I’d ever spent cramming Spanish into my little head was worth it, I trotted off to Court 12 to enjoy my first bit of play of the day.
I watched the fiery Fabio Fognini lose in 4 sets to Jurgen Melzer. The guys in the crowd next to me were taking bets on Fognini getting disqualified because of all the racket-throwing but alas the German did for him first. Efficient, disciplined stroke play prevailed over flashes of Italian brilliance.
I then headed over to Court 16 to watch my Dad. He was doing the baseline on the Verdasco v Malisse match (a real tough tie for Round 1!) and he made some good calls. One memorable point saw Malisse serve big to the Verdasco backhand but the Spaniard hit a sweet return winner on the run that just clipped the baseline, which Dad did well to call in!
When he came off court we went to drink some tea and eat strawberries and cream in the umpires’ buttery. This is one thing that you quickly learn about Wimbledon. Every single cliché is true. Everyone is eating strawberries and cream. Everyone is drinking Pimms. Everyone is talking about the weather.
It’s like an unashamed parody of all the quirks of British life and it was glorious to be a part of. If anyone’s ever feeling a bit anti-royalist, disillusioned with these Isles, ashamed of its past, I prescribe you a good dose of Wimbledon. It does wonders.
And my day at Wimbledon wouldn’t have been complete without a bit of British disappointment. I saw James Ward crash out in his first-round match in four sets to the tenacious Lu Yen-Hsun. He did his best to get the crowd behind him but his serve started to collapse in the fourth and from then on it never looked good.
I finished the day by watching a bit more of my Dad on Court 16 and taking this photo outside Centre Court. One for the album.
All in all it was a great day full of great memories. Bill Bryson once said, ‘If you have never been to Durham before, go there at once.’ The same is true of Wimbledon. Even if you can’t stand tennis and couldn’t tell your Rafa from your Roger, you must go, at least once.
It’s the atmosphere, the people, the queuing, the weather, the strawberries, the tennis, the smiling faces. It’s good for the soul.