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July 3, 2012

Guest post (Leslie Oster): Visit to Wimbledon

by dan rodriguez

Centre Court Wimbledon

Dan and I are in London this week doing various Northwestern-related things; also in London is a friend of ours from Austin, Sam.  Just being in London during Wimbledon is exciting for me; there’s a lot of press and buzz, and also lots of live match coverage on BBC.  I love watching tennis, and particularly love watching Roger Federer play tennis, even these days, when all the talk is about his being in the twilight of his career and the timing of his retirement.  Actually, “enjoy” may not be the right word.  Compelled to watch is probably more accurate, because the truth is that sometimes I don’t enjoy it at all, and my husband tells me I am impossible and way too nervous when I am watching a close Federer match.  Be that as it may, I thought it would be neat to get out to Wimbledon and just see the place, and if I could see some tennis, even better.  We didn’t get tickets before coming to London, but I read that there were tickets available online at 9:00 am and noon each day, and so on Sunday and Monday, I sat at my computer at 9:00 and then again at noon, but after numerous tries, I did not pull up any tickets, and I kind of gave up on that route.  Then there was the queue.  At Wimbledon, they allow folks to line up each morning and they let in a lot of people — 500 people get in for each of the show courts (Centre Court, Court #1 & Court #2), and thousands more get a grounds pass that allows them to see play on Courts #3-19 and to watch the big screen television outside Court #1 on “Henman Hill” (officially Aorangi Terrace, aka Rusedski Ridge and Murray Mound).  Also, a grounds pass allows for the possibility of purchasing “resale” tickets for the show courts, but more on that later.  From what I could pick up on the Wimbledon website and various blogs, it sounded like folks line up quite early for the queue and many actually camp out — there are campgrounds right on the Wimbledon site.  My research suggested that to get the show court tickets, you’d probably have to camp overnight, and to get grounds passes, you’d probably need to arrive by about 6 or 7 am.  (Play starts at 11:30.)  For a variety of reasons, that early thing wasn’t in the cards on this trip.  But then I read about the evening queue:  you can line up for entrance to the grounds around 5:00 each evening.  And word on the street was that the evening queue was less frenzied and more civilized than the morning queue, and that lots of people get let in for the evening session.  So we decided to give it a try.  Dan finished work at about 2:30 on Friday, and then me and Dan and our friend Sam took the tube to Wimbledon.  Two tube trains and a double-deck bus ride later, we were in the afternoon queue.  It was about 3:30 or so and the line was already long; we had no idea where the line even started, and pretty soon, we also could not see the end of the line, as so many people had gotten in behind us.  It was a very orderly process — a nice Wimbledon staffer came over and gave us a queue ticket with a number on it, though when we saw our numbers (10,467, 10468, and 10,469), we were not particularly encouraged.  Another Wimbledon worker came by and gave us a brochure on the Rules of Queuing, which taught us things like “Loud music must not be played at any time (use personal headphones),”  “Queue Jumping is not acceptable and will not be tolerated,” and “Overnight queuers should use tents which accommodate a maximum of two persons.  Please do not bring or erect gazebos.”   Good thing we had left our gazebo at home.  At some point a guard walked by and I asked her what the chances were of our getting in the grounds and she said that she thought it likely that we would get in the grounds, but we were unlikely to be able to get tickets to one of the show courts.  That felt like good news.

At first it seemed like the line was gradually moving, but then around 4:00, it stopped and we waited.  There were food carts set up along the path and we fortified ourselves with an ice cream from Mr. Whippy.  At around 5:15, the line started moving and we followed along.  After walking slowly in line for about 10 minutes, we passed a sign that said that we were 600 yards away from the entry, and we felt a momentary thrill before thinking about how far 600 yards actually was.  But we kept moving, and then we were 400 yards away, and then 200.  It looked like we would get in!

I was so excited when we got up to the front.  Sam and Dan sailed right through security, but of course I got the guard who felt it was important to go through every single thing in my bag, and was particularly interested in my hair barrette, and kept opening and closing it.  (Did he think it was a switchblade?  Could he perceive my Federer obsession?)  Once we got through security, we went to the admission line and paid our 14 pounds each to get in to the grounds.  Inside, right away, it felt a little overwhelming — lots of people, lots of things going on at once.  We had heard that we should go straight to the resale booth and see if there were any tickets to buy for the show courts, but when I asked an Information Lady where the resale booth was, she just laughed and acted like I was crazy for thinking I might get show court tickets at that time.  Nonetheless, we headed over.  It was exciting to be on the grounds, and we walked by four or five live tennis matches on our way to the resale booth.  The Federer/Benneteau match had just started, and it was up on the big screen on Henman Hill, and that’s where I wanted to be.  (Did I say that I am a big Federer fan?)  When we got to the resale booth, they said that they were not allowing folks to line up for Centre Court tickets at that time, and that we should come back and try again in 45 minutes.  (They were allowing a queue for Court #2 tickets, but we decided to get our bearings first, before getting back in a line.)

We headed to Henman Hill to watch some of the Federer match.  Now, Henman Hill is a real sight.  I’ve seen it a bunch on regular Wimbledon coverage, but it was so neat in person – tons of people hanging out, picnicking and drinking, having fun sitting on the grass on a big hill that faces a giant TV screen displaying the featured match.  It is much posher than tightwad hill in Berkeley.  The screen is so big that there is a very wide area of good viewing and we got a great view of the giant television from a good seat on a stone ledge that bordered a pond.  I was very happy to sit and watch Federer; Sam sat with me and Dan went off to explore.  Unfortunately for me, Federer did not look good from the start.  He just seemed flat, and slow even at times, whereas Mr. Benneteau was sharp on his game and playing without fear.  When Federer got broken and then promptly lost the first set, the crowd on the Hill seemed pretty stunned.  Federer broke Benneteau early in the second set, and it seemed like things might improve for him from there, but then he got broke right back.  Benneteau was playing really well and making some improbable shots, and it seemed also like things were kind of going his way.  Meantime, Federer could not seem to find another gear and was missing shots and not even going for some shots that it looked like he might be able to get.  (I know, easy for me to say.)

A few games into the second set, Dan showed up and said that he had been to the resale booth and was easily able to buy two tickets for Court #1, at (only!) 5 pounds each, but I did not want to leave my Federer perch, and so Dan and Sam went off to watch live tennis on Court #1 and I stayed to torture myself by watching the Federer match on the giant screen.  (Did I mention I am a big Federer fan?)  Watching the second set of Federer’s match was painful for me and I was getting annoyed at all of the smokers (I get annoyed by almost anything when Federer is losing). I thought about getting up and leaving, but I decided to wait until Dan came back, which he did, during the second set tiebreaker.  I did not have a good feeling about Federer’s chances in the tiebreak, and was not surprised when he lost the set.

At this point, I felt that I couldn’t watch any more.  Not because I didn’t hope/think Federer could come back, but because I couldn’t stand to watch, I felt like I wasn’t bringing Federer good luck, my butt was cold from setting on a stone ledge, I wasn’t having very much fun, and I didn’t want my Wimbledon experience to only be about Federer’s difficult match.  So Dan and I decided to get up and roam the grounds.  On the way, we passed the resale booth, and noticed that they were now letting people queue for Centre Court tickets.  Dan suggested that he might get in line, but I discouraged him, thinking that it was unlikely he’d ever get to the front, and also, I didn’t want his entire Wimbledon experience to only be about standing in lines.  We continued on to the outer courts.

My first glance of actual live tennis was very exciting — we walked by a match featuring Maria Kirilenko and Sorana Cirstea.  (In an unusual twist, they were each wearing the same dress.)  Both of them were hitting the ball very hard and solid, and the court was so close and small, and even the serves that look kind of slow on television are actually quite formidable.  With Kirilenko in command, we moved on to a different court, but I couldn’t really see over the people lined up at the fence to tell who was playing.  Then I heard some grunting and realized that Victoria Azarenka was playing.  Through cracks in the crowd, I could see that we were watching mixed doubles (and that Azarenka was wearing both a dress and pants); Azarenka was playing with Mirnyi.  But we couldn’t find a good viewing location, so we moved on.  Next we found a men’s doubles match and I was able to get to a great location just a few rows up from the court.   On one side was the French player Roger-Vasselin teamed with an American guy with an Italian-sounding name, and on the other side was Mikhail Kukushkin and Lukas Rosol, the very same Rosol who had beat Nadal the previous day.  He’s tall!  (Sorry, Nadal-lovers, I do feel your pain.  Looking at you, Jessica Phillips.)  This match was in the fifth set and very exciting — the American/French team was up a break on the Nadal beater and his partner and they eventually won the set and the match.  From there, we went to another men’s doubles court and I didn’t recognize the faces or names of three of the players, but definitely recognized one of the players — Lleyton Hewitt!  It was very cool to see him up close; he looked a lot like he looks on TV, only more lifelike.  I didn’t have a great view of the court, but I could see some of Hewitt’s gestures and I could hear his outbursts after almost every point.  There was a large crowd at this court, and it seemed like every person was an Aussie.   So when this match ended with a Hewitt team victory in the fifth set, the crowd went wild.  When Hewitt walked off the court, he walked right by us.  Dan told me that he said something like “way to go, mate” to Hewitt.  That’s my husband.

We decided to wander back to Henman Hill, and when we got there, we saw that the Hill was jammed with people, that Federer had won the third set 6-2, and that the fourth set was tied.  I called Sam; she had watched the end of the Gasquet/Almagro match from her seats at Court #1 and was back on Henman Hill, and she came over to where we were watching, by the resale area.  The queue for Centre Court tickets was ongoing, and there was a long line of people in it.  I didn’t really understand how this worked, but apparently, when people leave the stadium during the match, their tickets get scanned and the scan is sent to the resale booth, and folks in line can buy these “returned” Centre Court seats for 10 pounds. (The proceeds go to charity.)  Dan decided to get in line for tickets, but that seemed crazy to me — if Federer lost the set, the match was over and Dan would definitely not have gotten to the front of the line by then, and if Fed won, who would leave Centre Court during the fifth set of such an exciting match with the possibility of a big upset?  But Dan said he thought the match would go five sets, and that he thought it would be awesome to get in for some part of the last set.   Of course, there was that little issue of the fourth set tiebreaker, and I could barely watch.  Federer was up, they were even, Federer was up, even again, then Benneteau was up, even again, and then Federer won the tiebreak and people were going crazy.  Usually, the crowds love Federer, but crowds also love an underdog, and with a few big underdog wins and close calls already at this Wimbledon, it seemed like there were lots of people rooting for both guys.

The Centre Court ticket line was still moving, and Dan was moving up in it, but he was still a ways from the front.  Sam and Dan were taking turns in the line, and I was giving them updates of the match.  The line started really progressing, and what had seemed impossible started to seem possible, that we might actually get into Centre Court.  It was 1-1 in the fifth set, and then Federer held for 2-1, and those guys were very close to the front of the line.  Benneteau was getting a massage on his leg, and that slowed the game a bit, and gave us a little more hope.  And then Federer broke Benneteau, and then Federer consolidated the break, and all of a sudden, it was 4-1, and Sam was second in line, and the ticket lady announced that they weren’t going to sell any more tickets because the match was going to end soon and we wouldn’t be able to get to the court in time.  The guy in front of us, with his very disappointed young daughter, was furious and kept trying to get the woman to change her mind, and then finally, after she wasted at least five minutes saying no, she said OK, but you won’t get to the court in time to see any tennis, and THERE ARE NO REFUNDS.  We gave her the 30 pounds for our 3 souveniers tickets, and it was already 5-1, and we grabbed Dan and started running to the court.

Sam and I were running superfast (well, for us) and we ran ahead and just as we found an entrance, we heard a thunderous outburst of applause that could only mean the match was over.  We pushed on anyway, and ran right up some stairs and into the stadium and there we were on Centre Court, on the corner of the court as the players were walking off of it.  Roger was throwing his sweatband and towels into the crowd and fixing his hair; Benneteau looked deflated and exhausted.  Then the two players walked off the court together.  Benneteau tipped his racket to the crowd and got a huge ovation.  Roger stopped at the end to sign autographs on giant tennis balls.

So, bottom line, I made it to Centre Court, not for a long stay, but for long enough to see Roger Federer in the flesh and to take in the amazing atmosphere.  I know, lucky me!!

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