WIMBLEDON | Getting Lucky At The Championships

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Wimbledon Centre Court

All England Lawn Tennis And Croquet Club

For the fifth time in my sporting history, I visited the spectacular grounds and grass courts of Wimbledon. My girlfriend, Saffron, accompanied with a sketchbook. This was her first visit to any professional tennis event but her pencils stayed mostly in her bag as she found the action surprisingly compelling.

Highlights

Centre Court tickets – In 2015, I spent 15 minutes inside Centre Court before quickly running off for my train home. I wanted to soak in the venue at least once and the chance to buy a £10 ticket in the resale once all the other matches had concluded felt like great value for the historic vibe the stadium holds. Little did I know though, I’d be on Centre again 12 months later and have a ticket for the whole day.

This year, I was hoping for Court One tickets but knew the chances of getting them in the queue were small even with a 3am wake-up time. Still, despite there being a significantly higher number of tents in the queue than I’d seen before, we were pretty close. About 50 more places and it could have been achieved. Court Two tickets were available but there weren’t many players that caught my eye. The fans around us seemed to agree. Only a few people opted to have wristbands for Court Two, with a couple of young girls in front of us equally disappointed to have missed out on Court One.

Snubbing Court Two made the early wake-up feel a bit of a waste. Four hours in the queue and we could have obtained the same ground court passes had we arrived a little bit later. However, fortune favoured the brave, as we left the queue of Court Two wristbanders at the entrance and went through the gates to learn reduced priced Centre Court tickets were available. Apparently they were ‘restrictive viewing’ but we snapped them up regardless.

As it turned out, we stumbled on a fantastic deal. The seats were on the upper level of Centre but were not obstructed in any way. And much to our confusion, we were in the press area! Even the security guard checking tickets had to ask if we’d legitimately bought them. I don’t think the Wimbledon members were particularly pleased to be sat amongst us – understandable when they have to wear suits whilst we could don ripped jeans – but we were chuffed to bits.

A ‘royal’ Royal Box – Last year I spotted plenty of famous faces in the stands and Royal Box of Wimbledon. TV personality Vernon Kay was in attendance with his wife Tess Daly, with Dominic Cooper also present. The actor made another appearance this year, only this time he was sat behind the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton.

Now, I’m by no means a royalist. Far from it, in fact. But I can appreciate certain members of the royal family for the work they do with charities, fundraising and causes. Kate and her husband Prince William, along with his brother Harry, do a lot of good things in sport and mental health. So to have a member of the royal family in attendance added something to the occasion. Particularly with Kate being a patron for the Lawn Tennis Association and the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

The champion’s defence – One of Wimbledon’s great traditions is having the previous year’s winner defend their title during the opening two days on Centre Court. I’d seen Serena Williams start her defence of the women’s title last year and then watched Andy Murray play afterwards. Coincidentally, both went on to win Wimbledon. So seeing Murray return to the same stage 12 months on as the reigning champion felt very special. I joined in with the standing ovation as he entered and revelled in the sporting history I was a part of. One of Britain’s greatest ever sports people, ranked the current best in his sport, was about to begin his campaign for a hat-trick of Wimbledon titles. Amazing stuff.

Murray’s opponent was young Kazakh Alexander Bublik. In the warm-up, the 20-year-old looked like he’d bring a nothing-to-lose mentality. He bombed serve after serve towards the champion, looking loose and ready to fire at will. This pattern continued when the match began. Murray looked edgy and unable to get into a rhythm. Bublik had two break points in the first game. However, Murray managed to overturn the deficit and produce a fantastic set of grass court tennis to take the opening set 6-1.

Murray was a joy to watch at this point. He controlled the match and nullified Bublik’s big weapon – his serve – with a number of great returns. I had a feeling the Kazakh wasn’t used to seeing so many of his shots come back over the net. He opened up even more as a result. Then he tried to get the crowd on his side. It worked to a degree but also proved to be his downfall. Being open and coy with the crowd took him out of the game mentally. Murray just had to keep the ball in play and Bublik would fire long. The double faults also racked up as Bublik went for big second serves.

A couple of rain delays halted matters in the third set. Saff and I got through the first but felt the next would be somewhat lengthy so we used the break to get some food. We then watched the rest of the match conclude on Murray Mound, which was packed full of well-wishing Brits. And I also had an extra portion of fish in my order. Quite the double whammy.

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The roof stayed open all day on Centre Court as the showers passed within half an hour

Kvitova comeback – Next on Centre was Petra Kvitova, a two-time champion at SW19 herself. She was making her first appearance at Wimbledon since an intruder stabbed her hand during a robbery at her home back in December. The injury was thought to be career-threatening, so she’s made amazing progress already. Not only by being on court but winning a match at Roland Garros and even claiming a title in Birmingham during the build-up to Wimbledon.

Saff and I were both pretty tired during this match. Since getting up at 3am, we’d been going for 14 hours. So, admittedly, I didn’t take in much of the action. Kvitova did impress me though. I really like watching her play. Her groundstrokes are hit with such power. I just wish she had the consistency to keep her shots contained and not produce a flurry of unforced errors that cost her matches. She definitely has the ability to be world number one. I think she should have done it by now. But after what’s happened recently, it’s just a pleasure to have her return to the court.

Incidentally, Kvitova won in straight sets despite a bad start against Sweden’s Johanna Larsson. But perhaps the Czech has more of a battling spirit now. Seeing her beaming at the crowd as she gave each stand her traditional kiss and wave celebration filled me with joy. She’s truly an inspiration.

Five matches – In terms of actual tennis action, we certainly had value for money. First we watched the opening set of Laura Robson v Beatriz Haddad Maia on Court 18. There was a good atmosphere with the Brit well-supported. But she did look short of confidence having only featured on the ITF Tour this year following an exit in the first round of qualifying at the Australian Open. Her Brazilian opponent grew into the match and took the set 6-4. Robson would go onto lose 6-2 in the second.

We then took in all three matches on Centre before finishing where we started, on Court 18 for French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko against Aliaksandra Sasnovich. I was very much interested in seeing the Latvian play as I’d not seen any of her successful Roland Garros campaign a month ago. I remember being in Nurenberg and being stunned by her victory, a 20-year-old winning the title out of nowhere. I had to scope her out at Wimbledon.

To be honest, watching her whole match didn’t give me much indication of who she is or how she plays. She could be the most inconsistent player I’ve ever seen, both on and off the court. A set of solid tennis (it was 6-0 but not breathtaking) was followed by a petulant set full of errors. She would make frequent gestures of displeasure – including a stroppy call for a towel from a ball boy – and ask for challenges that were questionable for both timing and worth. The deciding set featured the good and bad Ostapenko side-by-side. She would go from looking the part to being shambolic as each game went by. And vice-versa.

When she eventually won in the fading light she gave a scream of satisfaction and appeared all smiles. She took a lot of time out to take photos with her fans – which there were a lot of – despite security guards urging her to move along. It seemed like a different person emerged from the court. It will be interesting to see how she progresses further on in her career.

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Jelena Ostapenko is mobbed by fans as she leaves Court 18

Disappointments

The schedule – Before the tournament, my main goal was to see Novak Djokovic and/or Roger Federer play. Over my four previous years attending The Championships, I’ve been very fortunate enough to see several female champions so I felt the need to appreciate the greatest in the men’s game. Djokovic was my main choice. I have a poster and framed photo of him in my room. When he was dominating the sport, his resilience astounded me. To keep battling past obstacles both physical and mental like he did, really drew me to him as a fan.

However, my hopes of seeing the Serb were dashed when he was scheduled for Day Two. Things were compounded with Federer also set for that day and the best first round matches on the outside courts being on Day One. We’d therefore be pinning our hopes on getting a showcourt ticket in the queue. Plus we’d be rushing around for our train home at the end of the day. It wasn’t really worth it. But at least it’s made my desire to fill in a ballot for next year even more acute.

Missing Wawrinka upset – Despite four previous years of attending Wimbledon, I haven’t experienced a lot of shocks. This is normally because the first round matches pit players wide apart in the rankings and I’ve only ever been to the first and second days. I think Venus Williams’ first round exit in 2012 was the only upset I’d been at Wimbledon for. That changed this year as three-time major winner Stan Wawrinka lost in four sets to Russian Daniil Medvedev. The problem was, we were sat courtside watching Ostapenko when the match concluded.

We did catch some of the opening action. The Swiss has won all his Grand Slams in the last three years so I haven’t been that interested to see him play that much in the past. It’s not really a glory-hunting thing, I just don’t particularly enjoy the longevity of men’s Grand Slam matches. The idea of sitting through a men’s match for three to four hours doesn’t appeal to me. However, I fancied seeing how Wawrinka’s game warranted three major triumphs recently.

As it turned out, it’s not very well warranted on grass. Wawrinka didn’t look comfortable on the court at all in the first set. You could tell it’s his worst surface as Medvedev took the opener. Wawrinka nearly threw away the second set too with some erratic play but managed to level the match at one set apiece. With very little to choose between the pair early in the third, my patience for men’s tennis wore thin. As did Saff’s.

I honestly thought five sets were on the cards so I figured we could return later to see the conclusion. But as we sat down for the start of the Ostapenko match, Medvedev had gone a break up in the fourth set. To leave Court 18 then after getting courtside seats would have been daft. It would have been nice to experience that, I must admit. But being a part of it, considering we had no chance of getting tickets before queuing, was still something to be pleased about.

Overall

Without a ticket for a showcourt, I always think attending the first round matches provides the best value for money. You can watch a host of matches on several outside courts for £25 and the option to be in the big stadiums is possible via ticket resale later in the day. I would have been happy watching Robson, Ostapenko and other outside court matches like Cibulkova-Petkovic, which was a great three-set encounter, if we weren’t lucky enough to have the Centre Court seats.

It is a long day. You can be awake for eight hours before seeing any tennis. Plus the amount of people in the grounds is heaving at points. During the rain delay there were vast numbers of fans waiting for food. Patience is key as the queue went down in 10 minutes and your order is dealt with promptly.

If planned right, Wimbledon is a wonderful experience as a one-off or on a continual basis. I’m definitely looking forward to returning next year.

Best Of The Rest

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There are so many things to see and do in London, I honestly rate it as my favourite city in the world. Each time I’ve visited the famous landmarks such as Tower Bridge or Big Ben, I’ve never failed to have my breath taken. But there’s always something new to discover.

This year, I went to Crystal Palace Park and the Serpentine Gallery for the first time and we still didn’t have time to fit in everything that we wanted to do. It is a city that keeps on giving. And despite recent terror attacks in the city, I didn’t feel a change of atmosphere at all. Police presence wasn’t heightened in any significant way and no tension resonated. Everyone was getting on with their lives and enjoying themselves.

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