Anticipation grew as the world’s top women’s tennis player and her opponent walked onto the court.
The court quieted. The winner of the coin toss served. The Second Round of the Ladies’ Singles Championship was underway.
I am at Wimbledon with a ticket for the No. 1 Court on the grounds of The All England Lawn Tennis Club. It is the fourth day of The Championships at Wimbledon, the world’s oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament.
Wimbledon Cherishes Tradition
For two weeks each summer, Wimbledon is the epicenter of the tennis world. Being here is so much more than just watching the world’s best tennis matches on the hallowed grounds. The Championships are replete with history, tradition, and class, and run with impeccable attention to details.
Tradition reigns. The players wear all white. The net posts are wood. You won’t see sponsor advertising around the courts. Before a match begins, the line judges and the umpire march onto the court in their uniforms of cream pants and skirts, blue shirts, and navy blue blazers trimmed in white. Next come the ball boys and girls, wearing navy blue shirts and shorts.
Spectators have their own traditions. Each year they consume 28,000 kilos of strawberries, topped, of course, with cream. They drink 200,000 Pimm’s Cups and 20,000 bottles of champagne.
Every aspect of The Championships is marked with British precision, care and courtesy: the meticulous ballot process for ticket sales; the orderly daily queue for grounds passes; the food service for thousands of people.
The grounds are flawless. Years of watching The Championships on television had not fully shown me the beauty of ivy-covered buildings, the lush white hydrangeas by the scoreboards, the hanging baskets of purple and white petunias in the rose arbor, and the flowers along the balconies of the dark green buildings. Perfect flower beds echo the Wimbledon’s signature purple and green logo.
But nothing is more meticulously cared for than the grass on the courts. The courts are seeded in April. The grass is first mowed in May when it reaches 25mm, then mowed three times a week to keep it to a height of 15mm. During The Championships the grass is mowed daily to maintain a height of 10mm. Prior to opening day, teams walk up and down the courts, looking for and removing any small stones or dried clumps of grass.
In Your Bucket Because…
- Wimbledon is the grand stage of tennis, the site of the world’s oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament.
- The Championships at Wimbledon are more than a tennis tournament. They are an extraordinary experience, a slice of British tradition, a social event.
- Terrific for tennis fans and Anglophiles. Good for families, if you can get enough tickets.
Watching The Championships At Wimbledon
Our day, as does every day of “The Fortnight,” began precisely at 10:30 a.m. with the loudspeaker announcement, “Stewards, you may now open the gates.” Definitely a goose-bump moment.
Since our ticketed No. 1 Court matches did not begin until 1:00 p.m., we went to a morning match on an outside court, where the seats are not reserved.
The outside courts, some with only three rows of seats, deliver the immediacy of the game. On No. 17 Court, the players were only a few yards away from us. We could see their facial expressions as they prepped for serves, lunged for returns, and ran to the net for a volley. We heard the thud of the ball on the grass as it bounced in front of us.
Later, as we walked up the ramp to our ticketed seats for the ladies’ match, the green expanse of No. 1 Court unfolded in front of us. Our seats were terrific. We never had the feeling that we could see this better on television. It was almost surreal that we were here.
We saw the players’ muscles ripple as they served. We heard the loud smacks when racquets met balls. On third point of the second game, a player launched a powerhouse serve that landed deep in the service court– the first ace of the match. Another ace immediately followed. It was awe-inspiring to watch the world’s number-one player in action, and to be there in person experiencing the strength and power of this exciting match.
After the match we tried the traditional Wimbledon’s Pimm’s Cup. Looking like iced tea, this is a mix of Pimm’s No. 1 and lemonade, garnished with cucumber slices and fruit.
The two gentleman’s singles matches scheduled after the ladies’ single match would include the number-4 and number-9 ranked players.
During the first gentleman’s match, I also watched the choreography on the court’s perimeter. The highly-trained ball girls and boys rolled the balls, ran, crouched, and stood tall sticking one arm in the air with ball in hand. As each point began, the line judges bent slightly, their hands on their thighs. Each one watched a particular line, making their calls loudly in no uncertain terms. The umpire called the scores and the lets.
I also savored the lovely British afternoon–warm, sunny, a soft breeze, a few clouds in the sky.
This being England, those fluffy clouds soon turned grey. The drops increased to intermittent rain. Play was suspended. When the groundskeepers rolled out the court cover, we decided it was time to partake of more traditions.
Wimbledon’s Social Scene
As the now-steady rain fell, we had the strawberries and cream, accompanied by champagne, while sharing an umbrella-protected table, stories and laughs with a British couple. Wimbledon is a very social event. Spending two hours waiting in the queue for a Grounds Pass one afternoon, we chatted with a chef for rock bands and some British ladies. Later, at an outside court, I was seated by one of those ladies, who gave me excellent background on the players. We talked about tennis and tournaments with people in the stands and on the Underground.
The most social spot at Wimbledon is Henman Hill. It is a picnic spot, a party place, a grandstand seat on the grass. Tennis fans with Grounds Passes sit here to watch the action on the huge television screen. Others come after work, some still wearing their suits, to enjoy food and wine with their friends.
It rained on our parade. At 5:20 p.m., play was cancelled for the day. There would be no third match for us to watch. Disappointed, yes. Heartbroken, no. We had experienced all of Wimbledon’s hallmarks: outstanding tennis, the social scene, Pimm’s Cups, strawberries and cream, champagne, beautiful grounds, and the unpredictable British weather. We called that a winning match.
- Tickets are in high demand, but a substantial number of tickets are available to the general public.
- In the annual public ballot (lottery) successful applicants for advance sales of Centre, No. 1 and No. 2 courts are selected at random by a computer. Ballot applications for the next year are available in August.
- The All England Club has also appointed 2 official tour operators who provide overseas tours and corporate hospitality packages.
- The daily queue has a limited allocation of tickets for Centre Court, No. 1 Court and No. 2 Court, as well as Grounds Admission. A substantial line forms in Wimbledon Park. Overnight camping is permitted.
- Grounds Admission: Several thousand tickets are available each day at the Queue turnstiles. They allow use of Court No.2’s standing enclosure, unreserved seating and standing room on Courts No.3-19, and full access to The Grounds.
- Ticket Resale Kiosk: Returned tickets for reserved seats can be purchased here after 3 pm. All proceeds are donated to charity.
- Guided tours include The Grounds and behind-the-scenes looks at the facilities used during the Championships.
- The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum’s interactive exhibits, films and touch screens give a fascinating look at the game’s evolution from a garden party pastime to a multimillion-dollar professional sport. The Championship Trophies are displayed here.