As Great Britain holds its breath in hopeful anticipation that This Year, This Afternoon, a British player will win Wimbledon, I thought I’d share with you my own little experience of Wimbledon.
Having lived in London for almost four years, one thing I’ve been longing to do is go to Wimbledon, or SW19, as it’s affectionately known in London. That changed for me this week.
It’s really difficult to get tickets for Wimbledon if you’re an ordinary punter like I am. As I understand it, the options are few: if you belong to a tennis club, you might be able to get a ticket through the club; if you own a debenture – price tag of around £25k for five years – you have access to events (I would want to own at least one court at Wimbledon too, for that price), or you can enter The Ballot, (Wimbledon loves titles) which I have entered in the past and been Unsuccessful. The final option is to join The Queue.
After watching (live and in person) The Qualifiers at the Bank of England Sports Club in Roehampton the week before Wimbledon, and after seeing some of those qualifiers go on to do incredible things at Wimbledon, I just had to go and see some of it for myself. I took an afternoon off from work, grit my teeth and, after doing some research and gathering some encouragement and tips from colleagues, I travelled to Wimbledon to join The Queue. You can join The Queue for ground admission tickets either before 7.30am for when the gates open at 10.30am, or you can join in the early afternoon for when people start leaving the grounds after the first few matches. Be prepared for four or five hours of queuing. Just saying.
As the Southwest train pulled into Wimbledon station, the guy standing next to me at the train door asked me if I was going to the tennis. I flung my arms in the air with a dramatic flourish and jazz hands, threw my head back and shouted ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ (I might have been doing that only in my mind.) He asked if I wanted to share a cab, so I said ‘Sure’.
As we walked out of the station, he asked which court I had tickets for, as he had Court One tickets. I told him I didn’t have a ticket but was going to chance The Queue. He looked at me a bit askance, and then broke the awkwardness to tell me about all the fabulous tennis he’d ever seen at Wimbledon. Live. Fortunately, green is Wimbledon’s official colour so my undisguised envy was fully on-brand.
We got outside the station to discover a ‘gaartjie’ (they don’t call them that here, but in South Africa each minibus taxi has a ‘gaartjie’ to help him/her fill the taxi – a wingman, if you will) was organising all the taxis heading for Wimbledon and filling each, neatly, with five people. So my new taxi mate turned into four new taxi mates and the ride cost us each a wonderful £2.50. The conversation in the taxi inevitably turned to, ‘So who are you going to see?’ One couple had tickets to CENTRE COURT (capitals my own – CENTRE COURT already – sheesh!)
Another had a grounds admission ticket but was going to meet with parents-in-law to swop their tickets for CENTRE COURT tickets, and then there was my new-found train friend with his Court One tickets. After gushing about how amazing their day of tennis was going to be, and just before anyone got to ask me The Question, my new-found friend said, ‘And this lady doesn’t have a ticket at all, and is taking her chances in The Queue.’ They all looked down their noses at me (the taxi driver didn’t, thankfully, although I don’t think he was listening) and then one of them said, ‘Oh! Do people actually queue?’ I wished I’d got into a taxi with Ordinary People.
My new-found friend broke the awkwardness again with a little conversation about his outfit. He said, ‘I know I’m all summery [he was wearing a straw hat, a cream suit and pale blue shirt – summery? Where I come from, summery would mean a T-shirt and shorts], but I am prepared for all weather,’ and went on to describe the contents of his leather travel bag.
The taxi driver asked us to sort out the money between us, dropped us off near the main gates and we all parted company. I said, ‘Enjoy the tennis!’ They all said, ‘Good luck!’ And so I began my 20-minute walk to join The Queue, prompted by regular reminders of which way ‘Non-ticket holders’ needed to go. The walk felt interminable, and as I got nearer to my destination, I caught glimpses of people already in The Queue. My heart sank a little.
I got to the field where The Queue begins and was handed my Queue Card. It was numbered 09840 and dated Day 7, Monday 1st July.
In the first of my 240 minutes in The Queue, not one single person was behind me. That changed within a few minutes, and then as time progressed, people were envious that my Queue Card was numbered a mere 09840.
The Queue moved in fits and starts. Sometimes we would shuffle forward two steps, sometimes ten. People picnicked, talked, played hand-clapping games, whinged, moaned, checked the tennis results or played games on their phones, argued, drank water, read books, sang and occasionally chatted to strangers. I had seasoned Queuers standing behind me, who were super-friendly and told me what to expect of the afternoon’s line-standing. They also said The Queue wasn’t a bad one.
I also found this sign amusing. As if.
I joined The Queue just after 1pm and between 3.30pm and 4.30pm, The Queue stood still. Many people went to sit in the sunshine next to The Queue area. The three hooray henrys in front of me, who had whinged, moaned, argued and panicked non-stop since they arrived, went to sit somewhere and never came back. Ever. As 5pm loomed, a steward encouraged us that things would change at 5pm, and invited everyone back into The Queue. He was right – we soon moved forward at a great pace. As we approached the security check area, foreboding signs warned us that ‘No thermos flasks’ were allowed in the hallowed tennis grounds. Ooh. Scary. We went through a security check like you would go through at an airport, walked over a bridge and along a kind of cattle walk towards The Grounds and only then, once we went through all of that, did I get to buy a ticket. I bought a ‘Grounds Only’ ticket for £14, which means you are free to go and watch tennis anywhere apart from the show courts (Centre Court, Court One and Court Two), enjoy the restaurants, shops and picnic areas anywhere. There is a booth that re-sells show court tickets, but you need to queue for those …
I was a bit star-struck. I’ve grown up with tennis. My mother was a brilliant tennis-player and we grew up spending weekends at sports clubs and alongside tennis courts at weird and wonderful places around southern Africa. I’ve grown up watching and loving Wimbledon tennis on television; the men’s final has always fallen on or around my birthday, and has always held a special place in my heart. To be standing in the hallowed grounds of SW19 was at times a little overwhelming for me.
I wandered around a bit lost and spoilt for choice. I found my way to Court 18 and watched this amazingly exciting match:
The duo who won this five-setter, Dodig and Melo (they beat Mirnyi and Tecau), went right through to the final yesterday where they were halted by the outrageously talented, chest-bumping twins from the US. Fair enough. The match I watched was ridiculously fast and impressive. I couldn’t quite believe I was sitting in the third row on Court 18 watching a match that I would have been glued to watching on TV. When a front-rower was struck on the forehead by a wayward, faster-than-the-speed-of-light return of serve, I do think the cameras moved our way as the umpire asked the gentleman if he was all right. With a bright-red, throbbing bump on his forehead, he graciously waved the umpire away with an embarrassed ‘Yes’.
The view across to the other outer courts, Court One to the left and Centre Court ahead of me, in the early evening light, was just glorious. I still couldn’t quite believe I was there.
I wasn’t the only one watching.
I wandered around the grounds and watched a few glimpses of brilliant junior matches, sat on Henman Hill (a large mound of grass behind Court One where you can sit and watch the main matches on a big screen) for a while to watch some of the Berdych v Tomic match, and the start of Djokovic’s annihilation of Tommy Haas. I then found my way to Court 17 and a front row seat to watch a personal favourite player – James Blake – in this mixed doubles match, which he and Vekic went on to lose to Srebotnik and Zimonjic.
A little before 9pm, I left Wimbledon, climbed into a taxi with four other Queuers, and made my way home, exhilarated, exhausted and quietly, magically, entranced by the much written-about atmosphere of SW19. It was everything that I had hoped it would be, and even more beautiful. I will definitely go back.
Today, in 30 degree sunshine, I have no doubt that The Queue will be the longest it’s been in the past fortnight. People have camped overnight to join The Queue, hopeful along with the rest of Britain that Andy Murray will break the 77-year dearth of a British winner in the men’s singles at Wimbledon. The rest of the world will be quietly confident that Novak Djokovic will continue to play unstoppable tennis. Whatever happens, we can be sure of watching an outstandingly brilliant display of tennis in this afternoon’s men’s final. For hardened tennis fans, the long wait in The Queue will definitely be worth it. And the newly-renamed Murray Mound (formerly Henman Hill) will be Heaving.
Sunshine signing off for today!