We spent Wednesday last week watching tennis at The All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon.
I watched my first match on TV in 1972. The Wimbledon mens’ final was due to be played on Saturday 8th July. It rained and play was delayed until Sunday. I was still at school and had a Saturday job so it was pure chance that I was at home when Stan Smith beat Illie Nastase. My love affair with tennis started that day.
You can’t buy a ticket for Wimbledon by popping on to Ticketmaster and picking ‘best available’ seats. We bagged tickets for the first time in 1994 on (the old) number one court and the method for obtaining tickets hasn’t changed in the 25 years since then.
In a nutshell you fill in an application form which gets you into the hat for tickets. If your name gets drawn you are allocated two tickets on a specific court for one day of the championships.
It has been a ‘paper and postal’ system until this year but it will be moving on-line for the 2020 championships.
That visit, in 1994, was special. Everything was so thrilling: so new: so different to watching from my front room. I loved every minute. A once in a lifetime experience, or so I thought at the time.
As it turned out we were incredibly lucky to get tickets for four subsequent years. We had lovely weather and great matches. We had boring matches and showery days. In a cold and miserable 1998 it rained for all but an hour. It is fair to say that after five years we were a bit jaded so we called it a day.
Nearly 20 years later it was time for a return visit. After two unsuccessful years in the ballot, here we were again, settling in to our seats on number two court.
For the first time we chose to stay outside London. We drove down to Woking on Tuesday and stayed in a small hotel. The train Journey into Wimbledon station is only 30 minutes and it seemed a lot less stressful than Kings Cross to Southfields on the underground.
It was a lovely sunny day – sunscreen and sunglasses weather. Hats too. I had my old faithful straw hat which usually only accompanies me on holidays. Mike’s ‘sun hat’ is a baseball cap bought during one of our Wimbledon visits all those years ago. We searched everywhere but couldn’t find it so he sat, hatless, through five hours of tennis with the sun beating down. His head was OK but his thighs between knees and top of shorts turned a worrying shade of pink. He bought a new hat but by that time the sun was setting behind us. We have put it somewhere safe for next year.
We treated ourselves to strawberries and cream for the first time. We were happy with our £2.50 portions. I understand Aldi had been in the queue, giving out freebies, to highlight the extortionate price Wimbledon charges. Personally I thinks it’s a better deal than £2 for a bottle of water at Leeds Arena. Anyway if you don’t want to pay you can take your own. Picnics are allowed.
There are particular things that make each visit different from the rest. This year has its own particular memories. We had great seats, lovely weather and a fabulous match between Stan Wawrinka and Reilly Opelka. Obviously there are seats, weather and tennis every year but when we look back, what will set this year apart are the two Polish friends sitting next to me and the mother and son behind.
The Polish women were Stan fans and his five set match certainly gave them opportunities to cheer him on.
The rambunctious couple behind us were in the opposition camp, (“Come on Reilly!”) or were they? After the match, when I turned to congratulate them, they admitted they had no idea who either player was. They had picked the tall one!
The next two matches (Simona Halep v Mihaela Buzamescu and Kevin Anderson v Janko Tipsarevic) were never going to live up to the excitement of the first but they were both hard fought. To be honest we were hoping for a quick finish in each, as we were looking forward to Coco Gauff in the fourth scheduled match. Anderson and Tipsarevic were still playing at 7.30pm. so too late for the final match which was moved to number one court.
I had a fabulous day, probably my favourite Wimbledon visit of them all. The Wawrinka/Opelka match was the best we have seen. We had perfect weather and brilliant seats. I’m not sure it can be beaten but we will still try for tickets next year.