Mag By Craig Gabriel
Wimbledon has begun. The grass on all the courts looked amazing as they always do and the Centre Court, the most famous tennis court in all the world, was beyond immaculate. Not a bruise on the grass. Not a blade out of place. The white lines so straight and crisp on the deep emerald green of the playing surface.
There is a certain, rich, full sound that echoes around this intimate setting. No other tournament echoes it. The Royal Box is full. HRH The Duchess of Cambridge, Patron of the All England Club sitting first row, centre seat, where else. F1 legend Jackie Stewart in his usual seat as well, first row on the very end. Ahh it seems like nothing has changed from the years before.
A year ago, London was bathed is hot, sunny conditions. The temperature was 34 degrees and the fans were baking, albeit relishing the conditions. Henman Hill, or Murray Mound, whatever you want to call it, was packed as always – rain, hail, or shine it is full. This year there was cloud hanging over the Club and the temperature was hovering around 20 – 22 degrees.
The fans and followers had been queuing out on Church Road, along the side of the Club, opposite the golf course across the road. They had their “I Queued At Wimbledon” stickers on. As they waited, there was the expected announcement made: “The gates will be opening. Please don’t run”. They had their order of play sheets and they wanted to get to the outside courts and grab a seat. A ground pass is brilliant value the first week with all the outside courts in play.
At 11am the outside courts began. Fans has gone past Court 18 where the plaque commemorates the longest match ever played – John Isner defeated Nicolas Mahut 70-68 in the fifth. Selfies were taken there. The Fred Perry statue is another traditional spot for a photo opportunity. The fans had lined up to get their strawberries and cream and Pimm’s.
It is such a great atmosphere. Some fans with crazy outfits, others with national flags knotted around their necks and flowing like Superman’s cape. So many think the Wimbledon Championships is a fuddy duddy event, in fact it is quite the opposite. It is the People’s Championship.
Back to Centre Court and the lines-people have taken up their positions, standing in front of their seats on Centre. Two ball kids stand at ease in front of the players’ chairs which have been positioned on either side of the chair umpire’s elevated seat.
On a monitor you watch the players make their way from the dressing room past the windows that lookout to the back courts which includes the sunken court, Court 2. The Union Jack flies in the distance and beyond that you can see the bell tower of St Mary’s Church. You almost feel like you are in an English country village. It is all so pretty.
The players continue their walk. Down the stairs they go into the foyer, past the tall glass trophy cabinets – the Challenge Cup and the Venus Rosewater Salver are on display. The trophies awarded to the champions of the Gentleman’s Singles and the Ladies Singles respectively. They pass the Honour Board – 2019 Novak Djokovic and Simona Halep are the most recent champions. The inscription on the Challenge Cup reads: “The Single Handed Championship of the World”.
Novak Djokovic sneaks a quick look at it. A year ago, he beat Roger Federer in one of the greatest tennis matches ever played as he came back from two match points down to win in five; they played the first ever final set tiebreak in a Wimbledon final.
Tradition dictates the men’s champion plays the first match on Centre the following year. So here he is again. Djokovic is so familiar with the surroundings and that gives him the advantage over his opponent who came through the testing qualifying rounds which were played the week before at nearby Roehampton.
The players, dressed in white as is mandated by the Club, walked on to the pristine grass and the crowd, 15,000 of them that had filled this intimate arena. They started to applaud and rose to their feet like a Mexican wave.
The warmup happened and the chair umpire called “play”. Djokovic got off to a flying start, taking advantage of his opponent’s nerves. In 23 minutes, he was up 5-0. In two hours, seven minutes the match was done – 6-1, 6-3, 6-3. Novak had got his title defence rolling. He waved to the crowd as he exited the court, signing a few autographs on the way.
While the world No.1 was cleaning up on Centre, tradition allows for the finalist to start Court 1. Roger Federer also won easily.
Matches were happening all over the facility. The order of play was released later in the day for Day Two and the traditions continued.
On this day it is the turn of the Ladies Champion to start Centre. A year ago, Simona Halep played the match of her life to beat Serena Williams. And just like day one, while the Romanian plays first on Centre as the newest player Club member, the American is out on Court 1. Wonder if her BFF, Meghan will be there?
Suddenly there was a loud bell going off. Surely it was not the Wimbledon fire alarm as had been the case a couple of years ago. No one was switching it off or making any announcements. Reality then struck. Oh man, what was an amazing dream had turned into a nightmare. The bedside alarm was the ringing. Wimbledon had been cancelled and in fact was quiet.