Inside Wimbledon

“Don’t walk on the grass!”

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That was the first thing our guide announced this morning on our tour of Wimbledon.  Here the grass is hallowed ground for the famed tennis tournament that is one month away.

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DSC_0008This is not mere grass after all.  It is “lawn” and is protected by 24-hour security in the days leading up to the tournament!

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Special breathable covers that allow sunlight and water to penetrate are draped over the grass, protecting the courts.  It is not people who are the problem but foxes.  That’s right, foxes!  Apparently the wily creatures sneak their way into the stadium and find the court surface ideal as their own private loo!

The stadium was abuzz in preparation for the tournament with catering trucks delivering tables and chairs, people tending to the grass on and off the court, and the Royal Box being constructed.

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The Royal Box sits on Centre Court in a prime position.  Here 80 wicker chairs will be assembled with cushions and blankets.  No royal bottom will touch a hard plastic stadium seat!  Invitations have been mailed, and our guide explained that “proper celebrities, not nasty ones” will join the Royals.  I assume Kim and Kanye thankfully don’t make the cut!

The roof on Centre Court is constructed to close quickly at the first drop of rain.  I found it interesting to learn that before players re-enter the court after a delay, large fans suck the moisture out of the air and dry out the atmosphere so that condensation does not form on the roof and drip on the players.  Our guide explained that errant drops really annoy the crotchety Andy Murray, known as much for his surly manner as his superior tennis skills.

Wimbledon is so quintessentially British, and our tour guide made several comments that punctuated this point.  She said that the tournament is meant to feel like “a garden party” where people can drink their Pimms, eat from their elaborate hampers, and lounge on the grounds of the famed Henman Hill, a grassy knoll overlooking the stadium named for former British champion Tim Henman.  Our guide was a bit outraged that it has not been renamed Murray Mound in honor of Andy Murray’s victory last year.  Here flowers bloom and waterfalls gently trickle, enhancing the garden party ambiance. It is said that 230,000 Pimms drinks will be consumed along with 25,000 kilos of strawberries!  That is quite some party!

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The corporate sponsors are genteelly referred to as “suppliers” as they supply what is needed:  Jaguar cars to chauffeur players, Rolex clocks to keep the time, Slazenger balls to bat around during play.  It would be far too crass to call them corporate advertisers.

The players change in proper “dressing rooms” not pedestrian locker rooms.  Here the seeded players have their own special area that must be charged with frayed nerves and steely ambition.  However, the unseeded players and former champions create a carnival atmosphere in their domain where Ilie Nastase and his cronies set up putt putt golf tournaments, play cards, and throw back Pimms.

The entire tournament is run by the members of the All England Club.  With a waiting list of about 850 people and no spots available until an existing member bites the dust, you can imagine how much membership is coveted.  After all, membership does have its privileges: guaranteed great seats, private dining terraces, and access to the players.  The balcony of the club overlooks many of the outer courts.

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We explored the area usually reserved for the press where a cheeky topiary marks the spot.

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We also visited the private press room where the players are interviewed.  I couldn’t resist the opportunity to sit before the microphones.

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The small tennis museum was full of past relics and present paraphernalia.  It always amazes me to think of how far both the clothing and equipment have come since the early days.  Women wore constricting dresses and men sported bow ties in the 1920s, and everyone used a heavy club-like wooden racquet with barely any head space.

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Though there was some consistency as Slazenger has supplied the official tournament balls since 1902.

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That seems rather fitting; if there is one thing that Wimbledon is known for it is Tradition.

I can’t wait for our visit on June 29th, the opening day of the tournament.  I intend to drink my Pimms, eat my strawberries, and applaud the players on the lawn…

While I keep my feet firmly on the concrete paths!

 

 

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