Advantages World Class Tennis!
Disadvantages Getting tickets and sometimes it rains!
Monday, 20th June 2005.I've packed my bag for Wimbledon and we're all set to leave at 8 in the morning. You'd think we're going on holiday when I look at my list of things to take! No, it is just a day out, but one I like to plan methodically! Here's what I've got in my bag:-
Tickets - the most important items! One pair of Centre Court tickets for Tuesday 21st June. The longest day, and let's hope the weather stays fine. Signs are looking good so far!
Money, with £12 set-aside for the Park and Ride. Visa card - second most important item. The Wimbledon Shop beckons!
Digital camera with spare batteries and spare smart card. How I do love to snap away!
Packed lunch and plenty of drinks. I'm not moving from my Centre Court seat once I'm in there - unless I have to go to the loo! Those minutes are too precious to waste time going off for food and drink.
Sunscreen lotion. It could be a hot one, can't take any chances with getting burned and we don't know where our seats will be, whether in the sun or shade.
Cap and lightweight jacket - if we are sitting in the sun, I might want to cover up!
Small battery operated fan, essential for hot weather.
Hubby's sunglasses. I don't need to take any as I wear specs, and mine are Transition lenses.
Seat cushions. Not in my bag as these are too big, but carried separately. These are only lightweight foam so it's no problem. We bought two at Wimbledon in 2001 and have used them each year since. Couldn't last through a five-set match without them! You can also hire seat cushions when you're there.
Tuesday, 21st June 2005.The day has arrived. I'm so excited! Up at seven, good breakfast and everything organised and packed in the car. We are driving, so it's along the M4 and M25, off at Junction 10 onto the A3 to Motspur Park and Ride. We've used this several times in the past and found it to be an excellent service and I would highly recommend it. The cost of £12 covers the car, so if you have several passengers the cost is the same to park. The ticket is then left on display in the car. The bus is free, you don't need to show a ticket, you just get on. There's no fear of losing a ticket during the day and there's only one park and ride service, so you don't need to worry about getting on the wrong bus. The bus stops just across the road from the grounds. If you have tickets, as we did, then you simply cross the road, turn left and walk to the nearby ticket holder's entrance. If you don't have tickets you will need to turn right from the bus-park and walk to the other side of the grounds, to wherever the queue ends! There are plenty of stewards to guide you to where you need to go.
If you are travelling any other way, all the information can be found on the Wimbledon website www.wimbledon.org. Go to 'Event Guide' then 'Visitor Guide' and scroll down to 'Travel Information.' 'Car Parking Information' will bring you to details of the Park and Ride service.Our journey starts at 8am as planned and we head off down the M4, hoping that the traffic will be reasonable. We've allowed two and a bit hours for the journey and the grounds don't open until 10.30am. As we have tickets, there's no need to get there any earlier as we would just be waiting in the queue for the gates to open. I see the temperature outside is a pleasant sixteen degrees. The sky is a pale blue, with high, wispy clouds. An excellent day for tennis!
I reflect on my good fortune. Centre Court tickets on the first Tuesday and the line-up couldn't be better! First there will be Maria Sharapova, opening her defence of the Ladies title, who will play Llagostera Vives, completely unknown to me, and I do know my tennis! So I'm not expecting a great tennis match, but looking forward to seeing Sharapova. So is my husband! Then it's Henman and Nieminen. I'm uneasy about this one. Nieminen put out Andre Agassi in the first round of the French Open and is a very good player. He's ranked 57 in the current ATP race, so is a dangerous opponent. Henman can't go out in the first round at Wimbledon. Can he? Then there's Rafael Nadal, French Open Champion, just nineteen years of age and biceps to die for! He'd beaten the best to get there, including Federer. A Spaniard, and grass an unknown quantity for him, so it will be interesting to see how he does on the green stuff.We're getting closer and the temperature edges upwards. By the time we get near journey's end, it's twenty two degrees a little after ten o'clock. Traffic is heavy, and there's a long jam heading in the opposite direction. It blocks up the roundabout we need to turn off to get to the park and ride. The black and yellow AA signs disappear at the roundabout and it's just as well we know which turning we need. The traffic is too heavy to allow for last minutes changes in direction and this part of the organisation is not good enough. There are no signs for the park and ride until you get fairly close, and it would be nice for that re-assurance much further back on the road, even from the motorway junction. If you're going for the first time, it's a bit unnerving not to know that you're heading in the right direction! We pick up the sign on the opposite side of the roundabout, but this is too late if you've had to commit to a lane and haven't made the right choice! We creep through the traffic and finally get to the car park soon after ten thirty. It's taken us two-and-a-half hours to get here. Without the traffic, it should take one-and-a-half hours.
Once in the car park, the organisation is excellent. You are guided to your parking place and then in our case it's just a short walk to the bus. We get straight on to the waiting bus, which leaves just a couple of minutes later. These buses are very frequent and we've never had to wait for more than a few minutes. The journey takes about fifteen minutes and as the bus has priority there are no hold ups. In this case, the bus is a very comfortable coach, and we get good views into peoples' gardens and houses!The grounds have been open for about fifteen minutes when we arrive, so there is very little in the way of a queue for ticket holders. It's just a matter of presenting our tickets and getting the bags searched. This year for the first time, they have made new rules for what you can take into the grounds. No longer can you take hard-sided picnic hampers or cool boxes, and these won't be allowed into the grounds. There is also a restriction of one bag per person and even these can measure no more than 18" x 12" x 12". I did get the tape measure out to check before I packed our bags! There are left luggage facilities outside the grounds for leaving camping equipment and any bags or cool boxes not allowed into the grounds.
There is now also a ban on large flags, banners, rattles, klaxons and oversized hats; also any objects or clothing bearing political statements or commercial identification. Hmmm, I can see the sense in the oversized hats - it must be awful to sit behind someone wearing one. Banners for the same reason, but it will spoil the atmosphere when Tiger Tim is on court, or the Aussies are in supporting Lleyton or Poussis. Rattles and klaxons? Well, this is Wimbledon! Let's have a little decorum!Well, the bags are searched, and as I don't have a bomb or a knife there's no problem. We buy a programme for the day, which costs £6.50 and a guide for £2. As we've been several times before, I don't really need the guide, but I buy one anyway! As I look at it, it's different to ones I've had before and very interesting, so I'm not sorry I bought it.
It's just before 11am. Centre Court matches don't start until 1pm, so we've plenty of time to look around. The sun is shining brilliantly now, and it's very warm but not overpoweringly hot. Wimbledon looks fantastic, and you can see why it's considered the best of the Grand Slams. The grass courts look beautiful in the warm sunshine and give a feeling of life to the setting. Flowers adorn the walkway between the Broadcast Centre and No 1 Court. There is a unique and special feeling about the place and on a fabulous day like today that feeling is enhanced.We wander for a few minutes, just drinking up the scene, hardly believing we're really here and that the weather is this great! Then I spot the distinctive ponytail of Tommy Hass practising on Court 10. I take his photo, and watch for a few minutes. My gaze wanders down to his hitting partner and I do a double take. The distinctive figure at the far end of the court is no other than Andy Roddick! I pick my jaw up off the floor and move along courtside. I was pleased at seeing Haas, but Roddick earns maximum bonus points! My camera is in overdrive and I work my way nearer to the front of the crowd. The lady standing next to me comments on the surreal nature of the scene. 'It's like a dream' she says. 'Like having dinner with the Queen.' I laugh and say something about that being a nightmare, and this being the dream. Andy Roddick makes some humorous remarks and people laugh, but I don't catch exactly what he says. I'm in heaven.
Hubby says he will try to get his autograph and moves to the court exit. I continue to snap a few photos, making the most of this special treat. They finish their practise and a woman tells Roddick in a broad American accent that she's travelled from Boston especially to see him here. He replies with a laugh and says something about the Boston Red Sox - he calls them the Bo-Sox. He signs autographs, but not many. He stops just before my other half. Just one more Andy! No such luck, his security team takes over and he's away. Oh well, my day has been made anyway, regardless of whatever happens for the rest of it!We've only been here for half and hour or so and already it can't get much better and we wander off to have a good look around. We decide to make our way to Centre Court and find out where we need to go in, then we can plan how long we have got before we need to find our seats. Someone calls my name and waves at me - good grief, it's a friend I know very well from tennis! Amongst the thousands of people milling around, what were the chances of us meeting up? Even stranger, he and his wife have tickets in the same row as us on Centre Court, but about twenty or so seats away. This day is getting more surreal by the minute!
Camera at the ready, I snap Sue Barker and John Lloyd passing by. I make my way towards the practise courts while hubby sits in the shade. I can get around quicker without him! I snap Richard Williams who's signing an autograph. I consider getting an autograph myself, then realise I've left the programme with hubby. I can't be bothered anyway, so onward and upward to the practise courts, no time to linger - I have about half an hour to spare before I want to eat some lunch, find the loo then head off for Centre Court.Kim Clijsters is practising, but there are so many watching I can't get near to take a photo. But I look under the fence on the side walkway. This path slopes down and the court ends up at eye level. I stick my camera underneath the fence, zoom in and hope for the best. The results are better than expected and I'm pretty pleased with the effort. There are too many people around for it to be worth getting close to the other practise courts or to get autographs, so I head back to hubby.
We sit in the shade and eat some lunch, chat to a very nice lady who sits beside us. Everyone is so friendly, all sharing a common love of tennis, so it's not too surprising! Then it's off to find the toilet. I go to the ones under Centre Court and these are spotlessly clean and there are plenty of them!For some reason, I hadn't researched where our seats would be. In the past we've been up in the gods, and I just assumed these would be the same. So, to add to the surreal feeling, my perception of euphoria is stepped up another level when we are shown our seats. These are about ten rows from the front and are in a set of six, in three pairs. We are sitting in a pair of seats between the stairway wall and the gangway. There are two seats behind us and two in front. No one needs to go past us to get to their seats, so once seated we can't be interrupted! I have the stairwell wall on my right side so am not sitting next to some stranger munching on crisps for the whole of the time! I can easily see over this wall, so it does not block my view of the court in any way. My hubby is sitting next to the gangway, so can stretch his legs out a little, so long as he doesn't trip anyone up!
The steward points out to us that Cilla Black is seated several rows behind us and now we are feeling very smug, knowing that we have better seats than she does! The view of the court is fantastic. It looks so beautiful in the summer sun and the colours of the crowd opposite spring out brightly in the crisp sunlight. I have the impression of being somewhere incredibly special and it brings a lump to my throat.Our timing is perfect and we are able to settle into our seats in plenty of time for the first match. Sharapova and opponent duly arrive on court and I am impressed with Sharapova's height and grace. She is very tall, slim and elegant, dressed in white of course, but with a gold coloured trim. I take some photos during the warm-up and during the match we notice how the professional cameramen on the opposite side of the court have their cameras constantly focused on her! Her match seems to be over in the blink of an eye, as she wins predictably 6-2 6-2. She finishes with her customary kisses and waves to the crowd, a beautiful sight indeed.
Sharapova was the aperitif, now for the main course. Tim Henman arrives on court with Nieminen and what a match we are about to witness! Tim does not start off well, and before we know it he's lost the first set. Okay, so we have to go to four sets then. I'm glad I went to the loo before hand and we have food and drink to last! The second set goes to a tie-break and I'm getting a bad feeling. Henman is making too many errors and Nieminen is looking very solid and calm. The crowd is naturally fully behind Henman, but it doesn't phase his opponent in the least. The lack of banners and the usual Henmania paraphernalia is noticeable by its absence. When our Tim loses the close tie-break 5-7, I'm beginning to think that this fabulous day might be spoilt after all. Everything has been so good up until now. Now it's payback time!Nieminen is serving to stay in the third set. We are praying that this doesn't go to a third set tie-break as our nerves will not stand it! Then the miracle happens, Tim ups his game at the crucial time, breaks serve and wins the third set! The crowd rises to its feet, we cheer and clap!
The fourth set that we'd hoped for is a close one again and Henman waits until the twelfth game to break serve, drawing the match level at two sets all. The final set is a breeze, there is only one winner as Tiger leaps ahead to win the match 6-2 in the fifth. Sighs and cheers of relief all round! This is what it's all about, Henman taking us to the brink and back, but in the first round?!! Nieminen hadn't read the script and couldn't have known that traditionally Henman takes us to the second week, then usually loses to the eventual Champion!Not much time is lost between matches, and Rafael Nadal and Spadea soon appear. I congratulate myself on going to the loo earlier as I am comfortable to stay put. I'm not missing a second of this! This is the cream on the pudding! I've watched Nadal progress through the year, courtesy of Sky and Eurosport, and I've been eager to see him in the flesh! Nineteen years old, and have I mentioned the muscles? Of course, I'm only interested in watching the tennis, but there are other compensations! This match goes as might be expected, the French Open Champion winning easily in three sets, 6-0 in the third. He says it's his dream to win Wimbledon, and who's to say it will stay a dream? The quality of his tennis was at times amazing and it would be difficult to imagine Tim living with him if the previous match is anything to go by! He also beat Federer to get to the final of the French, so anything could happen.
There ends the first lesson in the cathedral of Centre Court. Our prayers were answered, the miracle was performed and Tim will return to play again on this hallowed ground. Praise be the Lord!Reluctantly we leave Centre Court. I know how lucky I am to have got tickets this year and last year too and there is by no means any certainty that I will ever get tickets again! These were gained through my tennis club, and only because someone else in the club didn't want them and I was first on the reserve list!
It's getting near 8pm and it's time for the Wimbledon shop. No trip to the Championships would be complete without a little indulgence here! You can buy anything from clothing, commemorative china, bags and DVD's, to key rings and gifts. I buy a backpack for thirty pounds and a key ring for £7. Yes, I know, a fool and his money are soon parted, but I needed the backpack for my next trip to Wimbledon, and the key ring is the shape of a tennis racket and looks pretty. What more reason do you need?!!If you don't have the time or money to shop while you're there, or can't carry everything home with you, then don't despair, as there is always the online shop via the website! If it rains then through past experience everyone heads for the shop at that time. Then you can't move in there, so be warned! This year I noticed a Wimbledon Shop stall outside near Centre Court, but of course the merchandise here was limited. I see on the map there is also another shop near court seventeen.
Purchases made, we sit on the seats under the flowered archway near the Broadcast Centre, people watching and reflecting on the day. We'd seen Mark Petchey chatting on his mobile and almost bumped into him! We'd spotted Safin's coach and Federer's ex coach, Peter Lundgren, and when I was in the loo hubby saw Pat Cash. Sir Cliff had been spied sitting on Centre Court, chatting animatedly to a lady sitting next to him. No doubt about it, spotting any celebrities as well as the tennis players is very good fun!It is also good to note that the trip to the loo at the end of the day found these facilities to be as spotlessly clean as they were in the morning. I also never noticed one item of litter during the whole day!
The last bus does not leave until well after the last match has finished, I think it may be 10pm, so there is no pressure to leave the grounds until you have seen everything you want. We left at 8.30pm, exhausted but happy.If you've managed to stay to the final set of this review, then you will realise that this is about my experiences at Wimbledon and not simply information on the Championships. As you can find out everything you need to know from the website, www.wimbledon.org then I feel no need to add too much here. I will mention that within the grounds you can find a bank, pharmacy and lots of other facilities. Just click on the Virtual Tour and you can find on the map these and many other services.
However, your burning question no doubt is how to get tickets. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this. There are show court tickets to be bought on the day, but the price is to queue for these. In the first week you have to be prepared to get there very early, or even to camp overnight. Famously you have seen the queue on the television! You can apply for tickets through the public ballot and details of this are also on the website. In the past you could pick up a form at the Championships, but this year they were handing out leaflets telling you how to apply for a form. This cannot be done until 1st August 2005. If you belong to the LTA then you will automatically be put in the draw.If you belong to an LTA affiliated tennis club, then show court tickets will be allocated to your club and you may be lucky to 'win' these in the club's draw as I did, although you still have to pay for the tickets.
Otherwise you can queue for ground tickets which give you access to all the outside courts, but not Centre Court, Court 1 or Court 2. Later in the day, show court tickets are re-sold for charity. People who leave these courts before matches are completed can put their tickets in a box supplied for this purpose and the tickets are then resold at a cheap rate for the remainder of the day's play.The first week is naturally the busiest, as the top seeds are playing on the outside courts and most of the top players are still there! If you haven't the stamina or inclination to queue for several hours during the first week, the second week is more realistic, and ground tickets can be bought fairly easily as the week progresses. The drawback for this is that the best matches will have moved to the show courts and that most of the matches on the outside courts will be juniors, veterans and doubles. The stars of the past can be seen still strutting their stuff - Navratilova, Nastase, Peter Fleming and the hugely entertaining Mansour Bahraini to name but a few. If you are a real tennis fan, then you will still be able to pick out some excellent tennis from these and just being within the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon should be reward enough!
My family and I went to the Championships during the second week in 2001, asked for ground tickets and were offered Court 1 tickets for the same price! Henman and Ivanisevic were playing their famous match on Centre Court and no one was interested in Court 1 tickets, so they were almost giving them away! I was more than happy with this, as both Agassi and Rafter were playing their quarterfinals matches on Court 1 that day. The moral is, it is worth going in the second week, and you never know what might happen!So this has been my experience of Wimbledon 2005. Another day, another year or wet weather could easily make the event a completely different one, but you can only thank your lucky stars for a day like today! If you're a fan of tennis but have never been, then perhaps I may have persuaded you to make the effort if you get the chance to go, and I hope that some of my experiences will have helped you to plan your trip. Whatever you do, if you travel to the Championships or watch the event on television, I do hope you enjoy some superb tennis!
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