Thursday, 27 June 2013

A Day at Wimbledon 2013 - what it's like to actually be there

The view from our seats on No 1 Court
As I sit in the kitchen and write this, Wimbledon is on the TV in the background. For two weeks of the year, it always is in our house. Sharapova's grunts, Sue Barker's commentary and that delightful noise when a tennis ball is struck by a racket have always been the soundtrack to the start of my summer holidays. I'm not a huge sports girl, but I do love Wimbledon, and I do get jolly into it. The finals are almost too nerve-wracking for me to bear (Federer vs Murray 2012, I'm looking at you.)

One of the reasons I adore Wimbledon is because it's so delightfully British, and everyone knows I adore anything and everything patriotic. That said, I'd never actually been to Wimbledon myself. Not until two days ago, anyway. And oh! what a marvelous day I had!

Going to Wimbledon is special, and it's about more than just the tennis. There's so much going on that you just don't see on the TV. A day at Wimbledon is an amazing day out, and so I thought I'd write a little post about my day and let y'all know what it's really like to actually go to Wimbledon.

My first impression upon entering the park? WOW. It's incredible. And huge. The whole place is beautifully landscaped - perfect purple flowers everywhere, sleek buildings covered with pretty ivy (oh, how I gazed up at the members in their special snazzy zones), lots of cute benches, picnic areas and archways for strolling under. And the whole place is spotless. It feels really special as soon as you walk in, regardless of which entry gate you choose.

Only in England, eh?
As I already had my ground pass ticket (which was complimentary as my AWESOME cousin, Liam, is a ballboy - more on them later), so I didn't even have to queue to get in. I barely queued all day. Not even for the ladies' loos. There were loads of loos. Always a good sign.

That said, there were queues for the various eateries, and boy, were there a lot of eateries. It's amazing really - pizza, froyo, fish and chips, noodles, sandwiches, strawberries and cream (of course), burgers, hot dogs, Champagne, Pimms (natch)... and they're just some of the offerings from the "Tea Lawn" where you can grab something to go. There are also caf├ęs, bakeries, a buffet, a diner, a food court, a food village and tons of snazzy restaurants.

Mum had told me before I left that Pimm's at Wimbledon is £8 a cup. I'd thought she was wildly exaggerating. She wasn't. It was £7.50. Ouch. I'm jolly glad mum encouraged me to take so much of my own food with me (stuffed into my poor but conveniently capacious Mulberry) because a) it's really expensive in Wimbledon, b) I didn't want to waste time queuing, and c) door-to-door I was out for 14 hours so plenty of food was needed!

snazzy restaurants
As much as I would have loved a glass of Pimm's to add to my Wimbledon experience, the opportunity to fill up my water bottle for free at the fountains around the park appealed far more to my thrifty student nature. However, the prices didn't stop, oh, just about everyone else treating themselves to Pimm's though. Surprising, but YOLO, I suppose.

The majority of the visitors to Wimbledon, if one was to judge books by their covers, seemed to be the types who could afford an £8 glass of Pimm's. The people-watching really is fantastic though. If you get lost or want a sit down, you could be entertained for hours just by watching the other punters coming and going. Well, I could anyway. It's so interesting. I was also very impressed by the style-stakes - there were a lot of extremely well-dressed ladies and gents around. Hopefully I was one of them...

Union Jack nails unintentionally matching my outfit

Speaking of clothing, all the Wimbledon staff look impeccable in their uniforms. I love the Ralph Lauren polo shirts of the ball-children (that's the ball-boys and ball-girls, obvs), as well as the smart blazers and general ensembles of the umpires and lines-people. I do have one qualm though - down to the ankle, I love the umpires' uniforms. But then the white socks with those cream shoes? No no no no no. Rachel does not like this. But I forgive them.

My friend Paddy, rocking the shop assistant uniform
Everyone working at Wimbledon is delightfully friendly and well-trained - from the shop assistants to the security guards. Best of all though, undoubtedly, are the ball-children (and I'm not just saying that because my cousin is one of them.) When you're actually there, court-side, you notice what they're doing much more. These kids are INCREDIBLE! They do everything with military precision, and their focus is intense.

The ball-children run around the courts almost as much as the players themselves, picking up, throwing, rolling and catching balls with such impressive accuracy. And because they do it all so well, they almost blend into the background, unnoticed, which isn't really fair.

I know the tennis players are in their zones, and they can't exactly stop to mind their Ps and Qs when asking for their towels, but I really don't like the way some players treat the ball-children. I saw one Spanish female tennis player (who shall remain un-named) having a right go (in Spanish, no less) at a ball-girl who didn't quite pick up from a mere glance that said player wanted her towel. It's so unnecessary. Obviously the ball-children have been trained not to respond, but I don't half feel for them.

The impressive organisation of the ball-children reflects the general organisation of Wimbledon as a whole. I think one of the things that makes Wimbledon so unique is its lack of advertisements around the courts and the whole park. Aside from Slazenger and Robinson's written on the umpires' chairs, there's nothing else. I think that makes it all seem somewhat classier.

I was lucky because the weather was largely sunny and warm when I visited. After getting the tube to Southfields, I made the short walk to the tennis club. It's great as everyone is going to the same place, there are tons of helpful stewards and signposts, and - most amusingly - there are loads of people selling everything from homemade burgers to frappuccinos from their front gardens as the crowds stream past their houses.

We walked round the park (me in awe, taking it all in) first thing upon arrival, and then found a match to watch. As ground pass holders, we couldn't go on to the show courts, but the rest of the courts have seats open to everyone. People come and go often enough that it's not too tricky to find a seat either. As I sat on the frow (that's not just a fashion term, right?), in the sunshine, so close to the action, I was in bliss. (Managed to top up my tan, didn't I? Cheeky.)

It doesn't even matter if you've never heard of the players you're watching (I hadn't) - the standard of tennis is so high, and being so close you really appreciate the skill and the power of the players. I loved it.

A bit later, I went for a stroll round the park. There's so much going on, from watching the big screen from Henman Hill/Murray Mound to browsing the souvenirs in the shops. (Obviously I got excited walking past the press centre too.)And let me tell ya, there are some cracking offerings in the shops (all online here too.) I myself was most tempted by all the chinaware (tea addict, WHUUUT) and some of the bags. Classic me.

I loved the Strawberries and Cream tea sets (£30)
Throughout the day, I happened to bump into a surprising number of friends. Always lovely, isn't it? Best of all though, was running into my friend Kate towards the end of the afternoon. They had tickets for the FRONT ROW of NO. 1 COURT and as they just so happened to be leaving when I ran into them, Kate kindly let me have her tickets. I know. Such a babe. Lucky me!

So, we dashed on to our new amazing seats, barely believing our luck, and got to watch both the Berdych vs Klizan match and Lisicki vs Schiavone, which was an extra un-scheduled match - we really were lucky. I particularly liked Lisicki as she smiled at the ball-children. A smile costs nothing.

Although the show-courts tend to empty at the end of the day, the atmosphere on No. 1 Court was just fantastic. Everyone cheered, gasped and oohed at the best rallies, and we all clapped in the build up to the result of a challenge. It was a lot of fun. I honestly think tennis is one of the best spectator sports out there.

This board is updated as the results come through
The whole day somewhat reminded me of my trip to the Olympics last year, and I feel so lucky to have gone - thank you, Liam! I left Wimbledon at around 8.30pm along with what seemed like most of the other visitors, exhausted but so so happy. The combination of incredible tennis, beautiful surroundings and sunny weather sure do make for a good British summer day out.

If you ever get the chance, I implore you to go, even if you don't think you're much of a tennis fan (you will be by the end of the day!) Quite frankly, I want to go back every day for the rest of the Championships! Feel free to send tickets...

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