It just so happened that my project and my client decided they wanted me in UK in a week when England was on the brink of elimination from the Football World Cup 2010 and when John Isner and Nicolas Mahut produced an 11 hours 5 minutes long monster marathon in the first round of Wimbledon.
I had spent close to 8 months in London from early October 2001 to late May 2002. But my main regret from trip was that I had no photographs from the more touristy places of London thanks to a rather debilitating bout of illness that killed my will to venture outdoors for the last few weeks of my trip. So when I got the opportunity to travel again, I was determined to fill up the missing pictures from London in my photo album.
If you know me well, the only sport I enjoy following more than Tennis is Cricket. Since India doesn’t have any matches scheduled in Lord’s next week, I accepted Wimbledon, the Mecca of Tennis with open arms. A couple of colleagues from work, Gaurav and April picked today for the visit. The plan was to get there after 5:00 PM when ticket prices go down. I was apprehensive, however, since today was a Friday and last year’s Champion Roger Federer and the runner-up Andy Roddick both had third round matches. I was expecting long queues.
Given that I was changing hotels today after an unsatisfactory experience at Hilton Croydon, I decided to first drop off my baggage at Hilton Euston. The journey from Croydon to Euston took me time because I had to familiarize myself with the Oyster ticketing system that did not exist back in 2001/2002. After checking into the hotel it took me some more time to top up my Oyster card so that I could travel to Wimbledon. It didn’t help that the queues were long at rush hour and my credit card got rejected for some arbitrary reason the first time I tried to buy.
Anyway, I reached Wimbledon station at about 5:25 PM. By then Gaurav and his brother Saurabh were already in the queue for tickets, which by their estimate was at least 500 people long. I still hadn’t gotten to the stadium, so this was depressing news. But I anyway decided to take a shuttle from Wimbledon station to the park. After I disembarked I asked one of the people there as to where I could buy tickets. Thinking back, his directions were eerily similar to what the bystanders at Surat Railway Station had told me when asked where the bus stop was. I walked a good amount and at a pretty brisk speed, passing the stadium on my way.
After walking seemingly endlessly I finally reached the entrance of Car Park 10, where the queue started for the tickets. Actually the queue started at least 200m inside the car park. By the time I joined the queue, though, it was 6:00 PM and Gaurav and Saurabh were already chugging along. To give you an estimate, right about the court entrance where you purchase tickets, the queue index is A, where I was standing was K9 and Gaurav was probably around F. It had taken him an hour to get there.
Once in the queue we were given a Queue Card with a set of rules and regulations.
Note the number on my queue card – 13708. 13707 people had been issued cards before me today! If that doesn’t say enough about the queues, the picture below should.
Anyway, as my luck would have it, the queue started shrinking rapidly and very soon I was on the track for tickets. There were interesting snippets posted along the way.
Finally I got through security and in a matter of a few minutes I was at the turnstiles purchasing a ticket. My initial objective was to get a 65 quid ticket for the Centre Court, but the only tickets being sold at the turnstiles were the 14 quid ones for ground admission. So I got one and entered the stadium. Apparently Gaurav had managed to enter only about 5 minutes before me and he was in the queue to obtain seating inside the stadium.
The first thing that greeted me was the way the draw had progressed.
Unfortunately the player I really intended to see had gone about this match in a rather brisk manner. So I wouldn’t get to see Federer in the Centre Court.
But Andy Roddick was still playing in Court No. 1. While Gaurav tried to get the tickets, I loitered around. To my very pleasant surprise I saw Kim Clijsters, the 2005 and 2009 US Open Women’s Champion playing Mixed Doubles with Xavier Malisse on court 17.
Clijsters was playing quite well and she and her team won their match quite effortlessly. In the meanwhile Gaurav did manage to get resale tickets (tickets which are relinquished by spectators who don’t want to watch any more are sold for a discounted price).
So now we had the legitimate right to entry and we could watch Roddick. But not before getting a mug-shot with a prominent player in the background.
Anyway, we made our way into Court No. 1 to watch Andy Roddick play Philipp Kohlschreiber. The honorary stewards don’t let you in when a game is in progress, so we waited patiently till Roddick closed out the third set of the match to lead 2 sets to 1, 7-5 6-7 (7-5) 6-3.
The fourth set was brisk but it felt engrossing to watch a match live from a very good vantage point. Add Roddick’s serving to the mix and it is not hard to see that this might become an expensive hobby if I don’t put a lid on it.
So having achieved the distinction of watching a top 10 player not 100m away winning a set at Wimbledon on Court No. 1, the next task was to document our presence there.
Of course, Centre Court still had to be seen.
Of course, given that I made my trip without Tanuka I would have to pick up some souvenirs for her. And what better place to do it than the Wimbledon Shop?
And that was it. The return to Victoria took long, but not once we got onto the District Line from Southfield. The stress of the day had made us all very hungry, hence the food at Cinnamon Club was just what we needed.
With that ended my pilgrimage to one of the most famous sports arenas of the world. Sure I didn’t get to see Federer, but seeing two former World Number 1s and US Open champs, including one who has been a runner up in multiple Grand Slam events to Federer doesn’t happen to you everyday.