A Wimbledon survivor’s guide
A former SA tennis player serves advice on how to crack the epic event
THE FIRST time I visited Wimbledon I was 15, and having sailed half way around the world on a cargo boat to get there, I had no intention of queueing.
I was so used to scaling the fence at Ellis Park, I jumped the first section of barbed wire I saw on the outskirts of the All English Lawn Tennis Club and came toe to toe with two big black boots. An English Bobby politely asked me where I was going and escorted me by my left ear to where I had started.
Five hours and 25 sandwiches later, squashed between stockings and trenchcoats in the rain, I found myself still standing, but at least within the grounds watching my hero, Pancho Gonzales, playing doubles with Frankie Parker. I vowed I would never return to Wimbledon unless I was on Centre Court and the only fence in front of me was the net.
Word of advice: Don’t try to jump the early birds in the queue, but go to Wimbledon in the late afternoon as very often Centre Court and Court No 1 spectators leave early to escape the traffic – or rain – and sympathetically hand their tickets to people waiting at the gates (Gate No 5 especially).
When I returned two years later as player, then 17 years after that as a spectator, I used to park my car in Bathgate Road at the house of my friend, ex-Formula One driver James Hunt, and walk across the road to the club.
Advice: if you have to drive a car to Wimbledon try to park at one of the adjacent homes. Opportunistic owners within close proximity all open their driveways and will charge you a nominal fee, but it will be a lot cheaper than parking in the official Wimbledon car parks on the adjacent golf course.
Very few people are aware of the Last Eight Club that was introduced by Mark McCormack, whose company IMG sponsors most of the top seeds at Wimbledon. It’s reserved for those players who make it into the last eight in a Grand Slam. It has an allocation of some of the best seats on the Centre Court and Court No 1, next to the Royal Box and right behind the Players Box – in terms of celebrity and tennis watching, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Attention all up- and- coming South African players: life membership to the Last Eight is a damn good reason to strive to make it into the quarters, semis and finals of Wimbledon.
If you are a military buff and enjoy admiring soldiers in their full regalia, Wimbledon boasts the smartest line- up of the armed forces, manning the various courts, stands and corporate facilities.
These are the guys you want to befriend to gain access to those sought-after spots and to hear the latest grass court gossip.
Don’t forget to curtsy or bow if you happen to get a silver plate from the queen. I had spent too much time hanging out with the uniformed guards and was the only player in the history of the game to salute Her Majesty.
Don’t turn your nose down at tickets for Courts No 2 or 3 – they have redone these courts and they are directly below the players lounge balcony, so often top seeds waft out to watch mates in action.
If you are autograph hunting, you stand a better chance of catching a player off guard on the practice courts, where they are more relaxed, than within the grounds en route to a match. And if it is a celebrity tennis fan you seek, like a Sir Cliff Richard or an Ernie Els or Sol Kerzner, then hang around the VIP car parks and you may well catch them dismounting from their Rolls-Royces.
When you find yourself holding only a Ground pass, you are by no means empty-handed. These are considered gold, even by players for guests, because they get you in and, once in, anything can happen if the moon is full and the sun is shining.
SUNNY AFTERNOON: Spectators lie on the grass on Murray Mound before the start of play at Wimbledon.
JUST DES(S)ERTS: Wimbledon spectators enjoy a bowl of strawberries and cream at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.