A Wim­ble­don sur­vivor’s guide

A for­mer SA ten­nis player serves ad­vice on how to crack the epic event

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - TRAVEL 2013 - ABE SE­GAL

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.

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

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.

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