Sunday, 19th May 2019 – No. 1 Court, All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon, London
It’s been some time since I last managed to get tickets to go to Wimbledon during the Championships, but this year I did manage to snag a pair of tickets to go to the No. Court Celebration, held a month or so before the Championships, to celebrate the commissioning of the new roof. This roof means that now there is a guarantee of play for anyone who is able to get in to Centre Court and No. 1 Court, the great show courts at the grounds. The committee also took advantage of the work to refit the interior and increase the number of seats available to around 12,5000. And my god, but the roof is impressive, with its 11 trusses, £70,000,000 and five years of work having gone into it! The event served to test that the air conditioning and roof mechanisms work, and was also a way of raising money for the Wimbledon Foundation.
Anyway, it meant an early train on Sunday morning to meet A. at Waterloo and travel on to the venue. We arrived just in time for the opening of the gates, and queued to have our bags checked and my camera (lenses were not to be over 300mm in length fully extended, the exact length of my Canon 100-400 lens that I wanted to use – and that I’d checked very carefully in advance of heading down there on the grounds that I wasn’t going to be parted from £1000+ worth of camera lens in return for an afternoon’s entertainment, no matter how starry). It passed – they have a measuring line painted on the bag check table – and we were soon inside.
Our tickets also provided access to the Lawn Tennis Museum, which neither of us had visited before. They were restricting access to 200 people at any one time, but we were well placed to be part of the first cohort of 200 and had an enjoyable and interesting mooch about, looking at the exhibits and admiring things like the tennis racquet adorned tea set, the clothing from various eras (including a gold lamé dress), and some truly mind-boggling equipment including the double-handled racquet built for those with a double-handed style. It didn’t catch on apparently, and frankly I could see why.
After we’d finished in there it was just after 13:00 and we were under instructions to be in our seats by 13:45 because the broadcast was due to start on the BBC at 14:00. It was time nto try and get some lunch. Unfortunately everyone else had clearly reached much the same conclusion and the queues were horrendous. A. joined the fish and chip queue, after I decided that the wok-fried noodle queue was not a good idea, as eating noodles standing up wasn’t going to be a dignified process, and in fact it propably wouldnt be much less messy sitting in a folding seat in a stadium. I put in an order for scampi and chips and went off to join the queue for the bar. It wasn’t exactly moving at anything like a sensible speed and 35 minutes later A. was back with the food and I was still a good 50 people back from the bar. We decided we’d try for a drink later and went off to sit down.
Our seats were well-placed in one corner of the stadium, opposite the players’ entrance and with a good view of both court and scoreboards, and so we sat and listened to the introductory speeches, including some information about the roof and its technicalities, and then we hit 14:00 and the main part of the event kicked off. Unfortunately, it kicked off with Paloma Faith whose voice I cannot abide. So having eaten (and finding the food to be surprisingly good) I sidled back out to the bar only to find half a dozen staff standing around with no one but me to serve. Pimms for two and two bottles of water were swiftly rounded up and I was back in my seat just as Ms. Faith finished warbling, which I count as a win/win.
Next up was the brilliant operatic tenor, Joseph Calleja, which was frankly much more like it. He pretty much brought the house down ahead of the first tennis to be played.
A number of ex-champions had been rounded up and persuaded to come out to play, starting with a brilliant – and brilliantly funny – mens’ doubles that involved Pat Cash and Lleyton Hewitt playing against Jamie Murray and Goran Ivanisevic. There was a great deal of silliness and mucking about along with some beautiful tennis, though that won’t surprise anyone who knows anything about the individuals involved. Nor will this, with Ivanisevic losing the point for his opponents…
For good measure he also folded himself up on top of the net at one stage, and at another, having missed a shot that should have been easy, he handed his racquet to one of the ballboys, and retreated to take the ballboy’s position. The terrified lad played two points and then Goran decided he might have another go!
Just to add to the fun a series of volleys that left a player on each side standing around waiting for play to come to them, he grabbed a spare ball and suddenly we had two lots of play going on on the same court.
Another “song” followed from Paloma Faith… and it became obvious why she couldn’t be allowed to walk out and stand on the grass. Her heels were ridiculous.
And then we were treated to Venus Williams and Kim Clijsters playing with Williams pretty much pulling her punches to make sure we got a match. Clijsters was only called up to play the day before and is pretty well retired now so she wasn’t a serious match for Williams, though she still has the most beautiful range of strokes available to her. Williams inevitably won, despite having spent the day before playing on clay at the French Open, and having to go straight back the following day.
Another aria from the wonderful Mr. Calleja came next before the final match.
And that final match was another doubles contest, this time mixed with John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova both stepping away from the commentary box to spend half an hour entertaining us, Mac partnering Clijsters and Navratilova playing alongside Jamie Murray. It was fun, with McEnroe playing up to his reputation, bantering with the crowd, and generally carrying on, while Navratilova at one point tried to eavesdrop on her opponents.
An few minutes later she and Mac were both on the floor trying to get out of the way of their partners shots.
After the event ended, we raided the shop and then caught the shuttle bus back to Wimbledon station, getting home in time for a late dinner. It had been a fun day and I was delighted to be able to watch a re-run on BBC’s iPlayer the day after.