Let’s discuss The Tennis Championship, Wimbledon. It seems appropriate to write about this topic today, both because it’s timely as we are entering the Finals’ weekend of this tennis fortnight, and also because I'm a local.
As a local of SW19 for over two decades. As such, I thought it may be interesting to provide an inside scoop. Here are some personal observations about this year’s play, as well gentle reminiscences sharing a few true, humorous stories about life during the Tournament from my local resident’s perspective. I hope you find this entertaining.
Observations on the fortnight
I have always enjoyed the Wimbledon fortnight. As a child, I remember watching remarkable tennis with John McEnroe cursing his way to penalties and victories, the floppy haired gorgeousness of Bjorn Borg, and the fabulous female legends including Martina and Chrissy.
My memories of Wimbledon are also flooded with images of its British traditions. For example, the crowds enjoying Pimms and strawberries and cream, the Royal Box and the game of spotting who was sitting in it, and the prominence of copious flowers echoing the purple and green colour scheme and the coordinated ball children’s uniforms.
Wimbledon fortnight provides us with a unique opportunity to witness top play from global sporting talents and quintessentially British traditions. The Championship this year has continued this reputation. Play has been superb and there is also a changing of the guard noticeable.
The changing of the guard
We are witnessing a passing of the baton. The existing known tennis talent is getting older, and a wave of younger players has entered the arena and is making an impact. Nadal, Williams, and Federer are all now out of the tournament. Yet, many new names and faces prevail.
I don’t recognise some of the players’ this year. Perhaps that’s because I’m in my mid 50s and my memory isn’t as sharp as it used to be, or maybe because these players have only been on this global stage for about 15 seconds. Either way, seeing so much fresh talent is exciting.
For example, Emma Raducanu. I admire this 18-year-old who manages her tennis training alongside studying for her A levels. My heart went out to her when she described her reason for pulling out of the tournament as “the whole experience just caught up with me”. Of course it did, Emma! Things catch up with a lot of us for a lot less reason. My maternal instincts went into overdrive when she was distraught. Emma, you made it to the Final 16, the best show for a British Woman since 1979. What an accomplishment! What an inspiration you are! The country is proud of you.
Other younger players whose careers I look forward to following include Coco Gauff, Ashleigh Barty and Arnya Sabelanca. Their names and faces will no longer be hazy to me.
Let’s also applaud the numerous children of famous tennis players who have made their debut this year. For example, Peter Korda’s son, Sebastian. He is the baby of this prodigious sports family. Sebastian’s two sisters, Nelly and Jessica, are professional golfers who both represent USA in the Olympics. Nelly also won the Ladies PGA last week. Sebastian made his debut at Wimbledon this year the same week he turned 21. His performance was impressive. He was the last remaining American in the draw but lost in this fourth-round match featuring 24 breaks of serve, a record at Wimbledon. It was a riveting match and the 9th longest in the tournament’s history. We look forward to seeing more of the Korda family. By the way, I would love to ask Mom and Dad Korda their secrets to raising such sports talents.
Bjorn Borg’s son, Leo, is also making headlines. Yesterday, Leo won his Wimbledon debut in junior men’s singles…41 years to the day since his father won his last title of All England. I look forward to watching the bright futures of these young, talented players.
I am simply an amateur tennis fan so know you are not reading this for my insights on match play or the players on the tennis circuit 2021. Let me now provide you with something I can discuss with authority: my observations of living in Wimbledon during the last 22 tournaments.
The players live amongst us
I have lived in Wimbledon for 23 years. I live so close to the All England complex that the roar of cheers during play reverberates throughout our home. On play days, Partner closes our windows when watching the matches on tele, so the live cheers don’t forecast the results and spoil the 7 second delayed “live” coverage.
During the fortnight, I enjoy hearing the soft, determined cadence of the players’ footsteps as they jog by for their morning exercise. I do wonder if I can give one of them my Fitbit to wear? I often am treated to the sound of play on the practice courts next to us - of rhythmic pattern of balls being hit, interspersed with the dramatic exclamations the players’ grunts as they swing. Being so close to the tennis is indeed “cool”, as my kids might say, if you’re into tennis or the tennis glitterati.
Many of us locals regularly bump into the players when they live amongst us in our community for the tournament period. We cross paths walking down roads, or in local shops or watering holes. Our stores and restaurants are filled with photos of top seeded players enjoying their custom. Many residents rent out their homes or rooms to the players.
A couple observations strike me from my exposure to these top seeds. One, the players physical dimensions are often surprising in person, revealing how difficult it is to judge their actual size when playing on the court. In person, some are more diminutive. Others are more Amazonian in real life. Some are “buff” with herculean muscles compared to our everyday physique. Randomly, some have massive feet. Sun burned faces, lots of plasters and bandages, and players lugging massive amounts of kit around reveal the reality of professional sports. Seeing the athletes in person is so much more revealing than watching them on court, whether live or on tele.
I’m also often surprised by the contrast between top seeds’ “on air”, tennis playing personalities verses the demeanour I’ve witnessed they display in everyday life. The austere focus on court is frequently replaced by friendly, open chat. Sometimes the garrulous character who argues with the umpire fervently is really a quiet, shy person in real life. Over 22 tournaments, I’ve crossed paths with many top seeds, whether in stores or restaurants or walking around the local roads and am regularly struck by this contrast. An example comes to mind.
My name is...
One year I was walking down our road holding hands with my youngest son who was then perhaps aged 5. We approached the practice courts en route to the post box when a player intersected paths with us going to the AELTC back gate. It was just us three on the road with a guard standing by that gate. The player kept looking down as our paths crossed, perhaps focussed on his practice performance, or perhaps not wanting to be engaged in dialogue. I had no idea who he was, nor did I really care.
My son, however, did care and waved to him with the exuberance of youth. This athlete smiled, waved back, and stopped to ask my son his name. My boy asked his in return. The player looked surprised that he wasn’t recognised, told us his name and my son exclaimed “Never heard of you!”. This athlete, with a reputation for being serious and focused, laughed out loud, shrugged, and ruffled my son’s hair. His display of humour and affection won us over. That year this athlete was ranked 4 and soon won the tournament. I will always remember his affectionate banter and smile in our private audience.
Living amongst the professionals also has its advantages… and positive influences. That reminds me of another true story. Sorry, Partner, but now you’re up…
The exercise class
Many years ago, Partner and some neighbours developed this morning routine of “warming up” with a player, or that’s how they still pitch the memory. I think unwanted participation, potentially bordering on stalking, is more like it. The player I’m referring to, a lithe, blonde, gorgeous model-like talent who was yet undiscovered., renting a room in a neighbour’s home. She would stretch and flex in the courtyard between our homes in the early hours each morning, wearing quite revealing sports gear. Suddenly, as if encouraged by the health benefits of such early exertion, several of the middle-aged, neighbouring fathers took up a similarly timed morning stretching routine. All this activity before 7 in the morning! Imagine the coincidence. Funny that…
These middle-aged men with their proud bellies and keen observation skills would squeeze into exercise kit and assemble in our courtyard just by luck at the same time this gorgeous athlete appears. All pre-breakfast! Our friend (not my Partner, I promise) would even don a McEnroe-like head band for the morning “work out”! Please reflect on that image: some keen middle-aged male supporters stretching simultaneously with a young professional athlete. I'm sure that would be all over social media now.
Sadly, this athlete was knocked out of the tournament early on… or perhaps she was lucky to be sent home as she was removed from her morning embarrassment of “working out with fans”. After she left, the men mysteriously returned to their more sedentary morning routine. I still giggle over this.
Being a local is not all fun
Being a local during the Championships is not all fun. Living here during the fortnight can be irritating, a fact which is not outweighed by the potential of meeting the tennis elite.
The inconvenience for us residents with the months of pre-tournament set up is not insignificant. This irritation is only heightened by the traffic during the actual two weeks of the Championships, and the period of “break down” after the tournament. Tourists and traffic are everywhere. One learns the roads to avoid gong near because of heavy traffic congestion. Unfortunately, I live on one of them.
Crime rates peak in Wimbledon during his time. An analysis from Tennis Around the World shows that crime figures in SW19 increased in July of every year during the last decade, with ASBO and robberies higher than usual. The silence of last year because play was cancelled was one of the few positives of the lockdown.
But my moaning will stop – at least for now- because the All England seems to have done a fine job this year. Well done. Our inconvenience was minimised, so far. Was that due to your efforts or because the crowds are at half capacity? I suspect the latter.
We will find out next year.