Monday, June 11, 2012

Keep Off the Grass

Saturday I organized a private guided tour of the All England Lawn Tennis Club -- host of the Wimbledon tennis championships -- for a group of fellow AWC members and their spouses.  I had taken the tour last summer when my friend Robin -- an avid tennis player and fan -- was in town and I really enjoyed it, even though I've never been much of a tennis fan myself.  Every time I mentioned to a fellow AWC member that I lived in Wimbledon, I was inevitably asked if I'd been to see the tennis or knew how to get tickets, so I figured there would be enough interest to meet the 15-person minimum for a group tour.  Indeed!  We ended up with 25 people.
We were fortunate that the weather cooperated, since it had been cold, rainy, and windy the day before.  It wasn't exactly a beautiful summery day, but it didn't rain, and the sun even peeked through the clouds a few times, which is what we consider "nice weather" here in London.  We met up with our Blue Badge guide, Marian, who asked us to observe two important rules of the club: do not take photographs of the members, and do not touch the lawn.

Reviewing last year's brackets
As we toured the grounds, the grounds staff was hard at work getting everything ready for this year's tournament, which begins on June 25.
Lovely view of central London (and the Pimms tent) from the top of the hill
Wimbledon is the largest catered sporting event in Europe.  During the "fortnight" the 1,800 members of the catering staff serve 200,000 glasses of Pimm's, 112,000 bowls of strawberries and cream, and 300,000 cups of tea and coffee.  The strawberries are picked locally in Kent and delivered to Wimbledon each morning at 5:30 am.  When I was there last summer, one of the cafes temporarily ran out of strawberries and it was treated like a national emergency -- and it kind of felt like one.  Imagine a baseball game with no hot dogs...
The perfect lawn on #18 Court
The #18 Court is the site of the longest match in Wimbledon history: 11 hours 5 minutes.  We actually sat next to John Isner at a restaurant in Wimbledon Village during the tennis championships last summer.  He is really tall!
Plaque outside #18 Court
In the early days of the club, the grass courts were maintained by a roller pulled by a pony.  When it broke in 1877, the members decided to hold a tennis tournament to raise funds for repairs. From those humble beginnings arose the Wimbledon tennis championships.  The first winner, Spencer Gore, thought the game of tennis was just a passing fad and wouldn't catch on.  Kinda like the Beatles, eh?
The Pony Roller
Part of the tour took us behind the scenes to areas where normally only members and players are allowed.  The Players' Garden was the only place where we were allowed to touch the lawn, because it wasn't real. 
It looks like real grass!
This was no AstroTurf, it looked just like real grass -- or at least like the perfectly manicured grass courts at Wimbledon.  We had to bend down and feel it with our hands to believe it.

The view from the members' terrace was quite nice.  You could watch several tennis matches at once from that vantage point.
Number 2 Court (in the background) and Number 3 court (foreground)
The grand finale of our tour was Centre Court, where we all were tempted to camp out in the comfy seats until the championships began.
Marian tells us about Centre Court
Our guide graciously offered to take a group photo for us on what was once known as "Henman Hill" after former British tennis player Tim Henman.  Nowadays it has a new nickname: "Mount Murray" (after Andy Murray).  The actual name is Aorangi Terrace, but no one calls it that -- probably because they aren't sure how to pronounce it...
Posing for a group photo on Mount Murray
After the tour, we spent some time in the museum, which has a fantastic collection of tennis memorabilia -- from 16th-century royal tennis equipment to signed tennis clothing worn by last years' champions.  The highlight was a replica of the men's changing room inhabited by a chatty hologram of John McEnroe.  Definitely worth a visit!

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