On Friday, Norman Junior III and myself loaded up our picnic hamper, packed the cool box with brightly coloured Bacardi Breezers and set off for SW19.
We had been lucky enough to get tickets for Wimbledon tennis in the public ballot last year but, thanks to the English weather, we only saw grey skies and 63 minutes of play. It was scant consolation that we saw Maria Sharapova in the flesh. OK, I’ll admit it - that was a massive consolation !
This year, we applied again in the public ballot and we got lucky. Very lucky. We were allocated Centre Court tickets for Friday 4 July, the day of the Men’s Semi Finals. Or as those posh stewards from the Wimbledon Championships prefer to call it, the ‘Gentleman’s Singles’
We used my own private and exclusive ‘Park & Ride’ scheme which entails parking on a residential road and walking through Wimbledon Village, admiring the beautiful people, en-route to Wimbledon Tennis Club on Church Road.
After clearing security, (‘No sharp objects just ham & cheese rolls’) we wandered around the outer courts which were hosting doubles and junior matches. We saw the world’s sporting journalists and TV crews setting up in the media centre, had a look at Aorangi Terrace - sorry ‘Henman Hill’
- sorry ‘Murray Mount’ and gazed at hundreds of people, soaking up the sun and the atmosphere, preparing to watch matches on a very big screen.
Norman Junior asked why Wimbledon was charging a staggering 85 pence for a Toffee Crisp and £2.60 for a bag of Maynard’s Wine Gums. I told him it was so the LTA can pay off the rest of Brad Gilbert’s contract and finish the retracting roof.
At 12:30, we took our seats on Centre Court and were delighted to discover we had brilliant seats on row 10, to the left of the umpire’s chair, bathed in brilliant sunshine.
Roger Federer against Marat Safin was the first match and Federer did indeed look impressive in his cream cardigan, with five gold embosssed buttons (signifying the number of his Wimbledon triumphs). Federer beat Safin in straight sets and he’s an awesome player. It must be soul destroying to play against Federer as the guy never seems to make a mistake and barely seems to be exerting himself. Safin tried manfully but rarely looked like breaking Federer’s serve and, after losing a second set tie-break and smashing a racket on his chair, Safin understandably lost heart and Federer triumphed 6-3, 7-6, 6-4.
After a quick break to play ‘Spot the Celebrity’ in the Royal Box (Prince Michael of Kent, Des Lynam, Michael Parkinson and Trevor Macdonald), it was time for Rafael Nadal. When Norman Junior III asked me for my prediction, I loudly said ‘It will be close but I’m going for Schuettler in four sets’ which drew some puzzled looks from our immediate neighbours.
Nadal is a big man and taller than I imagined. He is very strong, athletic and muscular. In fact, I think he has muscles on top of his muscles. Nadal swept into an early 3-0 lead after breaking the serve of the German, Rainer Schuettler. The game looked like it could be an embarassing, one -sided affair but credit to Schuettler who actually broke Nadal’s serve and was on top in the second set. Nadal came back though and levelled to take the set into another tie-break. Inevitably, just like Federer and like a true world class sportsman, Nadal went up a gear and won the tie-break (and the match) easily.
We finished our cheese and cucumber sandwiches, drained our flask of tea, cracked open our packet of Wine Gums (60p from Asda), took some more photos and watched one set of Mixed Doubles (Jamie Murrary) before making our way home to try to (successfully) spot ourselves on the TV highlights.
Obligatory photos (with captions) here