And a Happy 4th of July to all of you there in Web-land! Hope everyone has a safe and fun holiday (and that means no fireworks for you, Jason Pierre-Paul).
My apologies for not having a post up last Friday; I fully intended to write about my incredible adventures at Wimbledon on that day, but I caught some sort of cold/sinus/virus thingy on the plane home from England and had no energy for a couple of days.
However, thanks to the power of Advil Cold & Sinus and some hot tea, I’m feeling much better and ready to try to put into words the wonderful, strange, and dream-fulfilling trip.
— It’s not often in life that something you build up in your mind for decades ends up being as great as you hoped. But Wimbledon absolutely was. As my friend and SI writer Jon Wertheim has written, nobody ever comes to Wimbledon for the first time and comes home and says “Meh. Wasn’t so great.” From the historic grounds of the All England Club, to the friendly British ushers/fans/security people, to the fabulous tennis we watched, the two days my wife and I spent at Wimbledon last Monday and Tuesday will go down as some of the best of my life.
— OK, so some details. First off, the most immediate and striking difference from Wimbledon to the U.S. Open or any other sporting event I’ve been to in America? The quiet. The absolute, library-like silence in the stands even after a great shot or exciting point. I’m telling you, it’s three or four seconds of polite applause, nobody says anything, then you could hear a pin drop.
No lie, I must have gotten a dozen dirty looks over the course of two days just for saying things like “Way to go, Venus!” or “Great shot, Dennis!” in a normal tone of voice. The British tennis fans simply do not like exhortations.
— On the other hand, the other thing that struck me most about watching Wimbledon live was that on multiple courts, we saw fans drinking and pouring Champagne out of full-sized, glass bottles. Like it was no big deal.
I asked someone about it and they told me it’s basically encouraged. “It’s a British thing and a Wimbledon thing,” she said matter-of-factly.
I cannot even imagine any American sporting event allowing glass Champagne bottles to be brought in. So odd.
— The jokes write themselves when it comes to British food, but it actually wasn’t that bad. We are, I think, legally required to eat the strawberries and cream while at Wimbledon, and they were decent. The rest of the food was typical middling British fare, but we had a great dinner at a Lebanese restaurant one night that was very different than what we’re used to.
— Much less seating on the outdoor courts at Wimbledon than at U.S. Open; we stood a lot of the time, even on matches that it would seem few cared about. The upshot of that is that you’re often standing a few feet away from a player’s girlfriend or coach. Makes for great eaves-dropping.
–Two major highlights stood out from the two days: First, we didn’t have Centre Court tickets for Monday but Roger Federer, my all-time tennis idol, was playing on that cathedral of the sport at the end of the day. So even though the way you’re “supposed” to get onto Centre Court if you don’t have tickets is to go to the window and buy “returned” CC tickets after 5 p.m. that day, we did it the unauthorized way: We stood outside a gate and as people walked out, begged them for their tickets if they were leaving. Two nice folks gave my wife and I their seats, and for one glorious set and a half, I got to watch Federer on Centre Court.
Imagine watching Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel, or seeing the Beatles at Shea Stadium. That’s what it felt like.
— The second highlight was what happens when you push your luck just a little bit. After the rains came Tuesday around 5, lots of fans left and there were plenty of seats close to Centre Court. Our CC tickets were for a pretty high section, but we had made a friend with amazing 2nd row CC seats and I asked if we could try to sneak down there with her. At the gate entrance I of course started schmoozing the nice female security guard, threw every reason I had as to why she should let us sit there for a pretty un-exciting match (Coco Vandeweghe vs. Kateryna Bondarenko), and finally she relented.
So for an hour this was our view (above) for tennis. It was … breathtaking being that close to world-class tennis on the greatest court in the world. I was praying for a three-setter but alas, we only got two.
— Other different vibe from U.S. Open: Way more ushers/security guards here, fewer lines to get into matches on outside courts, and much fewer food choices.
— Grass court tennis is wild; the ball stays so low, skids and goes very fast, players have to be fast to scoop ball off shoe-tops. We never see grass tennis in the U.S. so seeing it up close was pretty fabulous.
— Not Wimbledon but still cool: My favorite new thing I saw in London was in a bathroom near the London Eye tourist wheel thingie: It was a water faucet that also doubled as a hand dryer. The whole hand-cleaning and drying process all in one spot! I get excited by things like this.
— We picked one hell of a week to be across the pond, when it comes to news. I arrived two days after the shocking Brexit vote (and I highly recommend John Oliver’s take on it.) , and then while we were there the English national team lost to Iceland (Iceland!) in soccer.
Honestly, reading the London tabloids I’m not sure which calamity was more painful. The English athletes get killed 100 times worse in the press than American athletes do. U.S. stars have no idea how easy they have it. My favorite story included “The 23 members of the English soccer team, having made complete asses of themselves earlier that night, flew home to Heathrow Airport…”
And they only lost 2-1! Imagine if they’d lost 6-0, I think they might not be allowed back in the country.
Alex Rodriguez and Tiger Woods, you should thank your lucky stars you weren’t born in the U.K.