I went to Wimbledon yesterday and given that I wrote about Roland Garos a few weeks ago I guess I should add some comments about Wimbledon. After all it’s the greatest Tennis tournament in the world – isn’t it?
Well actually I am not sure.
No doubt it has the history and prestige, thats a gimmee, but I have to admit the experience leaves me cold but first a disclaimer. I was tired yesterday but then I am always tired. I went to bed at 0245 and set the alarm for 0630 and thats more sleep than I have had in a lot of nights recently as I am working all the hours there are to get the Global Images open on schedule next week. And secondly for the same reason I really could not afford a day off – but David had taken a day off work and at the end of the day doing something with ones kids is more important than work so I got a late train up to London Thursday evening and then waited an hour at Waterloo for a bus to take me to our apartment. I could have walked it in 30 minutes or so!
But ignoring tiredness and feeling guilty for taking a day ‘off’ Wimbledon and me are not a good mix.
David checked the internet blogs etc and to be sure of getting in we felt we needed to be in the queue by 8am – play was scheduled to start at 11am. We were a little late but after walking to Russell Square Tube, taking the Piccadilly and then the District Line after changing at Earls Court and a 10 minute walk we were in the park where the queue was located by 820am. I was impressed!
But this is where my gripe begins. Why should we be queuing in the first place? I state this not because I am anyone special and consider queuing to be beneath me but because it is so mind blowingly obvious that it is such an unnecessary waste of time. I have been asking myself over and over again what are the advantages and benefits of the famous Wimbledon queue.
Now as queues go Yes it is very fair and very well organised and if people want to queue up for several days to get tickets for Centre Court on Final and Semi Finals day it is admirable that Wimbledon make a provision for people to camp and safeguard their position over several days but why do 6,000 people have to queue for hours every day?
When we arrived we were directed by friendly and smartly dressed stewards (Male, Middle aged and with that affable Middle Class possibly Public School air) towards the three people holding a placard ‘End of the Queue’ where we were duely each given a number which would safeguard our position in the queue and allow us to go to the loo, buy food without losing our position. David decided to go back to Wimbledon village and buy some food for the day and I settled down to do what one does in an anticipated three hour wait – read the paper, watch the clouds and gauge the chances of rain and politely ignore the succession of Charities soliciting donations from the Queue and occasional vendors. And it did strike me, cynical as I am, that perhaps the purpose of keeping between six and eight thousand people lined up in parkland next to the golf course was so Wimbledon could sell marketing opportunities to selected newspapers and charities.
And from time to time a friendly steward would pass by making some trite comment and preparing us to move in 5 minutes when our queue would change to a new location closer to the exit (from the field) and free up space for other sections of the queue to relocate and allow a new section of the queue to be formed. All very impressive, all very orderly but what positive purpose is served by this experience? Is it to say ‘We are British, look how orderly and respectful of authority we are – this is a grand tradition, this is part of Wimbledon’
If so then I fear for the future of our nation which will continue to decline into mediocrity whilst the rest of the world moves on and embraces the 21st century. And if it is not maintained for tradition the answer is gross inefficiency. I see no alternative.
If the method of applying for Wimbledon tickets is not tortuous enough (see my Roland Garos piece and No this is not sour grapes – I don’t even bother) surely once all the seats have been allocated at least most of the Ground tickets can be put on public sale with a restriction on the number than any applicant can buy and with the ticket holder having to attend and show identification. There are plenty of ways to ensure that 99% of the tickets go to genuine purchasers and please don’t tell me the queue ensures that – plenty of students will stand in line for you for £30 if you ask them and it strikes me it would be £30 well invested if you have work to be doing.
I asked my son David why 90% of the Ground Tickets could not be put on general sale on line and he came up with 1 – The Cost of setting up such a big on line ticket sales system (I don’t agree – other Tennis tournaments and Music Festivals manage to do it on less income than Wimbledon receives) and 2 The queue ensures that only committed tennis afficiados attend (we will come back to this later).
Anyway after about only three and a half hours we have been asked to stand up and are moving through the exit – to the ticket sellers? Hurrah!
No such luck. We are passing students giving out free ‘I queued at Wimbledon stickers’ and even’ I queued at Wimbledon in the Rain’ stickers, and past Coffee Stalls, and along the road, and over the bridge and past security designed as much to prevent entrance of complementary drinks given out on the approaches to Wimbledon to safeguard the rights of officially endorsed drinks products inside the grounds! The courteous security officer immediately gained kudos when he commented ‘Cool Headgear’ as he admired one of my collection of Buffs !
And finally we got to a ticket seller just three and a half hours after joining the queue. The good news by joining the queue at 0815 we were in plenty of time to get in (Plenty of time after arriving three hours early is not normally worthy of comment but this is Wimbledon folks!)? Indeed if we had been 20 minutes earlier we could have purchased a ticket to Court 2 – one of the minor show courts – something to note for next time.
But seriously – most people queue in good humour and see it as a quaint amusing tradition. I am an entrepreneur. I am setting up a new venture that will provide at least one new job in the UK. These are difficult times and I abhor inefficiency and wasted time. I and hundreds of other people in the queue could have been working yesterday morning for a few hours, contributing to the growth and development of our economy from which we all benefit but No – we have to sit in a field for several hours to await our turn to buy a ticket. Pathetic!
As far as I am concerned the powers to be at Wimbledon are not preserving a great British tradition but refusing to embrace modern technology and preventing others from working productively.
OK Rant over and now we were inside the hallowed gates and the question is Where to go. The only other Major that I have been to is Roland Garos but I hope to get to Flushing Meadow and Kooyong before too long and my criticisms of Wimbledon are usually twofold – the crowds and consequential difficulty in moving around and secondly the lack of seating around most of the outside courts (far inferior to Roland Garos) .
David worked at Wimbledon two years ago and knew there was a lot of seating around Court 18 which was the only outside court that had a Men’s singles match scheduled so Court 18 it was. And after only a short wait we had prime seats behind the server and waited for play to commence. Play was delayed with the covers coming off, being replaced and coming off again and the admirable Public announcements with updates regarding the weather were accurate although I found the overly polite, ingratiating and almost servile tones of the announcer to be more than a little irritating – almost designed to elicit comments of ‘Oh listen dear, isn’t he just SO quaint and polite’ from the Americans present.
But no matter by 1330 we were up and running and enjoyed watching xx defeating xxx in an entertaining Ladies Doubles which was followed by a competitive Men’s Singles match up between the Colombian Alejandro Falla and Denis Istomin, a Russian but representing Uzbekistan. And we were high enough for David to keep track of events on Court Number 1 from the exterior scoreboard which he could see.
As the kid in Paris said we have service men as stewards at Wimbledon and specifically Firemen on Court 18 and I was impressed that they monitored where there were spare seats on the court to squeeze people in at every opportunity and ensure every seat was taken which is something I have often think the stewards could be more proactive with in Paris. But No – you may have queued outside for several hours and maybe 15 – 30 minutes to get on Court 18 but if you want to pee you can’t have your seat saved for 5 minutes so you have two choices – firstly to hold on or depart from the court between matches or sets and hope the court has not filled by the time you have……..queued to use the loo!
Actually there is a third choice.
Next time I will be bringing a wide necked Pee bottle (that all sensible mountaineers carry with them to altitude to save having to get out of their tent at night) and discretely shove and position it inside the front of my trousers, fill it, retrieve the bottle, put the cap on and put it in my ruck sack and watch the tennis in comfort without the distraction of thinking ‘Dare I go the Loo? Will I lose my place?’
And am I forgetting the ladies? Certainly not! Step forward the Freshette Urinating Aid (or ShePee!) available from all good canoeing outfitters.
After watching the powerful Istomin defeat the perhaps more skilful Falla in four entertaining sets we decided to move to newer pastures and ended up watching Roger Federer play Julien Benneteau and lose the first set on the big screen on Henman Hill. A slightly disturbed David (a big Federer fan) had to leave for a dinner engagement and I sat down to watch the second set on a cold and windy Henman Hill.
I must confess I would love to see Federer win a 17th Major but I just cannot see it happening and I must confess I had backed my conviction with a £1000 wager on Djokovic at 2/1 so I had a built in self interest for cheering for Benneteau and an upset as I watched the second set develop.
And as I cheered and gasped as Benneteau played inspired tennis three thoughts went through my mind.
For sure Federer is not the force he was and the decline I had noted in Paris was nothing to do with playing on clay and he should not be being outplayed by the French number five.
This neatly brings me on to my second point. France and Britain have similar locations and climates. Jo Wilfred Tsonga, Giles Simon, Gaell Monfils and Richard Gasquet are all ranked higher than Julien Benneteau. The French number 8 Nicholas Mahut , forever famous as one of the protagonists in the memorable72 – 70 set at Wimbledon two years ago (surely Court 18 should be renamed the Isner – Mahut Court to recognise perhaps the greatest contest in any modern day sport?) took a set off Federer in Paris. And lets not forget the 13th ranked Frenchman Paul- Henri Mathieu pulled off one of the shocks in Paris defeating John Isner (him again!) in the second longest match in French Open history and fourth longest in Grand Slam history. So as I watched Benneteau refuse to lie down to Federer I was thinking that the strength of depth in French Tennis is phenomenal. I do not know the name of the British number two, I believe he is ranked around number 200 in the world and I suggest he would not take a set off Federer as Benneteau had done. In fact Benneteau is the French number 5 but world number 32 which tells you all you need to know about the strength in depth of French Men’s tennis.The disparity between the depth of the French game and the British is so enormous that clearly the French are doing something significant that the British have overlooked!
But my most important thought was; Here I am on Henman Hill at Wimbledon, one of the most iconic locations in world tennis, watching an outstanding match ( and cheering for Benneteau) yet most of the crowd were not watching the tennis! They were drinking their Pimms or a beer and chatting. Break points and break back points were won and lost in an engrossing set with twists and turns and Benneteau eventually won the on a tie break to go 2 – 0 up and on the brink of another big upset to follow the earlier dispatch of Nadal and yet most of the crowd were chatting and no more than 20% concentrating on the tennis. So I am sorry David but that three hour queue this morning did not result in the tickets being purchased by genuine tennis afficiados!
I had to get a train back to Somerset so I left with Benneteau two sets up and on the brink of dispatching Federer which would only leave Murray or Tsonga as possible Final opponents of major stature in the path of Djokovic’s quest to retain his title and a nice £3000 payout for me.
By the time I got to Waterloo station Federer had won both the third set and a fourth set tie break to level the match and by the time my train had got to Woking Federer had raced through the final set!
Such is the unpredictability of tennis – the king of individual sports but I do wish Wimbledon will join the 21st century.
Quaint and traditional does not necessarily mean best!
© Michael Bromfield 2012