What do you do with a bunch of wooden tennis rackets which no one uses today, but which are lying with you? The International Tennis Federation (ITF), tennis’ governing body, was faced with this dilemma when it discovered about 125 old wooden rackets—all unstrung, unfinished, with just wooden frames—lying with it. It thought of doing something special with them since Wimbledon turned 125 this year.
In collaboration with the education department of the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC), the ITF went to local schools, some local artists, the Wimbledon College of Art and a tennis club for the blind to get them to design these rackets. They were then put on display earlier this month at the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum and the AELTC premises.
Picnic time: Aorangi Terrace, better known as Henman Hill, overlooks a giant TV screen and is a great way to enjoy tennis at Wimbledon.Getty Images
From children aged 5 to artists aged up to 60, participants let their imaginations run wild. They were told to interpret what Wimbledon meant to them on to the tennis rackets. A racket placed next to John McEnroe’s corner at the Wimbledon Museum shows weeds being woven on to the head of the wooden tennis racket, depicting McEnroe’s famous 1980s’ spiky hairstyle.
Another racket, designed by some blind tennis players who are members of The London Metro Blind Tennis Club, shows a racket with two heads joined by a shaft curved backwards to depict a pair of spectacles. Fittingly, this racket is displayed in an optician’s store at the Wimbledon Village, half a mile from the AELTC. A few rackets are designed to look like giant strawberries. Obviously, art and sport can go hand in hand.
Frolic on Henman Hill
Get your picnic hampers, a bowl of strawberries and cream or sips of Pimm’s and relax on Henman Hill with as much tennis as you’d like. Officially called Aorangi Terrace, it’s more popularly known by the name of the former British No. 1 player Tim Henman; these days it is dedicated to the current local heart-throb and world No. 4 Andy Murray, with alternative suggestions on names such as Murray Mound. Whatever the name it goes by, Henman Hill overlooks a giant TV screen at the back of Court No. 1—the best way to enjoy tennis at Wimbledon if you haven’t been able to score tickets on the show courts (Centre Court and Court No. 1).
The Players know that all to well. Terry and Sheila Player—their surname seemingly made in sporting heaven—were comfortably parked on the lawns of Murray Mound on Day 4, watching top seed Serena Williams fight in her second-round match against Simona Halep, and win. Having just finished a meal, an empty plate still in his hand, Terry says—without a hint of regret—that they bought the ground ticket (which allows access to the premises and to all the outside courts) because they did not get the show court tickets this year.
“We just love the atmosphere at Murray Hill; it’s warm and friendly,” says Terry. This is their third visit to Wimbledon.
You can buy refreshments or get your picnic baskets, squat on the grass or take the benches, chat, enjoy your drinks, or even take a quick siesta. The Players don’t even mind the bright sunshine. “It always rains here in London, so any sunshine is welcome,” says Sheila. “You should check out the atmosphere right here when Murray is playing. It’s a festival,” Terry pops in to add. With ground tickets being sold at £20 (around Rs 1,400), and £14 after 5pm, while show court tickets cost upwards of £43, it’s a steal for genuine tennis fans.
At a distance, Jan and her husband Mike look relaxed as they sip champagne. This is Jan’s sixth visit to Wimbledon and Mike’s third. “When Roger Federer won his first Wimbledon, we were there at the Centre Court. It was so special, I still remember clearly,” says Jan. The two, who give only their first names, had just arrived with their picnic basket.
“We’re going to spend some time here, and then we’ll move to the Centre Court,” adds Mike, who has Centre Court tickets for the day. Apart from the relaxing atmosphere, there’s another reason why the hill is irresistible. “They wouldn’t let us take our drinks inside the Centre Court,” says Mike, as he goes back to his champagne.
Keeping an eye on the ball
Though I’ve had my strawberries and cream before, today’s was special because I was offered one. I was at the Officials’ Buttery to meet a lines umpire, an old friend of mine. Let’s call her STL because they’re not allowed to speak to the media. She had invited me there; you need a pass to get inside the Buttery. The place was stacked with umpires enjoying each other’s company over afternoon tea and snacks. I could spot at least a handful of famous faces, such as Carlos Ramos, who have umpired crucial Grand Slam finals.
STL, a veteran, is a team leader this year. Dipping into the bowl of strawberries and cream she so kindly brought out for me, we got talking. No guests were being allowed into the restaurant since all the officials were there—it was raining and the matches had been interrupted.
Every day, officials are supposed to report here at 11am. Play starts from noon. Every court has two team leaders of lines umpires who are assigned different courts every day during the championship fortnight and a team of about six lines officials under them. They go on to their assigned courts, brave the heat, balls and some temperamental players, do their job quietly and head back to the Buttery for a short break before they head off for another match. Every lines official is on court for approximately 1 hour, 45 minutes; then a new batch of umpires walks on to the court and takes position.
We were almost done with the strawberries and cream when STL’s friend and lines umpire Shino Tsurubuchi stopped by to say hello. She was the lines umpire at a Serena Williams semi-final match at the US Open in 2009 when Williams threatened to asphyxiate her with a tennis ball for calling a foot fault on her second serve. I recognized her immediately and just asked, “US Open?”—without sounding like an idiot, hopefully. She got it, and nodded several times. She and STL exchanged niceties and the gentle lady that Tsurubuchi is, she even took the empty bowl from us and took it inside. Just a minute with her and you come away impressed with her humility.
I asked STL about Tsurubuchi’s experience after that match. “Very bad,” she responded. It brought Tsurubuchi a lot of publicity, much of it unwarranted. “We folks never like publicity, so we hardly talk to the media. You’ve got to be careful with the media; you never know what they write,” she said, looking at me with a mischievous twinkle in her eye.
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