Monday, July 13, 2015

Tennis is life, at least at Wimbledon

                Do you know where you were on July 11, 2015? It may not seem like an important date to many people, but for this woman it was by far one of the greatest days of my life. 
                When I was accepted into the Columbia College Study Abroad program for the 3 week session in Oxford, England I was beside myself with joy for many reasons.  One of those reasons was the possible opportunity to attend the Wimbledon championships.  I have adored the sport of tennis since I started playing my freshman year of high school.  I have followed various athletes and really disliked others.  One of my life goals is to attend all four grand slam tournaments.  For those of you who do not follow tennis, the four grand slam tournaments are the Australian Open (February), Roland Garros/French Open (June), Wimbledon (Late June & Early July), and the U.S. Open (Late August/Early September).  It felt like a pipe dream, as life was not being very conducive to the travel required to achieve that dream.
                On July 11, 2015, I was able to check attending Wimbledon off that list.  A fellow classmate that also enjoys tennis accompanied me to the All England Lawn Tennis Club where Wimbledon takes place.  We were given directions by both a member of the staff at the OSAP (Oxford Study Abroad Program) office and a very helpful gentleman at the train station.  With their help we were able to navigate the Underground system in London (which is no easy feat when you look at a map of the Tube system) and we arrived safely in Wimbledon.  We trekked down the street toward the grounds, just to catch a glimpse of the grounds.  We figured there would be no queue (line in England) for grounds tickets and had resigned ourselves to sitting in a pub to watch the women’s final match.  The first security guard we spoke to assured us there was no queue for grounds tickets but advised us to continue toward the grounds to experience Wimbledon Village.  We followed his suggestion and continued down the street.  We came upon another security guard about a block or two away that asked us if we wanted to join the queue. We were beside ourselves! We had just been told there was no queue. We gladly followed his direction toward the grounds.  We received queue tickets that state there is no guarantee we will be able to get on the grounds and we passed through security where I had a pleasant conversation with the gentleman searching my bag about selfie sticks (they are all over the place here, but banned in Wimbledon).  We briskly walked the designated path to the grounds and for £15 ($23) we were able to access the grounds at Wimbledon! We were one step closer to fulfilling a dream.
                Upon entering the grounds at Wimbledon you are exposed to a wide variety of individuals.  Some have dressed very casually for their day of sun and tennis, others look as if they are going to church right after watching a match.  There were hats galore, though few baseball caps as they are frowned upon in England.  We walked around in a daze for a few minutes as we couldn’t believe we had made it onto the grounds.  Now, being on the grounds does not mean you will get to see a match in person, but there is a grass covered hill on the grounds that you can access with your grounds ticket.  This hill faces a jumbo-ton type screen where you can watch the matches in real-time.  My classmate and I decided to visit the souvenir shop first. I think we were still in a bit of disbelieve of our luck being on the grounds.  Anyway, we found some souvenirs for ourselves and a few others we know that appreciate tennis as much as we do.  After shopping I had her take my picture in front of the men’s draw board showing the progress of the tournament so far.  I had hoped the women’s draw would be included in the picture, but it’s okay that it wasn’t, I prefer watching men’s tennis more.
             After the brief photo opportunity we wandered around the grounds.  There are practice courts that are available for the public to see.  One of the men’s double teams was practicing, so we watched for a few minutes.  A little bit after walking away we noticed there was a crowd gathering at the intersection of the walkway by a practice court.  We decided to be nosy Americans and check it out.  Being such a short person, seeing things over a crowd is very difficult, however I was able to see what the crowd was about when there was a brief parting of some of the crowd.  Novak Djokovic was practicing! I almost lost my cool! I was so excited! We took quick pictures and moved along so others could see him practice also.  

             We made our way to the lawn and found there was a section of bleachers at the top of the hill.  We quickly procured some seats (with backs) and prepared to watch the women’s final between Serena Williams and Garbine Muguruza.  It was a great match! As tennis players both my classmate and I were critiquing the players in regard to both good and bad points.  When the crowd applauded, we were part of that.  When the crowd sighed or ohhed or ahhed, we were part of that.  
               It was great to be part of such a momentous day!  Serena won, making this her 6th Wimbledon championship, but Garbine put up one heck of a fight!  We prepared to exit the facilities only to discover that the winner of the final is expected to come out on the balcony at the Club and show their trophy to the crowd.  We patiently waited in the crowd for Serena to make her appearance.
                While we were waiting a lady slightly behind us on our left talked about wanting to see Drake, the singer who is currently in a relationship with Serena and there to support her bid at Wimbledon.  She went on about wanting to see him as opposed to seeing Serena for 3-5 minutes.  It was interesting hearing an English woman be so open about her feelings toward Drake.  She got her wish, Drake walked right in front of her.  She was able to reach out and touch him.  He touched her upper arm and said something along the lines of “Sorry, baby,” like it was his fault she touched him. He was about two feet behind me and had no security detail with him, like you would see in America. 
                Not too long after the Drake encounter, Serena walked out on the balcony and showed her trophy to the crowd. It was so cool to be a part of the crowd.  There is even a picture of her with her back to the crowd holding the trophy. I’m a part of that crowd! You can’t really see me, but I’m there.  After she exited the balcony, we decided it was time to leave the All England Lawn Tennis Club and head back to Oxford.  We navigated the Underground again, took some pictures in Paddington Station and headed for our train.
                As I told my husband and many friends, with the exception of the day I married him, gave birth to our son, and purchased our home, this was one of the best days of my life.  I do not think it will be topped anytime soon.  It’s two days later and it still doesn’t seem real!
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