Second-degree burns, a dangerous sleeping bag and a great line up: A Day at the Championships

The long queue waiting to buy tickets for the tennis
From: telegraph.co.uk

It seems only right that an excursion to the most famous British sporting tournament should be defined by the activity we perform best: standing in line, for hours on end. The Championships at Wimbledon annually produce a meticulous thirty-page "Guide to Queuing” as thousands of non-ticketed spectators flock to South London to seize any remaining passes to view the tennis stars. Everyone is granted a precise queue number while All England Club officials scrupulously monitor everything from tent size to selfie sticks. These things are to be taken seriously.

For the diehard fans, camping in Wimbledon Park for a place in the top 500 spots - guaranteed for Centre Court - can start as much as three days in advance. For a healthy £62, even Court Two tickets (for queue positions 1000 to 1500) required arrival 24 hours before start of play on Saturday. Clearly, my keen tennis associate Cameron and I had seriously underestimated how long Brits are willing to wait. Arriving at 8:30 on Friday evening, we were positioned as low as #2125, enough for a mere Ground Pass.

That’s not to say that we were disappointed with access to 16 out of 19 available courts of tantalising third round play. The quality of tennis and company rectified a few hours of interrupted sleep before being woken at dawn. Row K6 held its fair share of characters.

There was the insufferable American who, camping until Monday for Centre Court tickets, felt entitled to the role of Queue Marshal and chief tent placement instructor. I hope he was rained off. There was the friendly Kazakh, somewhat miffed to have travelled 3,000 miles only to miss out on his hero Djokovic. We talked about university and his home country, carefully avoiding mention of Borat. Then came our favourite Northern Irish “Honorary Steward” (what creates the honour appears to be a conspicuous armband, supreme confidence and greying hair), whose commitment to maintaining order sustained her from the makeshift campsite at 8am to Court 12 at 7pm, notwithstanding temperatures of 28 Celsius.

So, the 5:30am wake-up call, mediated by breakfast bagels and small talk about phone chargers, led us into five hours of slow movement towards the All England Lawn Tennis Club. Thus began The Queue at its finest, watered with free Robinsons squash and coffee, while supposedly entertained by “Wimbledon Radio” interviews and talentless spectators engaging in a mini tennis run-around. In Cameron’s case, the trauma of G4S confiscating his sleeping bag at security ended an otherwise pain-free experience.

£25 later at 10:30am, we were in. First stop: another queue, in the vain hope of collecting some famous faces to maximise Facebook profile picture likes. Discouragingly, the only player throwing any shapes on the practice courts was French #7 Adrian Mannarino, not the most recognisable of names (that is, until later that day). The detour cost us Court Three seats for Grigor Dimitrov, but no matter: women’s number eight Svetlana Kuznetsova, Mannarino himself, and showman Gael Monfils would be playing on Court 12. Rediscovering Northern Irish Steward in uncompromising mode, thence we were swiftly marshalled to set up for the day. Immediately more talent-spotting began; who would appear from the hospitality marquee but ultimate tennis mum and Strictly Come Dancing sensation, Judy Murray, OBE. Sadly, Cameron’s faulty camera only depicts her head, which on close inspection might be mistaken for an oversized scone. Anyway – let us get to the tennis.

Kuznetsova, discovering some of her best grass court form, eviscerated Slovenian qualifier Polona Hercog in the first match on Twelve. After a competitive exchange to 4-4 in the first set, the Russian fired off eight straight games to seal the encounter, dispersed with some opportunistic grunting. Contemplating the gamesmanship of a noise clearly not provoked by exertion, I was interrupted by successive concerned crowd members directing me to apply some sunscreen to my rapidly reddening neck. Stubbornly, I ignored their advice and continue to reap the consequences five days later.

Next up: Monfils versus Mannarino, a match which the former, higher-ranked Frenchman should have won easily on paper. The first set was a frustrating affair with Monfils producing little of his characteristic flair and lumbering, Andy Murray-esque, as if injured between points. Mannarino was solid, winning the tiebreak, and looked a likely victor in the second set. Nonetheless, an outrageous 360-degree spin into forehand winner seemed to fire up the world #14; he finally looked ready to win, and with the score line at 6-7, 6-4, 7-5 in Monfils’ favour, I decided it might be time to swap to the potentially enticing encounter between Tomas Berdych and David Ferrer on Court Three. An hour later, Mannarino had reversed his fortunes to win, while we’d spent yet more time waiting in line for a straight-sets Berdych rout. Such is the unpredictability of sport! Again, the unorthodox Monfils had fallen at the third round of Wimbledon – perhaps the greatest underachiever in men’s tennis? Meanwhile, it was a great shame to see the formerly tireless retriever, 35-year-old Ferrer, inevitably declining in the late stages of his career.

Still, an intriguing contest was unfolding on the screens over Henman Hill/ Murray Mound[1] between Novak Djokovic and the temperamental Latvian Ernests Gulbis. Our hopes for an upset rose with an early break against Djokovic, but Gulbis gradually double-faulted his way to defeat as interest turned back to Court 12 and the defending mixed doubles champions, Henri Kontinen and Heather Watson.

Watson surprised Brits with her semi-final run in the Eastbourne warm-up to Wimbledon, and was only narrowly defeated by a resurgent Victoria Azarenka in the third round of the tournament proper. In the doubles, she and Kontinen appeared sharp and positive in comparison to an impotent opposing team, Qureshi and Groenefeld, whose most noteworthy shot was that which sailed into the palms of the spectator in front of me. It was my first, fleeting chance for exposure on national television. Winning 6-1, 6-3, I hope Watson can take her doubles expertise to apply more rigorously to her patchy singles game, which can excite so much.

A day of outstanding sport was capped with a near-faultless exhibition (just seven unforced errors, to be precise) from seven-time Wimbledon champion, Roger Federer. The thrill of a tenacious contest is rarely a goal for Federer fans; just witnessing his virtuoso power and style underpins the pleasure as the 35-year-old continues to brush aside challenging opponents - serve-and-volley specialist Mischa Zverev on Saturday. With the rest of the “Big Four” now out of the tournament, it is Federer’s 19th Grand Slam to lose. I wonder if a greater goal yet – namely, Year End Number One - lies within his sights?

As Federer ploughed ahead via big screen, Cameron and I began the trip back to Left Luggage reflecting on a memorable 24 hours of exhibition. And then there was the tennis. Perhaps we’ll master our arrival to “The Queue” – notwithstanding irksome Americans and the District Line - and make this a yearly tradition? A ground pass could be even better earlier in the week, as bigger names are required to populate non-ticketed courts. Regardless, one can always guarantee upsets, turning points, sunburn, world-class talent, and history made at Wimbledon, all for £25. Not bad for the greatest sporting tournament there is.

[1] Considering her breakthrough, perhaps Konta Cape? Trademark me for that one.