Laura Winter pays her first visit to Wimbledon for The Championships, and it leaves her a little overawed and breathless. It is one sporting event that lives up to the hype
At a time when our nation has never felt more divided, nor in such political turmoil, sport and the very Britishness of Wimbledon is a soothing antidote and galvanising force for good.
It is Britain as we would like to be seen by the rest of the world. A Britain in all its pomp and glory and with all our eccentricities out on show. We are a funny lot. Where else would you find someone employed to pick the dead flowers out of the pristine and colour-coordinated flowerbeds? No stone is left unturned, no piece of litter left to flutter around.
Inside the gates of SW19, there are the etiquette and quintessentially British traditions and customs that everyone adheres to so strictly. The respectful applause, the immediate hush as play is called, and the muted gasps and groans as the players toil on the perfect courts.
And what players. The power and strength of the players is best seen in person; only so much can be conveyed on television. The women are truly phenomenal athletes and the athleticism is genuinely beautiful to watch. Not only do you hear the grunts of effort as they strike the ball, but you can also pick out the players gasping for breath during hard-fought points, the scurry of feet on grass, and every word, every shout, every exclamation uttered.
Then there is the Britishness of the crowd. It was all there on the first day of this year’s Championships: the tittering at an exuberant line-umpire who quite fiercely shouted FAULT during the opening set of Sam Stosur’s victory over Magda Linette;
The polite applause and laughter as high-spirited Aussies break into passionate song before Stosur’s match began;
The cries of “cheers”, as somewhere in the distance a Champagne cork is popped;
The support for an underdog, like Donna Vekic, 112 in the world, who took on five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams and fought for every point;
And what about British number 23 and world number 772 Marcus Willis, who had the time of his life beating world number 54 Ricardis Berankis on court 17 in front of a brilliantly bonkers British crowd? A date with Roger Federer now awaits.
The players also get caught up in a tournament like no other, too. Double Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova said: “This is something really special. If you ask any other tennis player what they want to win, they always say Wimbledon. It was the same with me when I was a kid. Wimbledon for me is just such a historic place. You just feel it from the moment you get here. It’s just great feelings.”
And former world number one Venus Williams said: “I remember my first year. I was just so nervous. There’s nothing like the first time here.”
And Britain’s man of the moment admitted: “It’s gotten a little bit out of hand. I’m enjoying it. Yeah, keep it rolling. It’s an amazing dream come true. I’ll get to play on a stadium court against Federer. This is what I dreamt of when I was younger. I’m going to go out there and try to win the tennis match. I probably won’t. I might not. But I’m going to give it everything.” And how British is that?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Winter is a sports journalist, presenter and event host. She worked in sports communications for the International Rowing Federation for two years, before working and training as a journalist in Gloucestershire, covering a variety of sports including rugby, boxing, football, and triathlon. She then turned freelance at the end of 2014 and is part of the team who founded Voxwomen, a women’s cycling show that seeks to give the female elite peloton the coverage they deserve. Laura’s latest articles.