Tom got Jon and me tickets to Wimbledon today, and after arriving at the All-England Club at 11 am with Tom, I immediately headed to Court 2, where Rafael Nadal was playing Mikhail Youzhny. Apparently Court 2 is known as the Graveyard of Champions because of all the upsets that have happened there, and for the first two sets today, I felt sure I was witnessing another one unfold as Youzhny kicked Nadal’s ass, 6-4, 6-3.
Even though I don’t follow tennis at all, I knew there was something rather odd about a fourth-round game between the Number 2 and Number 14 taking place on Court 2. And I also know I wasn’t the only one who wondered why they weren’t playing on the larger and fancier Court 1 or Centre Court.
The rumor is that the All-England Club didn’t take too kindly to Nadal’s critique yesterday of the Club’s decision not to allow play this past Sunday despite all the rain-caused delays. So I guess if you open your big mouth, you end up playing at the Graveyard.
Well, it turns out Court 2 was no Graveyard today, and in fact, it had a lot going for it. Because it’s so small, every spectator has a great seat (see my photo at the top of this post). Yours truly sat in seat D20, meaning I was four rows back from the court, right behind the press photographers. Brilliant!
From the players’ point of view, you don’t end up with depressing pockets of empty seats caused by, for example, corporate guests who don’t bother showing up or who leave early (although one jackass in my row kept talking into his Blackberry despite the announcement to turn off cell phones – and do you really even need an announcement?).
Everyone in little ol’ Court 2 was excited to be there, and the few seats that opened up during the 3-hour match were immediately filled in under the efficient instructions of the “Volunteer Wardens.”
In any case, I’m no sports writer, so you can read all about the details of the exciting match elsewhere. The summary is that Nadal came blazing back to win the next three sets, which is a testament to both Nadal’s great playing and a sudden drop in Youzhny’s. Apparently, Youzhny’s back pain kicked in after the second set, as his trainers were on the court between games doing to Youzhny what I imagine chiropractors do.
I loved everything about watching the match live – hearing the players’ every word (Nadal favors “si!” when he’s happy with his play), watching their expressions and quirks (yes, Nadal does touch his socks and carefully arrange his water bottles), admiring the precision and obvious training of the judges and ball boys and girls, and getting carried away by the crowd’s excitement.
When the match hit Set 5, the crowd’s mood, always attentive, suddenly turned enthusiastic and loud. Chanting, clapping and hooting replaced genteel clapping. As the British woman next to me said: “It’s like we’ve become an American audience.”
Rain was always a threat during the match, and at one point, everyone put up their umbrellas, anxiously hoping that play would continue. And it did, much to the happiness of everyone, including the players.
After the match, the drizzling started up again, and then it became heavier. There aren’t many places to take cover, but luckily Tom had magically obtained “Press Centre Guest” bracelets for Jon and me, which allowed us to hang out in (you guessed it) the Press Centre.
Although the food was incredibly lousy and expensive at the Press Centre Restaurant, Jon and I whiled away many an hour there, enjoying the views of Henman Hill while hoping the rain would end. We did, after all, obtain “resale” tickets to Centre Court, where Roger Federer had just started his first set against Juan Carlos Ferrero.
I do appreciate how well Wimbledon handles rain, all things considered. The courts are not only covered by plastic tarps, but also the tarps are inflated from beneath so that they take on a rounded shape, which leads water to run down the sides, rather than collect in the middle. Clever, no?
Alas, the rains stuck around, and at 7:30 pm, play was officially ended for the day. Jon and I took one last look around an empty and covered Centre Court (see below), and home we went. I suppose you can’t hope to see both Nadal and Federer on the same day, unless they’re playing each other, that is.