Hi all. Judging by yesterday's crowded comments section, I might be the only TWibe member who managed to miss a large part of yesterday's men's final, including the epic fifth set, even though I was at the AELTC yesterday. Unlike last year I didn't have a ticket for Centre Court, so went in with a grounds pass. The idea wasn't so much to watch the match from start to finish as to wander round with a camera and take in the whole experience; it's the only day this year that I've visited the tournament, and I have missed being there.
So, I have a small gallery of pictures for you, taken yesterday. I started out on Henman Hill, or Aorangi Terrace as it's more formally known (I do wish the AELTC would change the signs directing visitors there - it would be a lot less confusing). It's hard to convey a sense of the crowd there photographically, because it takes in such a wide sweep. The big screen, which is on one side of Court 1, is visible from all the way up the hill, so the entire grassy space is packed right up to the path at its top, and as far to the sides as people can go while still being able to glimpse the screen. Yesterday it was hot and noisy, and I found it hard to find a comfortable space there. The best way to is to arrive early.
The only courts open to grounds pass holders yesterday were Courts 3 and 4. Court 3 is what used to be Court 2, the graveyard court. It's right beside Centre Court, and the stands there are high enough to give any visitor a broad view of the grounds and the trees that surround them, as well as a distant view of the City of London. I spent some time in the free-standing space at the top of the court, watching a senior men's doubles match. It was hard not to be distracted by the scoreboard on the side of Centre Court above us, though; it may have been surrounded by ivy, but the tension is no different to when you're scoreboard-watching via the web. One thing I noticed yesterday, with the grounds in general quieter than usual, is how muted the crowd noises coming from Centre Court seem, even when you're right outside it. You can soon tune into the sounds, though, even without watching the board - they're quite different after an ace than they would be following a 25-shot rally that ends with a screaming winner. The applause is louder when a player goes up a couple of points against the server, and almost like an afterthought when a big serve or two wipes out the advantage. It was hard to tell exactly, but from the noises emerging, the two players seemed to have fairly even support on Centre Court yesterday. Even the doubles match I was watching was briefly interrupted when Roddick broke to take the first set. Wimbledon audiences are generally very supportive of an underdog who puts up a strong fight.
Perhaps anyone not arriving when the gates first open to bag a prime seat on the Hill is better off heading for the new Court 2, which I visited while the notorious second-set tiebreak and most of the third set was going on. It's a little odd to see a show court with an audience but no tennis. The Club had arranged to have TV pictures shown on the two screens that are already there. The screens aren't as big as the one on Henman Hill, but anyone tempted to try it next year will get the BBC commentary and a proper seat. The atmosphere doesn't compare to that on the Hill, and I found viewing a little hard on the eyes in the bright sun, but it's a civilised new alternative viewing space, first rolled out during some of Murray's matches earlier in the fortnight. I also like the look of the new court - a proper small stadium, slightly sunken, surrounded by spectators on all sides.
Eventually I wandered back to Court 3, to watch the boys' doubles final. I don't see junior tennis very often, but actually, apart from the obvious difference in power and the physiques of the participants, not much was different. Fist pumps and self-exhortations in abundance, and two extensive injury timeouts. There were about a hundred spectators for what proved to be a very hard-fought match that went to 12-10 in the third set, but I didn't see the ending, because by this stage the match on Centre Court was well into the fifth set. I'd got trapped on Court 3 during an interminable game of many deuces, itching to escape, while games on Centre Court were flashing past on the scoreboard above me. I finally was able to exit when the score was at 13-12, and stroll over to the entrance to the Club.
I knew that this is where where the eventual Champion would do a photo--call after the final was over. At this stage there were only about half a dozen people waiting there, in prime position to take pictures of whoever it would be. So as the scoreboard moved on, I waited. Very soon after the match was over, hordes of other people turned up, also for the photo-call, packed like sardines deep behind me and to each side. Every time someone walked out of the entrance to the Club, he or she was greeted with raucous cheers. Most people either ignored it or smiled and waved - one poor young woman was so flustered that she turned right around and ran back into the Club. Eventually the Champion appeared with the Challenge Cup, beaming and waving as hundreds of camera flashes went off.
After he'd gone, many people asked whether Roddick would also be coming out, but one of the uniformed staff members at the door said no. Then the cry went up for Pete Sampras to come out. Amazingly, one of those smiling men in uniform disappeared inside to "have a word" and returned to say that Sampras was on his way - he stepped out for just a few seconds to wave before disappearing again.
So, I missed much of the match, but got those pictures all the same, for those of you who are still celebrating today.