SMITH COLUMN: Memories of Wimbledon
Published 10:30 am Friday, July 14, 2023
With the Wimbledon finals coming up this weekend, I will be watching and not just the tennis — but also the grounds, the faces in the crowds, the television coverage of the off-the-beaten-path profiles and the behind-the-scenes vignettes that reflect the attachment and lore of the championship.
I saw recently that a writer with Sports Illustrated suggested that today’s high-tech racquets have “killed” the grass game, that the era of the wooden racquet was better for competition on grass. I can hear the loyalists laughing with enduring contempt.
On previous trips to Wimbledon, I found no fault with the village and the tournament. I like it that tradition is honored, like all white dress for the competitors. Wimbledon’s cucumber sandwiches and strawberries and ice cream are a staple of emotional fulfillment.
I like it that the grounds are mesmerizing. Just walk around and drink in the atmosphere, hoping that the rain does not spoil an unforgettable experience. I love the accents and not just that of the Brits. Wimbledon has the greatest of international flavors which make you wonder why the politicians can’t do as competitors seem to do. Compete doggedly but never draw swords.
All sporting events showcase something unique which adds to the allure that characterizes them. For example, it is the roar of the engines at Indianapolis which distinguishes the Indy 500 from all other sports. You could say the same thing about the Daytona 500.
The anticipation of kickoff of the Super Bowl is spine-tingling. That anticipation, that fever pitch, is there for a kickoff for a college rivalry game and games like the Rose Bowl. The cheering is often non-stop at an NCAA basketball Final Four. It can be deafening. Games are played indoors with fewer spectators, however, but it is a major spectacle which can give you an earache.
The World Series has abundant and raucous cheering, great anticipation but a measured calm seems to come about as things settle down after first pitch. Sports atmospheres range from pomp and circumstance to raw bluster and relentless force with the great championships across the landscape.
Not sure what the take from others would be, but I believe that the three classiest sporting events are the Masters, the Kentucky Derby and Wimbledon. I’ve never been to Ascot.
All three of the aforementioned reeks of fashion and are entrenched with tradition. It is difficult to start a golf tournament with a bang, which is also the case with Wimbledon. (However, when the Derby’s well documented anthem — My Old Kentucky Home — precedes the running of the most famous of horse races, warm feelings wash over everything and everybody at Churchill Downs. That is a very emotional and signature moment, unmatched in sport.)
Being in London in July is a highlight just as Paris is in spring. You don’t find signature restaurants as you do in the “City of Lights,” but pub life in the city of “Big Ben,” is certainly not a bad life.
You can stay in a hotel in London, the most expensive or something modest and becoming, and then grab a train or the tube to Wimbledon. My first trip I remember boarding a train at Bayswater station to Putney Bridge and then a double-decker bus to Wimbledon village.
It was nice bumping into old friends from the U. S. at the Press Centre including Edwin Pope, an Athens native, who was the sports columnist for the Miami Herald and, of course, Furman Bisher of the Atlanta Journal.
It was Bisher who introduced me to a local lady, Elizabeth Robins, who rented rooms, a bed and breakfast arrangement, to sportswriters. It was cheaper than any lodging facility and much more convenient.
I had brought over from France a couple of bottles of duty-free wine which I shared with Elizabeth and her college-age daughter. They introduced me to their neighbors and booked dinner at a couple of neighborhood restaurants. Nothing like being immersed into a comingling of curious visitors and the local gentry.
The competition at a Grand Slam tennis event is as good as it gets and the politeness of the spectators leaves you with a sense of gratitude that, John McEnroe’s behavior notwithstanding, manners are respected and expected at one of the world’s great sports events.
Wimbledon is where they still refer to the competitors as ladies and gentlemen. Wimbledon, the village, offers browsing at its best. Wimbledon Common is one of the largest areas of common land in London. Men often wear coats and ties to the matches. And, the “Bobbies,” the police, walk around unarmed.