IT’S day 15 of Wylie’s Wimbledon and almost time to say farewell to SW19.
First, there’s the little matter of today’s men’s singles final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. It’s currently cool, cloudy and blustery but the temperature should be red hot on Centre Court this afternoon.
The Spanish and Swiss media have invaded the press centre and were still in animated discussion about “Rafa’s” chances when I left here last night. Nadal leads 6-1 in their head to heads, including victory in last month’s French Open Final on clay.
Defending Wimbledon champion Federer is going for a fourth consecutive title. He is the King of the Grass, but Rafa has finally conquered the surface and is being tipped to run the Swiss ace close, possibly over five sets. There may be a World Cup Final on tonight, but this is a very big story for the 700 international journalists here.
Nadal’s pre-final press conference yesterday attracted another big crowd of reporters. One asked if he intimidated his rival and had the “evil eye” over the World No 1. After his translator had told him exactly what the phrase meant, the 20-year-old laughed and joked about pushing Federer around in the locker room before they went on court.
He also spoke about comparisons with his football star uncle Miguel Angel Nadal, who played in three World Cups for Spain and won five Spanish league titles and the Champions League with Barcelona. Rafa listed his uncle’s achievements, then smiled: “But he was not the No 2 in the world, no?”
As we near the end of the 2006 Championships, everyone working at Wimbledon is tired. It’s a gruelling fortnight with very early starts and late finishes.
This morning I struck up conversation with one of the honorary stewards, many of them retired, who volunteer each year and help out in all sorts of areas. He’d been here since 6am and had a long day ahead.
He admitted that fatigue had set in. “I’ve been doing this for the last eight years, and each year it gets a little harder because you’re 12 months older. But it’s lovely to come back again each summer.”
There are signs everywhere of Wimbledon winding down, including no hot food in the press restaurant after 5.30pm today. The young girl from Liverpool on the till this morning is almost a quarter of the age of the honorary steward but is equally exhausted. “I’m shattered,” she smiled. “I can’t wait to go home.”