THE last point has been won and the light is fading. It’s time to take my leave of Wimbledon 2006.
Before the men’s final, the band on Centre Court played Is This The Way To Amarillo? What followed turned out to be the route to Roger Federer’s fourth consecutive SW19 win.
With every inch of the arena packed, I watched the match from a commentary box directly opposite the umpire’s chair, along with some of the Spanish press who had flown in en masse to witness Rafael Nadal’s bid to overthrow the champion.
Their man sprinted on to court like a boxer, but was soon floored by Federer’s punch. “Heez not taking ‘is chances. Eee will lose,” was the gloomy early verdict in the box on the Spaniard’s performance.
It was a little premature, but ultimately correct. A small dust storm whipped across the baseline as Federer dropped his first set of the Championship. But within 35 minutes crowd favourite Nadal’s revival was blown out and the Swiss ace had his cream jacket on awaiting the trophy presentation.
Nadal earned a round of applause when he walked into the post final press conference this evening but could not hide his disappointment. What was he thinking after losing the first set 6-0? “I was thinking – win one game,” he smiled.
Federer was still wearing that jacket as he spoke to us. He’s going to donate it to the Wimbledon Museum, but first it was going with him to tonight’s Champions’ Ball at The Savoy Hotel.
I feel a certain empathy with Cinderella at this point, but there are no complaints. When I started this blog 15 long days ago, I described it as a two week adventure. It’s been that and far more. The world’s greatest tennis tournament has provided the experience of a lifetime.
My first memory of Wimbledon is as a young boy, watching players like Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall and Billie Jean King on my parents’ flickering black and white TV.
London seemed a very long way away, as did the the black and white courts of SW19. Many years later I walked through the gates of the All England Club for the very first time, climbed a staircase and found myself staring at Centre Court.
Most people’s first impressions are the same – of how small it seems compared to the TV coverage. It is, of course, the same size tennis court as the one in the local park, but set in one of the world’s most intimate sporting arenas. No wonder they call it the cathedral of tennis.
For years I’ve been coming – and queueing – for yet more glimpses of the sights and sounds of Wimbledon, now in full colour. I’m even lucky enough in the winter to play on the All England Club indoor courts, just across the road from Centre Court.
But to see the championships from the inside has been a real privilege. Old hands here know how hard it is to leave after such a magical fortnight. They linger for one last look at Centre Court, scene of Agassi’s farwell, Mauresmo’s magic and Federer’s awesome tennis.
I’ll remember the people, the sights, the sounds, the queues, the passion, the losers, the winners and, yes, those 5pm lunches of strawberries and cream in the press restaurant.
It’s not all been about the main singles championships. There have been great doubles matches and the charm and laughter of other competitions, including Henri Leconte and Goran Ivanisivec’s campaign in The 35s and Over Gentlemen’s Invitation Doubles. On evenings when the clock crept towards 9pm, they sparked plenty of laughter – swapping places with a ball girl and line umpire, who managed a very decent rally…just one of many on court jokes.
The invitation doubles give fans another chance to see famous names from the past – the likes of Cedric Pioline, Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde, Ilie Nastase, Stan Smith, Tracy Austin, Jana Novotna, Jo Durie and Helena Sukova.
There are countless other highlights, including sharing the next door locker to American sports writer and broadcasting legend Bud Collins, who came dressed in a different colourful outfit every single day. Today his trousers were mainly featuring large strawberries. Sitting just across the way from me, his desk was a shrine to visitors from all over the world, all delighted to pay homage to Bud.
If you’ve read the entire blog, you’ll know that SW19 is very fond of its statistics. So here are a few from the last 15 days of Wylie’s Wimbledon: I’ve walked along Wimbledon Park Road – the route to the grounds from Southfields tube station – a total of 29 times…OK, I confess, once I was so tired I had to get one of the shuttle taxis. I’ve worked, on average, a 14-hour day, which over the last fortnight makes a total of 210 hours – and I wouldn’t swap a single second of it.
Now I’m about to pack up my laptop, clear my locker and gather my belongings for one last walk to the station. I’ll leave the All England Club with two bags crammed full of memories, though not, you’ll be glad to know, any stolen towels.
Many of those memories are contained in the 29 posts on this blog. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them. Perhaps, in the cold depths of winter, you may even sneak back for a warming reminder of two weeks in a British strawberries and cream summer.
The 2007 Championships begin on Monday June 25th. My parting shot is the same as Roger Federer’s at tonight’s press conference: “I’m looking forward to next year.” Shall we make it a date?
Wylie’s Wimbledon Photos
Official Wimbledon site