I've been to my fair share of remarkable live sporting events. Not one however has prompted the reaction as what I have gotten from attending the 2023 Wimbledon Championship. Without fail, sharing news of my travel to London for the third Grand Slam of the year has been met with of joy and wonder, questions and comments. I had no idea.
Unlike many fans, Wimbledon was not a "bucket list" item for me. I say that, because I don't subscribe to the Bucket List Theory. I didn't tell many people I was going to Wimbledon. For my own reasons, I kept my purple and green cards close to my chest. It's all part of my Wimbledon story, and I've come to believe other people have their own. So let this post serve as just that...and please know, if you have been—I will ask you your Wimbledon story and for those who go in the future, expect the same.
Unhappy Christmas. My 2022 holiday season was devoid of much cheer. In light of that sad state, I decided to plan for something big come summer vacation 2023. I wasn't sure if I had already cashed in those chips with an epic golf trip to Ireland—with 13 other women for two weeks. Given my bout with COVID and paying for 12 rounds of golf, only to play 10, I figured why not give it another go (total first world problem, yes but those rounds were not a) refunded or b) cheap!)
Wimbledon wasn't my first choice in terms of summer travel. I was hoping to get to Roland Garros for the French Open. The timing of the French coincided with some obligations I had at Notre Dame for Reunion weekend. I was hoping to get from Chicago to Paris but things just didn't fall into place. Stade Roland Garros awaits!
But a few weeks later, my former colleague and good friend Bill told me about his summer plans. He was leading a group of Ignatian educators on the Camino de San Ignacio. His wife Mary and son (Mary was also a former colleague and dear friend) were going to meet him in Spain. From there, they decided to visit Paris and London—just in time for the Round of 16 at Wimbledon. Considering that it's better to attend in pairs, I joined to make the odds even.
|At Indian Wells in 2009|
InfoHound. When it comes to attending a live sporting event, I love nothing more than sitting next to someone who thoroughly knows and understands the game. In short, I am a total InfoHound. If you can offer both technical and personal insight, I'm your girl.
Bill and I taught together in the Religious Studies Department at St. Ignatius. He was the girls' and boys' tennis coach, I coached cross country. At the advent of each school year is the US Open. I learned to never indicate who won a match from those late night, under the lights contests in NYC unless he had already seen it. I rarely watch what I tape; Bill is different
BreakPoint. While people have lauded Full Swing, the Netflix series about professional men's golf, BreakPoint seems to have landed differently. In what is now a two part series on professional men's AND women's tennis, I watched the first five episodes with great anticipation. As much as I really struggle with him, I am a bit of a Krygios fan. I love Nadal and Berrettini. I was excited to learn more about Jabeur and Tomljanović—the woman who took down Serena in the 2022 US Open—but a few of the featured profiles on the show.
Truth be told, it turned me off from today's game—big time. Consequently, I was less excited to go to Wimbledon. I found the players to be one dimensional and super selfish. While they noted self-serving tendencies to be a necessary evil, I couldn't get past how this played out in their lives. With the exception of Matteo Berrettini, who comes from a joyful and loving extended family and Ons—whose husband Karim has put his career at a distant second to hers—I started to question how an individual sport like tennis might be worth following.
I wasn't as excited as I should have been for my trip. Thanks* BreakPoint. I mean that. Please note the asterisk.
Metanoia. Prior to my flight to London, I downloaded Season 2 of BreakPoint. I decided that watching the show could serve as preparation for what I would see. These episodes made the travel time fly by (pun intended). I found greater depth in each episode. Each profile offered something more. Those who I deemed shallow were much more complex and interesting. Those I loved, emerged as ever more human. I cannot tell you how many times I referenced what I learned in the color commentary between Bill, Mary, Liam and me in our time together. We are supposed to have a Zoom conference call after they watch the series.
|Ballots 4013-4016! Mary is taking the photo, ballot in hand ;-)|
The Public Ballot, the queue, and the resale line. While many sports enthusiasts equate the likelihood of attending Wimbledon to The Masters—tradition, exclusivity and more— the ticketing system is far, far different. For those who want to go to in the future, let me be very clear: anyone can go to Wimbledon. Anyone.
If you are remotely interested, enter The Wimbledon Public Ballot. This will allow you the chance to purchase tickets at face value. This is an important place to start because there are three ticketed courts at the AELTC: Court One, Two and Centre Court. This ticket guarantees that you get onto the grounds and can view some of the premiere matches. Tickets are not exorbitant in price—just another appealing aspect of Wimbledon.
Even if you don't get tickets early on through the Public Ballot, people post theirs for resale through this system. You will have to check and check often, but Bill secured two tickets on Court One this way. That was HUGE. We took turns in the seats while two others were watching the action on the outer courts.
It's worth noting, the culture of the ballot forbids a gross mark-up or as we say in San Francisco, "dynamic pricing." In recent years, I have been discouraged and disillusioned by the cost of professional sports. While getting to London might not be inexpensive, if you are there, Wimbledon is a price-worthy option.
Because I did not have a ticket from the ballot, I arrived to The Queue with my crew at 6:45 a.m. Sunrise must have been around 6:00 a.m. so it was comfortable and felt safe to take the Tube to South Wimbledon stop, walk 15 minutes and take my queue number. I was 4016. We were able to purchase a grounds ticket at 11:45 for £27. This enabled me to pass through the tennis' heavenly gates. Best $40 US I've spent all summer.
So many Wimbledon attendees have their own queue story—and my sense is though the weather conditions vary, most people have what must be as pleasant an experience as waiting for a ticket can and should be. Bring cards, snacks, a blanket, sunscreen and settle in. This is a hopeful journey—the grass courts of the AELTC await.
And the resale line is magic—truly remarkable. It will open and it will close. I strongly recommend committing to getting into it, because the line DOES move. For £15 you will find yourself on Centre Court.
The Grounds: Alfredo, one of the trainers at my gym, told me about the energy of Wimbledon. It really is something. I would add that the magic and beauty of the grounds surpassed my expectations. Not only were they clean and vibrant, they were characterized by the reality that you might see just about anyone or anything.
Wimbledon is a bee hive. Players have to walk to their courts from the central locker room. You might brush shoulders with a doubles' team that just won their match. I walked right by PGA golfer, Tommy Fleetwood. On Centre Court, I realized within nanoseconds that the very tall, black man in the suit was none other than the musician Seal. The Grounds at Wimbledon make for an interesting chapter in the Wimbledon story.
What's Wrong with you People? It's not surprising to a lot of people, but it was to me. The men and women working at Wimbledon were incredibly polite, accommodating and kind. For example, Centre Court is open for the public to view and take photos until 12:30. Mary and I arrived at 12:27 and were nearly begging to take a moment to behold the sacred ground. The guard and usher said "please come forward. Enjoy. You still have three minutes."
I'm so used to be told "no" and made to feel like my request is a massive imposition or that I am intruding that I had to recalibrate. Part of me wondered, in jest, "What is wrong with you people? You're so civil and accommodating?! And then I realized, treating others as you want to be treated, showing respect, and when people are polite, it's not hard to be polite in return are all much more than skills worth inculcating.
The Fans There should be a joke out there. A Philly fan walked into Wimbledon... punch line please?
Just as the staff was polite, so were the fans....and yet, they were so much more. Although phones are allowed, hardly anyone was on them. In fact, people weren't really talking during the matches. There was no music and very little advertising. The only sounds I heard were from the competition and from the fans as they responded to the match. You wouldn't ask the question: What's wrong with you people? because you can't answer it. The men, women and children in the seats are excellent fans. They clap and watch the match. I think of some of the foul language and lewd terms I've learned at professional sporting events—but not Wimbledon.
One of the more interesting attribute of fandom at Wimbledon however is that they will turn on a player. One person emerges as a crowd favorite. However, as one athlete is pulling away toward victory, the crowd will start cheering—not against that player—but for the other. Why? The crowd wants more tennis. To hear the words "Game. Set. Match" is to know the contest will end. As they say in England, "brilliant."
|Mary took this shot from our seats on the Centre Court.|
Centre Court: Intimate, striking and hallowed. In this space, it's hard not to understand you are somewhere very special. The Royal Box is up close, front and personal; its presence only adds to the allure (though I find it justifiable to be critical of it! AND to realize we have our own versions of them in the US).
The only reason I got onto this court is because of Liam. He noticed the the resale line really was moving; he knew we had a chance. I give this 13 year old young man all the credit and props. His vision and desire made all the difference. Thanks, Liam!!
In Conclusion: Going to a place as special at Wimbledon prompts hundreds of emotions—joy, gratitude, awe and inspiration. I couldn't help but wish my parents were there with me or think about taking my nieces in the future. I recalled past championships—the dreams deferred and those that have been denied. I considered how amazing it would have been to see Venus and Serena win a title on a Saturday and return on Sunday for the Double's trophy. I hope to return and I think I will. I don't always feel that way after a great sports event. Yes, this was more than sufficient but the beauty of the grounds, the spirit of competition, the shared experience with a family—my friends, the unique flavor of each year makes for a new Wimbledon story. Consider writing your own...
Seal in the stands