The worst moment for me this Wimbledon was undoubtedly watching Roger Federer lose to Stergiy Stakhovsky on Centre Court. Even in losing, however, Federer played some sublime tennis which is why he is by far the most popular tennis star on the planet. But Wimbledon is about more than one player, where more than anywhere else, popular distractions like drinking Pimms, eating strawberries and cream, a respect for history and traditions play an integral role.
Sport is about the hope of victory, the despair of defeat, the thrill of competition, the demands of physicality, the mental tests and ultimately, the knowledge that this is neither the beginning nor the end. Any sporting tournament can do that, one might argue. But when a tournament represents the pinnacle of sport, it speaks to something deep down within us. The Pimms, the strawberries and cream, the “quiet please”, the purple and green everywhere are vital props in a grand theatre of human endeavour.
The cynics might say that tennis is just about two people hitting a yellow ball. And indeed it is. But the same argument can be used about any sport — 11 flannelled fools, men chasing a ball around a field, women running and jumping and so on. What makes Wimbledon special is the way intense competition takes place in a gracious setting, where dog-eat-dog fights have to end with that most important custom of all — a handshake between rivals at the end. It’s a custom that everyone follows and one that ends a war with a detente that lasts only till the next outing.
For the fan or the curious spectator or the casual visitor, the experience begins at Southfields station, where the majority of people get off to head for “The Championships”. The platform is covered in green felt. It is sponsored by someone — unlike the courts where no advertisements are allowed to destroy a pristine tennis temple — but it still builds the excitement, as do the purple, white and green of the petunias on the lamp posts and street signs. The walk to the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club takes 15 minutes as you pass “The Queue” where people have possibly waited overnight to get an entry to the grounds and “Honorary stewards” guiding you (mainly stopping you from being run over) along the way.
But once you get over the wonder and the awe, it is really all about the tennis. Federer may have lost to Stakhovsky and Stakhovsky may have lost to Melzer and Melzer may have lost to Janowicz and Janowicz may have lost to Andy Murray and that is how Andy Murray reached the final, making it one of sport’s great conundrums about loss and victory and destiny. As with Federer’s exit, the top women players also found themselves defeated by new contenders, old challengers and unexpected victors.
Marion Bartoli and Sabine Lasicki may not have played the most scintillating final but their journey through the tournament added enough drama and comment to last till Bartoli’s triumphant grasp on the Venus Rosewater Dish as a first-time champion. Murray and Novak Djokovic however provided ample heartbreak, apprehension, domination and anticipation in their game. Britain found a new hero in the men’s game and Wimbledon got another new champion.
But at the end, it is still about the tennis fan. The viewer for whom watching the game live, hearing the tennis balls whizz through the air, feeling the tension in the tennis racquet on first contact, wincing as the sun shines in the eyes of your favourite players getting ready to serve, grimacing at the wrong line call and spurring on with all your strength your losing favourite to victory or applauding your winning hero or heroine.
Nothing beats live tennis. And nothing beats Wimbledon. Even when Federer loses. Though of course you do wish you could wake up and realise that was just a nightmare!
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona