You may remember Lautaro Grinspan from the stories he shared with this site about being a ballkid for the Sony Open tournament in Miami, and visiting Roland Garros. Lautaro survived the queuing process at Wimbledon. Here is his story.
To be perfectly, embarrassingly honest, those were the first two words that came to my mind when I read Monday, on the Wimbledon website, an update regarding the queue. As of 11 o’clock in the morning on Sunday, the nagging thing declared, all the spots for show court tickets were taken.
Being in town for Wimbledon (not by mere coincidence, of course), it was always my plan to face down the challenge of queue to land Centre Court tickets (the queue being, of course, a long line one has to wait in to purchase tickets for the day of, a very uncommon feature among major sporting events; Wimbledon allots 500 Centre Courts tickets, along with 500 Court 1, 500 Court 2 and thousands of Ground Pass tickets to queuers daily).
However, in my (as it turns out laughingly optimistic) plan, I thought arriving at Wimbledon Park at around 8:00 p.m. the night before would be sufficient to be among the first 500. Now, it seemed like arriving at that time might not even get me a ticket for any of the show courts, much less for Centre.
In my shock and dismay, I hesitated. Was it really crucial that I go to Wimbledon? Should I really spend thus over half of my short stay in London, instead of thoroughly visiting the British capital? After all, my years of ballboying had already given me the chance to watch practically every player who would be in action. Speaking of, could I really be blamed for getting used to the hardly glamorous but still hassle free way of entrance my ball fetching responsibilities gave me at the Sony Open?
I know it sounds pretty dumb, but the prospect of doing nothing but waiting and sitting around on the ground for countless hours is a dire one.
But if there’s one thing any respectable tennis fan just cannot pass up on is an opportunity to experience Centre Court. And I’m not of the casual variety. Ashamed of my little moment of weakness, I snapped out of it.
I was then a fan on a mission. The goal? Nothing short of Centre Court.
So, the next morning found me on the Tube, Wimbledon-bound. Instead of flipping through the free subway newspaper available in London (which was appreciatively littered with Wimby coverage the days I was there), I conducted a mental rundown of my preparations. A backpack full of food (or, as I labeled it back then, provisions)? Check. A book to get me through the hours (I doubted Wimbledon Park had a Wifi network)? Check. An iPod (in case Wimbledon Park had a Wifi network)? Check. A camera? Tissues? Coats and sweaters? Check, check, check.
Considering I didn’t have a tent but a simple blanket-thing to lay on (this would turn out to be a terrible, stupid, half-suicidal move, but more on that later), I was as ready as I was going to be.
As I, along with fellow Wimbledon-goers, made my way through the quaint, purple and green-laden London neighborhood leading to the Park, I kept trying to pump myself up, to get energized for what was to come (a surely paradoxical but still necessary measure to take when you’re about to do nothing at all for more than a day).
Then I got to the Park, and even my steely, overly determined disposition had to allow for a gasp.
Before me was a field, big and lush in its green, but the place itself was hardly gasp-inducing.
No, what momentarily took my breath away were the thousands upon thousands upon thousands upon a few more thousands individuals who created in their accumulation a sort of huge, snakelike creature that almost filled the field completely.
All of them tennis fans, I thought with proud incredulity.
Before I started freaking out that I had gotten there too late and everything was ruined, an Honorary Steward (very different from a simple, unheralded Steward, mind you) kindly explained that in front of me was the line for today’s matches, and that tomorrow’s line started near one of the edges of the field where a relatively short line of tents had started to form.
As I joined the back of the line and sat on my spread out blanket among the tents, admiring my ability to look like a hobo among campers, a Steward handed me two things: a Queue Code of Conduct (this was Wimbledon, after all, but thankfully I wasn’t in the mood to barbecue) and the fateful Queue Card that would reveal my number in line. I looked at it with relative confidence since it was only 9:00 a.m. The number? 215.
I was in. Centre was within reach. I would have felt triumphant, I wanted to feel triumphant, but there were just too many hours to go for that to happen. I laid back on my blanket, letting the timid English morning sun shine on my face. This is when the fun starts.
“It’s not a teddy bear,” one of my neighbors, a spunky Texan, clad in a RF hat explained, talking about her racquet-wielding, headband-wearing plush bear, “It’s a Feder-bear.”
In preparing myself for the queue, I had read various accounts of it from people on the Internet.
Curiously, most of them praised the social aspect of it, declaring you always meet nice people there. In my experience, the people who make those claims are right, certainly, but also wrong.
The queuers, a mixed group of varying ages and nationalities, are nice people, that’s for sure, but also (and more importantly) they’re all hardcore, avid tennis fans.
Indeed, queuers know their tennis. They’re people you can talk with about matches that took place years ago. They’re people you can talk with about specific shots that players hit during those matches (apparently Federer hit a crazy-good, match-turning forehand in his match against Haas in the 2009 French Open?). They’re people among whom you can have an in-depth discussion about pretty much anything tennis-related. Maybe it was out of amazement, but I even sometimes struggled to keep up.
And I know it wasn’t just my little, impromptu group.
Walking alongside the always growing rows of tents, I could not help but pick up the presence of tennis related words and names in every bit of overheard, fleeting conversation, no matter the language it took place in. Really it seemed like there was just one conversation and that it was about just one topic. Palpable tennis buzz. That’s what it was.
At the queue, I was among strangers. But at the same time I couldn’t think of better company.
We had just finished lamenting Federer’s cruel draw. It seemed like the little group that had formed close to my tents was a mini Roger fan club. After he gave Miami the cold-shoulder this year, I’ll admit I’m no longer the hardcore Fed fan I was before. But I still fit in.
Now, we were regaling each other with stories and anecdotes of our fandom, each trying to marvel, but also subtly issue a challenge to the rest, through illustrations of our, to us unparalleled, love for the sport.
A recently emboldened Belgian woman (compatriot Darcis had just taken out arch-villain Nadal the day before) not only shone in her bright red attire but also proudly bestrode a pair of Federer’s Australian Open pink shoes (a scribble beginning with an “R” on one of them being nothing but the autograph of Fed himself). She and my Texan neighbor knew each other, having met through Federer’s website (because apparently that’s a thing now).
A young Italian expat currently living in London confessed to being moved to tears when he first saw Roger play in person.
A jumpy Japanese woman revealed the impressive repertoire of tournaments she’d been to including, “the World Tour Finals, the Shanghai Masters, the Australian Open and Indian Wells twice.”
Meanwhile, an older British couple fielded our questions about the identity of the funny-sounding food items listed on the menu of the nearby food truck. I now know what a “bacon bab” is.
At around 7:00 p.m., (the passing of every hour was enthusiastically noted, of course) a Steward came along to reveal the next day’s order of play for the Show Courts. Federer was scheduled on Centre. High fives went all-around.
And that’s more or less how the hours went by until the night set in.
If there’s one thing I’d like people to retain from this article, it’s this: at night, in an open field, it gets cold in Britain. Like, tremendously, mind-numbingly so.
So, if you’re planning on queuing for Wimby, bring a tent (or don’t be too proud to accept your new kind friends’ invitation to spend the night inside of theirs). No matter how many sweaters you bring. No matter what time of year it is. No matter how hot and nice the preceding day was.
Just bring some kind of tent. Maybe if I had, I could have slept a few hours instead of TP’ing my feet (to fight the cold) while being reminded of Jack London (London!) novels.
But yeah, you know a night’s been tough when people greet you with cries of, “You survived!” instead of, “Good morning!” the following day.
Luckily, by 4:45 a.m, the sun and most queuers were already out, the latter already putting away their camping stuff. Which I didn’t have to do! Hey, any small victory is a victory after all.
After that, either the hours passed quite quickly, or my memory of the day prioritize the awesome tennis that happened afterward. At 7:45 a.m., once the campers had finished clearing their tents (and once I finished drinking a reviving cup of hot tea), the line advanced towards the tennis site, with Stewards checking our queue cards every so often. Soon, more Stewards approached the beginning of the line clutching three types of bracelets of three different colors, each representing a Show Court. Since I was among the first 500, I got to take my pick.
I was beyond excited. With a colorful plastic bracelet strapped around my wrist, it was all starting to become real.
Soon enough, we formed lines depending on the court we had bracelets for, passed through a security checkpoint, and finally bought our tickets (because yes, we still had to pay after all we had gone through). Once we made our way through the ticket booths, we had to wait until 10:30 in an area right next to Centre, and in front of a giant board displaying the Schedule of Play for the grounds to open.
That was it. Queuing was finally over.
During that short time, my Italian queue buddy told me how his family had said he was crazy when he told them what he intended to do to get Wimby tickets.
“Funny,” I remember replying, “Mine said the exact same thing.”
“I guess everyone here is crazy,” he declared with a laugh.
While that was most certainly true, I kept thinking how, in a sense, all tennis fans, all sports fans really, are crazy in their own right, caring so, so much about certain people and, typically, what they do in some kind of field with some kind of ball.
But if there’s anything I learned while queuing, it’s that there definitely exists a good kind of crazy.
PS: My reward for making it through the Queue? A front row seat to the amazing drama that was the first Wednesday, aka Carnage Day at Wimbledon. I’d say it was well worth it. And just a little bit traumatizing.