The protagonist of our story, Mr. Wimby is a fan of Wimbledon. Its been ages (atleast his age) that he has followed Wimbledon. Be it watching Boris becker making delightful volleys, Be it Goran climbing up to his father upon making it finally to where he belonged, Be it staying up late hoping that the stupid television channel realises that paes is playing on court 10 - please switch to it, Be it hoping Nirupama vaidyanathan becomes first indian woman to make it to round 2.
Wimby is no novice at the art of crashing in early at wimbledon to get ground entry on the day. But this time, there is more in store.
Sunday, June 29 (6.30 pm): Wimby is languishing in his room at southampton. The distance to Wimbledon has gone up from last year (when he was based in london) but perhaps the urge is commensurate. An idea is seeded. A quick check with BBC weather and the idea takes root. A sunny Monday and Roger Federer on centre court. Sounds like an invitation to Wimby's ears. Just as a fail-safe check, destiny has more to offer - Roger is playing hewitt, theres leander and sania playing on outside courts. And most importantly, theres been just enough progress on work front to face his boss on tuesday and say - "I have been to Wimbledon yesterday !".
So out goes Wimby on another of his favourite train journeys. And before he realises it, he finds himself at Wimbledon park tube station. Its 10 pm now and the streets are deserted. Wimby has no clue to where the overnight queue starts, save what "google god" showed him on their map. But before long he finds his way to the secluded Wimbledon park. Its dark by now and there are a couple of people in sight walking with tents and stuff. Seems like the right scent to follow. Indeed Wimby's stealthy chase leads him to the overnight queue.
Theres a surprise in store now. A "queue card" is placed in his hand and the steward cheerfuly tells him - "you are only 979 in the queue". "What, there are 978 people more stupid than me, cant believe it", says Wimby, almost aloud. The dreams of watching Federer have melted in a flash and the reality of getting to see "Nadal" is sinking in. But there are more exigent matters to attend to - primarily getting some sleep, sans a tent. wimby is carrying only a sleeping bag with him, and soon becomes the cynosure of his fellow queuers. Comments like "You are brave", "I think you will die tonight" are making the rounds. But that does not deter Wimby. Its not a bad night after all - the sky is clear and the big dipper is in place. From his sleeping bag, he spots a shooting star zooming by, and makes a quick wish for sound sleep.
Granted - its 5 am and the stewards come to wake people up. By the way, the stewards are all 60+ veterans - many a queue, and perhaps many a match old i guess. Theres excellent "early-morning" facilities, to let you feel at home - atleast the important ones. Its time for a hot coffee and anticipation of the day to come. Sleeping bag is disposed off to the "left-luggage" counter, further lightening up wimby.
And he finds good companions to while away his time. 2 Teachers - a girl from south africa and a guy from canada are flanking him in the queue. Inevitably talk zeroes down to teaching standards - and what do children in primary schools need and what not. Interspersed with an invitation for Wimby to watch cricket at durban - not bad.
Wimby notices people turning up at around 7 am and thoughts go back to last year. He sees himself among the hopeful "early-birds", tch tch, little do they know the difference between a "show-court" and "fooling around on outside courts". As wimby will soon find out.
The queue appears to move much faster this year. And this year, theres an exhibition on the way - caricatures of past champions. so while Nadal and safin are on the mind, theres Bjorn, Jimmy, Boris, Goran, John, Michael for the eyes.
After the routine security, ticket turnstiles, wimbledon shop, its time to recharge batteries. Not the least for the mobile phone. Soon wimby finds out that though he is carrying a charger, the authorities of such a mammoth event, havent thought of putting up plug-points for the public. But help is nearer than expected. The newsagent next to Wimbledon shop is a gem of a person and without second thoughts makes place for wimbys mobile to be charged up. From the look of it, a couple of lights in the shop have been sacrificed. Meanwhile Wimby charges himself up at Food Village around the corner. A 40-min charge and Wimby's phone is ready for collection. A parting question to wimby - "where 're you from". "Pune", wimby replies and pat comes the first genuine smile - "me from chennai", says the newsagent. "Vanakkam" says wimby and a circle is completed somewhere.
First its leander on court 5. A few glimpses of "the volleys" themselves, but overall its a struggle to win the first set 7-6. Cant help but notice - Dlouhy, leanders fellow, is such a talkative person, the chair-umpire is a light-hearted person, the ball boys/girls are so disciplined.
But theres no time to get carried away by paes. The show-court, "Court 1" beckons.
A step into court 1 - and the realisation dawns on wimby - "this is perhaps, after all, what Wimbledon is all about". Nicole (Vaidisova) and Anna (Chakvetadze) are out practising on the court. The images of the crowd on the far side, the chair-umpire and the players seats, the score-board in the corner. The camera on wimbys mobile is working overtime. Anna, though enjoying wimbys support (for her tennis, wimby keeps reminding himself :), struggles to cope with Nicole's power and eventually succumbs. But not before 3 gripping sets.
And then the moment - "Rafael Nadal" makes his way on court. The crowd go into raptures.
An injury time-out by Rafa, gives the crowd time to do a mexican wave. Rafa, perhaps being over-cautitious, understandably so, with an appointment with the "King of wimbledon" coming sunday looming on his mind. Hapless "Youzny" shows glimpses of brilliance, but after all he is human - by the third set, he has surrendered. Wimby cant help but reflect what must be going throught youzny's mind - "I have to spend inhuman amount of energy just to hold my service game, and you hold yours as if it were a stroll in a park, c'mon, is this a game of equals ?"
Next, its Safin and stainslas wawrinka on court, and some "equal" tennis resumes. Wawrinka picks up the 3rd set to pull the match to the 4th set, but Wimby's thoughts are wandering to Sania, playing on court 18. So, safin is sacrificed and Wimby lands up on court 18, just in time to watch sania and bethanie pull off the 2nd set and stay in the match. Wimby is right in the line of the service from the far side of the court and before long a ball zooms towards him. Quick reflexes help, the ball is held in one hand, returned to the ball-girl, the other hand holding the mobile-camera dutifully.
Sania is enjoying the support of the predominantly indian crowd. But her game is patchy at best. Thankfully, their opponents pull out due to injury and the match is awarded to sania-bethanie.
Meanwhile, drama is unfolding on henman hill, just next to court 18. Its electrifying- the cheers of the 1000 odd people gathered to watch drama unfold on the giant screen outside court 1. The drama is performed in person some 500 meters away inside center court by Mr. Andy Murray.
But wimby is half asleep by now, and thinks it better to head off back home. Sleeping bag picked on the way, Wimbledon park, Clapham junction and before long southampton central. Its 11.30 pm and a 30-min walk to his room beckons at this time of the night for want of buses.
Wimby reflects "there are miles to go before i sleep", photos to upload and a story to write.