I want to tell a story. But I don't know where to start. My goal is to summarize the storied history of the Wimbledon tennis tournament. But I only want to do that through a very unique lens.
If you want to know how Wimbledon got its name, when it was created, the historical significance of yada-yada this or yada-yada that, trust me, plenty of documentaries and articles exist that'll take you on that ride. And they will do it with all the 'grace and refined dignity' that any 'true' Englishman or woman can muster, with tastefully quiet symphonic music playing in the background.
Thankfully, this isn't one of those. Breathe a sigh of relief.
Instead, I want you to walk away from this thinking how I think, that Wimbledon is both awesome and terrible for tennis at the exact same time; that the event's all at once hallowed and horrible. It's the best grand slam there is, and also the most self righteous and pompous, puck worthy said best. It makes me want to turn off the tv. .. But I don't. I just settle for the middle ground, I roll my eyes and press mute, and put on my own music to drown out all the grunts and commentary drool.
So, let's see, where to start this?
You've got the longest match ever played in the history of pro tennis. 11+ hours. Holy hell. You've got a Centre court that was partially destroyed during World War II and left in disrepair for years; can't go wrong with a war story to cement historical significance. Of course there's the 1993-2009 Wimbledon Reconstruction Era as I call it. And finally the 2012 Olympics and Mr. Andy Murray.
Screw it, let's just focus on the pomp, circumstance and tradition of it all.
Ball Boys and Ball Girls, aka the BBGs
"[They] should not be seen. They should blend into the background and get on with their jobs quietly."
What a very British thing to say.. That's Fiscal Abdalla, a former Wimbledon BBG herself turned instructor.
Being a ball boy or girl is apparently a really big deal. Some 400 young adults apply, and half get rejected. One has to take classes, and be more knowledgeable about the rules of the game than even some of the game's announcers. To be a BBG means you have to know the game so well you can anticipate what's about to happen next. And then be quick-witted and athletic enough to act when the time comes on the court. And of course, above all, be able to shut up, do what you're told, and stay out of everyone else's way.
For such an important and demanding roll, BBGs really do get the short end of things. Little to no respect goes their way at Wimbledon, even though without them, the tournament would take forever, perhaps not even happen at all.
Abdalla seems wistful about her time as a BBG. And I'm sure it's great to see the greats of the game that close up, and watch the match from court vantage. But, c'mon, BBGs do not get paid anything. They get disrespected both on and off the court. And the system in place demands excellence of them sans any notoriety. I don't think that's fair at all.
Bow to your queen and king, even if they aren't your Royals.
Up until 2003, players were required to bow or curtsy to all members of the Royal Family in attendance, seated in the Royal Box upon entering or leaving Centre Court. Imagine that. You bust your ass to become a pro in the U.S. for example, make it all the way to the finals of Wimbledon, only to find yourself being forced into antiquated niceties, as to not upset "the royals" right before one of the biggest matches in your entire career. It's absurd.
Of course most players don't care. It's a simple gesture, sure. One bow or curtsy and move on, right? Yeah, unless you don't want to. Then what? Happily post 2002, they slightly discontinued this rule, amended to now only having to pay respects to the royaly-ist of the royals when present, The Prince of Wales or Her Majesty The Queen.
Pros all dressed in White
Here are the guidelines for what players can wear once they get onto the court:
1. No solid mass of colouring
2. Little or no dark or bold colours
3. No fluorescent colours
4. Preference towards pastel colours
5. Preference for the back of the shirt to be totally white
6. Preference for shorts and skirts to be totally white
7. All other items of clothing, including hats, socks and shoe uppers to be predominantly white
It's the lack of personality in favor of maintaining 'time-honored tradition' that irks me here. Granted some of these rules are aimed at negating player's advances to clearly advertise brands on TV, which I have to say that is one thing about Wimbledon that I etch into the awesome column - they very strictly minimize sponsorship advertising of almost any kind.
Rain, Eating Strawberries w/ Cream, and Heroic British Failure
CNN did a great piece to sum up what really bugs me about all this pomp and circumstance. Here are just a few poignant exerts from James Montagues' 2012 article: Game, set and match: What Wimbledon says about the British -
"[Wimbledon's] like the BBC: an emblem of Britain that commands respect and admiration near and far. But emblems are not necessarily accurate reflections of reality. they are representations, images or symbols of an ideal; a perfect place where people wear straw hats, eat fresh strawberries with their champagne and hobnob with the royal family." explains Professor Ellis Cashmore, an academic and social commentator whose most recent work looks at whether Britain is losing the civility that it is famous for.
For social commentators like Peter York -- author of the famous "Sloane Ranger Handbook" -- Wimbledon represents a type of Britishness that doesn't exist any more: one steeped in glorious Empire that is overwhelmingly white, affluent and still centered around London and the south east of England.
"Wimbledon mildly confirms that tennis around the world is quite a polite middle class game played in a very restrained way with a very restrained audience. People don't get into any fervor. That's for other proletarian sports," he says.
"It's a middle class sport wherever you go ... It's all nice enough (and) reinforces British imagery but not create it. It's definitely a very southern (British) thing, a very southern suburb. It's a southern, well off, late Victorian suburb with a particular social character."
Well said. It also rains a lot most every year at Wimbledon. Enough so that in 2009, as part of the reconstruction era as referred to above, they installed a pretty badass retractable roof onto the Centre court. Another notch in the Wimbledon is awesome column. What is that now, 2 FOR, 18 AGAINST?
And yes, their tradition is to eat strawberries with cream as you watch the matches. How dainty.
For all Wimbledon's silly attempts and constrictions to hang on to a bygone era, it's still the only grand slam in tennis to play on a grass court. And that's not hanging onto the dying past; I firmly believe that's really cool. It's a surface all tennis matches should be played on. Old school, in a good way.
And they did go through ~16 years of construction between 1993 and 2009 to make their event everlastingly the most grand of all the tennis majors. I do give them props for that. That doesn't reek of hanging onto the past. That is an attitude of looking forward and placing a premium on evolving with the times.
Watching Andy Murray win it all at Centre Court vs Federer in the 2012 Olympics was one of the cooler moments I've ever seen in sports. Or at least tennis. And they have had some crazy moments off script over the years too. Even if to their own dismay, those moments were pretty epic.
All adds up to me thinking Wimbledon is awesome and terrible. Hollowed and horrible. Sacred and silly. And if I was gifted an all expenses paid trip to sit right next to the queen herself in the Centre Court stands, but had to curtsy to her first, wear all white, dip English strawberries in whipped cream as I sipped on champagne, while trying my best to send bad vibes to the lowly ball boys and girls that get no respect.... Yeah, sure, I'd love to go. Sign me up.