In the summer of 1978 I had chicken pox. I couldn’t go to school because I was contagious but fortunately it was a mild dose and I was well enough to play outside in the sunshine hitting a tennis ball against the small area of wall between the back door and kitchen window.
It was Wimbledon fortnight and I was inspired. Virginia Wade had won the tournament the previous year giving everyone the momentum to pick up a racquet and imagine being on centre court!
My tennis skills need an awful lot to be desired. I count actually hitting the ball and getting it back over the net as an achievement. Getting the ball in the required box is a bonus.
I knew I was never destined to reach the dizzy heights of playing at Wimbledon but in my teenage years I’d have given anything just to walk around the edges of the outside courts.
Oh to be in the same vicinity and breathe the same air as my tennis idol Stefan Edberg! Everyone else was watching Boris Becker diving around the court, but to me as a 16 year old his acrobatic antics seemed “immature”. It was the quiet unassuming Swede who caught my attention and I stayed faithful in my affections for several years. I even acquired a large poster of him to put on my bedroom wall.
While on my gap year in New Zealand, I was walking through the sports department of a large store and spotted my hero. I was a shy eighteen year old but I bravely asked an assistant what they did with the old promotional posters and could I have “that one” when they took it down?
As they say "nothing ventured, nothing gained"!
They gave it to me there and then for free and I was prepared to pay for the life sized print! That poster literally travelled the world with me, as I brought it back home and it hung on my wall while I was a student in Brighton.
What happened to it after that though is anyone’s guess. Maybe my love was fickle after all!
Going to Wimbledon has always been on my dream wish list but getting tickets is almost a work of art. You have to be dedicated enough to queue or lucky enough to win tickets in a ballot.
This year we were the lucky ones. As oldest son plays tennis and is a member of our local club we were able to enter their ballot for tickets and we managed to get Centre Court seats for the first Monday.
That meant a guaranteed first match featuring Rafael Nadal as defending champion and because of the newly installed roof we would be watching tennis come rain or shine!
And there on Monday I came face to face once more with my teenage crush – SIGH!
OK so he was still just a poster on a wall! Sadly meeting Stefan Edberg wasn’t this week's dream come true!
But I will admit that there was a point where I felt overawed at the momentousness of finally being at Wimbledon after dreaming of it for so long. I even felt a little tear in my eye as we walked, or rather I almost skipped with joy, around the concrete structure which forms the underneath of the centre court stadium. In some respects from this angle it perhaps resembles the stairways to a multi-storey car park, up another level and walk around to find the correct numbered exit.
Except when you walk past a doorway you catch a glimpse of the tiered seats opposite and sense the magic of the place. And when we stepped out and looked down at the pristine grass court laid out ready for the first day of play it did take my breath away.
Our seats were right at the top under the enclosed edge of the permanent roof. No chance of getting near enough to the players for an autograph or catch a sweat band thrown into the air at the end of the match. But no risk of getting rained on or suffering from heat stroke either!
It was amazing just to sit there well before the match and soak up the atmosphere. What must it be like for the players to actually walk on the hallowed lawn?
The first match was Nadal against the un-seeded Michael Russell from the U.S.A.
“He’s an old man.” I was reliably informed by oldest son, fount of all knowledge for any sports statistics. “He’s thirty three.”
The advantages of youth with your life full of dreams and possibilities!
On paper the match looked very one sided. As well as his “old” age against him Russell has a world ranking ninety points below his opponent.
However like many players before actually playing on Centre Court at Wimbledon seemed to raise Russell’s game. You could tell he was relishing the chance to play the number one seed. With nothing to lose he put on a sparkling performance. This was probably the only chance he had of playing a match like this on such a stage and he wasn’t about to squander it. Reaching further, trying that bit harder to make every shot count as this was his moment of glory.
In the first set, he managed to get a break of serve and was winning the match for a short while. The crowd got behind him; eager to cheer on a player obviously giving his all especially when the odds are stacked against him. We have a yearning to see the underdog to do well. There is a spark of excitement ignited at the thought of being a witness to a magical event.
No doubt it is a match he will never forget. Particularly the last point which he challenged; as it happened Nadal’s ball was out and the point was re-played. The crowd applauded loudly at his audacity and pluck. What a memory to cherish.
I can only guess what Michael Russell’s dreams were as a child but I’m sure Monday will have fitted in the dream come true category. It did for me and I was only a spectator!
Once again it’s a lesson in not letting go of your dreams and never giving up.
So I’m holding on and maybe one day I really will meet Stefan Edberg face to face…