10 things I love about Wimbledon (apart from the tennis)

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A general view of flowers in front of Court 14 during day two of the 2022 Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon. Picture date: Tuesday June 28, 2022. (PA Wire)
A general view of flowers in front of Court 14 during day two of the 2022 Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon. Picture date: Tuesday June 28, 2022. (PA Wire)

1. The manic speed of the ball boys and girls

Wimbledon’s ball girls and boys undergo extensive training of exactly how to stand (legs apart, chest out, arms tucked behind back), offer balls to servers (arm at full stretch above their head) and pick up strays, but what makes them a compelling addition to the on-court spectacle is the slightly unnerving speed with which they go about their task. Whether it is two or ten meters they have to run to collect a ball, they set out at top lick, arms pumping, then pull up as they reach the ball, before reversing and sprinting back with gusto from whence they came. The aim is to allow the tennis to unfold without distraction, but the effect of these manic sprints can be the opposite, amounting to an oddly theatrical spectacle in their own right.

2. The sweet sound of ball on racket

When 20-times Wimbledon champion Billie Jean King was asked recently what she most loved about playing tennis, one of the things she said was “the sound of the ball as it connected with the strings of the racket”. So it is with watching. The almighty thwack of the ball hitting the racket strings at full tilt is one of the sweetest sounds - from the sheer brutality of an Isner 135 mph sonic boom service bomb to the whip of a topspin forehand drive or a crisp volley. Some people keep the tennis going on the telly all week, just to have these reassuring sounds as background, whether watching or not.

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge watch Cameron Norrie on Court One (Getty Images)
Duke and Duchess of Cambridge watch Cameron Norrie on Court One (Getty Images)

3. The relaxing green and white palette

Wimbledon’s official colours might be green and purple, but gaze across the Wimbledon estate and the dominant palette is green and white. The lush green grass courts with reassuringly straight white lines, the all-white attire of the players and the green cushioned seats for spectators, not to mention the green ivy and vertical gardens that adorn the facades of Centre Court and Court One. It’s a palette both appealing and relaxing to the eye.

4. The kindness and fairness of the crowd

In sports like football, “a great match” is typically regarded as one in which your team dominate and win by a substantial margin, but tennis spectators want to see a close, hard-fought encounter in which the player they are rooting for prevails in the end. Nobody enjoys a one-sided match and so the arena’s support for the underdog is usually evident. When Serena Williams started her first round match against Harmony Tan after being out for a year with several shots that would have looked bad even at a local club match, the crowd immediately got behind her to lift her spirits, but they also vociferously cheered Tan’s artful drop-shots. Is there another sport where the crowd is so kind and fair, whether for Wimbledon first-timers or old returning champions?

Serena Williams waves to the crowd after losing against Harmony Tan (Getty Images)
Serena Williams waves to the crowd after losing against Harmony Tan (Getty Images)

5. The decorum of the players

The way the players accept the rulings and decisions of the umpire that go against them (with a few notable exceptions) and are able to focus on the next point, gives one a comforting sense that all is right with the world at a time when low standards in public life seem like the norm. To witness decorum and mutual respect break out in SW19, at least for two weeks of the year, is reassuring in a way that extends beyond tennis.

6. The intimate park benches on the outside courts

For those who have never been to Wimbledon, the championships are all about Centre Court, but get there before the 11am start on the outside courts and bag one of the courtside benches - the sort you find in a local park - and you will have a front-row seat. Sometimes you can catch a rising star on these outside courts, as I did Roger Federer back in 2001. But whomever you chance to see, you are close enough to the action to hear the player’s heavy breathing and feel the fizz of the ball as a player wallops it just metres away. Utterly thrilling.

7. The super-efficient court cover operation

The covers may lie dormant during this sunny second week of Wimbledon, but week one saw moments where a sudden downpour ensued. On Centre Court and across every show and outside court, what then followed was an incredibly slick operation to take down the net and run the covers across the court before it became wet and slippery. Organisation and efficiency at its best.

Fans celebrate Cam Norrie’s win on the Hill (Getty Images)
Fans celebrate Cam Norrie’s win on the Hill (Getty Images)

8. The immaculate blooms

The flowers at Wimbledon tend to reinforce the green, purple and white theme but the hydrangeas, salvia, aquilegia and ivy would not look so effortlessly perfect without the dedication of the talented Wimbledon gardening team. Every morning before the punters arrive, they head out on patrol to spot, remove and replace any drooping blooms with new, fresh ones. This is the Chelsea Flower Show kitemark in SW19.

9. The courage of the linesmen and women

Linesmen and women stationed on the central service line have less than a second to sway out of the way of a 135mph service bomb whilst staying still and focused enough to determine if it was in and yelling “fault” if it was out. Occasionally they take blows to the head or other parts of their anatomy, but bear it all with admirable fortitude.

10. The eco-friendly strawberries and cream

Wimbledon would not be Wimbledon without strawberries and cream, but what I like about them this year is not just that they are served in an eco-friendly cardboard carton, but that the price of £2.50 seems to have got lower than in previous years. Not to mention, they are utterly delicious.

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