Monday was the second time I’ve ever been to Wimbledon and it turned out to be a far more rewarding experience than the first.
Last year I arrived at 7am to the queue outside the Wimbledon grounds, didn’t bring enough reading material and got badly sunburnt. When finally in at 11:30 I managed to sneak onto one of the side courts and watch a women’s match.
Klara Zakopalova upset 13th seed Dominika Cibulkova 6-4 6-1 in my first real-life Wimbledon tennis match. Simply hearing the aggression on court, Cibulkova’s shouting at her own coach (sat just behind me) and the grace of underdog Zakopalova in victory was reward enough for the long queue.
Yet I didn’t really feel connected with the match as I barely knew either player well enough to back them. I was an indifferent admirer and watched simply for the tennis.
This year was different. I managed to secure a seat on number 12 court for Jelana Jankovic against home favourite Johanna Konta. The match was a dead rubber after 16th seed Jankovic pulled away in the first set and although Konta offered resistance in the second there was only going to be one winner.
The Serb ran out 6-2 7-5 victor and deserved her passage into the second round. What was interesting, however, was the clear vacant detachment between the fans and the match. I sat there in bewilderment as the crowd sat there watching tennis with no real care who won, despite Konta representing the UK. Of course the crowd cheered louder when Konta won a point but there was never any sense of loss or dejection as Jankovic powered through.
There was as much indifference in the stands as the Cibulkova-Zakopalova clash last year and this is where Wimbledon – and maybe tennis in general – has a problem.
Everyone knows the top players in the WTA and ATP and most fans support one over the rest. The media follow Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic like hawks and their opponents are often discarded as forgettable obstacles in the path of these great players. Even when you’re watching a homegrown talent like Konta it appears no one cares whether she wins or loses.
Maybe that’s why disillusioned fans and pundits criticise the pay rises lower-ranked players now receive to contest the early rounds. It’s not their fault no one watches them – and even when people do there seems to be little care in the stands over the eventual result.
Average fans don’t care about players outside the top ranks, which makes matches on the Wimbledon outer courts such fleeting events so easily forgotten. As it happens, I managed to sneak onto Number One Court and watch Rafael Nadal crash out to Steve Darcis. It was an incredible match and the quality on show far outstretched the previous men’s game I glimpsed on my way round – Matosevic v Rufin.
I’m sad to admit it but I’ll certainly remember the Nadal clash over Konta’s, and as for Matosevic the only reason I’ll remember him is because he swore at us after netting another forehand.
Tennis needs revamping throughout the hierarchy so that fans genuinely give a damn about the lower seeds in rounds one and two. Only then can the atmosphere of Centre Court and Court One filter into the rest of Wimbledon, which can be a pretty quiet place when ‘big names’ aren’t on show.