Wimbledon is upon us, when the month of June transforms the UK into a tennis-mad nation (although this year it will have some competition from Euro 2020, in 2021). Supermarkets sell out of strawberries and cream; Pimm’s flows freely; somehow people are moved to spend £35 on official insignia towels; a carnival atmosphere accompanies hours’-long queues for tickets; purple, white and green insert themselves into the national colour scheme.
I imagine those interested in tennis all year round greet Wimbledon with ambivalence. On the one hand, excellent grand slam action; on the other, a clamour of fair-weather amateurs booking up courts. I played tennis at school, and adored it. I follow it vaguely all year, but I’m afraid I definitely belong to the cohort of June enthusiasts.
Often underrated about Wimbledon is the sense of fun of the place. It’s true that the All England Lawn Tennis Club has an (accurately) fusty reputation, but, perhaps despite its best efforts, a sense of sunny abandon permeates. There’s an extra frisson to a Mexican wave at Wimbledon, where it has the quality of a subversive act at a strict boarding school. Ballboys and girls become mini-heroes for majestic catches or quick-thinking. Underdogs are often more popular than odds-on favourites. The outfits of fans on what was once Henman Hill, then Murray Mound, are impressive – dressing up to watch a big screen in the way many of last year’s Hollywood nominees cheerily wore gowns to appear on Zoom.
As a schoolgirl player, I was part of a team that travelled to Wimbledon. The type of school trip where giddiness builds on the train; the heady inebriation of not wearing a school tie and witnessing teachers out of context. In cliched tennis-watching fashion, I got sunburnt on one side of my face. I looked like a Drumstick lollipop. The players seemed giant; the pin-drop pauses so dramatic. I took a disposable-camera snap of a startled Richard Williams.
I hope to head to Wimbledon this year; the tournament will no doubt be different from previous years (coronavirus protocols and so forth) but perhaps with an atmosphere even more buoyant, instilled with the emotion of reunion. But I’m equally looking forward to watching in pub gardens. Last year’s tennis-less summer was saddening; this year, the fresh, green lawns will be yet another hopeful sign that, as the meme has it, nature is healing. New balls, please.