At 8.00am, the ground is still damp with overnight dew, but the clouds look thin enough for the midsummer sun to burn them off – if the midsummer sun ever returns to England. The ultra efficient queuing system that so impressed me three years ago is not so, well, unEnglishly efficient this time round and the cold bites as the time drags.
There’s shoe-friendly plastic laid on the grass in the park where the queue assembles – but, inexplicably, not for the first 100 yards or so. There are fewer stewards than I recall and the famous queuing card has not been issued some 40 minutes after arrival. Wimbledon 2013 is making a few unforced errors.
Some things don’t change. The queue is multi-national if not exactly multi-cultural and the absence of English voices allied to the long snaking lines and the security both explicit and implicit, gives the place the feeling of an airport without planes. And somebody really should be selling us coffee – or, if it gets any colder, whisky.
By midday, one reason for the slow pace of everything becomes clear. Just eight security stations with both x-ray and bag search (why both?) decanted into 20 turnstiles, most of which were inevitably idle. That’s not good enough and neither is the fact that the gates opened at 10.30am for an 11.30am start. The £20 entry fee was low in 2010 when I last queued and it’s even better value today, but the experience is much diminished.
To Court 16, where lots of Japanese fans cheer quietly and sigh softly as Ms Doi’s all or nothing game produces errors and winners aplenty. Eventually Ms Soler-Espinoza’s weight of stroke overpowers the tiny Doi and it’s game, set and match. The quality goes up a few notches for Ms Cirstea vs Ms Voegele, but power is still very much the determining factor in women’s tennis – even more obvious up close than on television. Ms Cirstea shows that the rankings seldom lie and goes through in straight sets.
Come 3.30pm, old hands Xavier Malisse and Fernando Verdasco pitch up in front of a standing room only crowd. They’ve been round the block these two, and the warm-up is somewhat desultory – no need for mindgames here. At 29 and 32 respectively, they don’t look like they’ve the condition to play 35 sets of singles in a fortnight, but they give a splendid display of topspin and slice, ball and racquet in perfect harmony, before Verdasco’s greater skills triumph. His shiny black hair will represent Spain in Round Two, even if its favourite son is already back home.
Wimbledon was not as slick as I recall from previous years, but its plenty slick enough to warrant a visit – even if you’re a local. Especially if you’re a local.