As I write this, I am on my second beer. It’s about 4:45 in the afternoon. I don’t normally imbibe at this time of day, not anymore, not as a parent who needs a sharp mind to handle various parental duties that include getting dinner on the table in about 90 minutes or so. This time of day is usually when I take a short nap as a kind of mind and body refresher to prepare me for the evening.
But not today. Today it is about 4:45 in the afternoon, and I am on my second beer. The first beer was to calm my simmering rage. The second beer, and all subsequent beers, are to complete the job of the first beer. I am also writing this little narrative as part of the rage-coping process.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s go back about seven hours or so…
I went to the Wimbledon tennis tournament today for the first time in my life. I have been dreaming about this for 50 years, since I used to watch Rod Laver and Billie Jean King on the sacred grass of tennis’ crown jewel. I was more excited than a guy my age should be about anything.
I’ve always wanted to go to Wimbledon, and here I was. But all these hours later, I have a bitter taste in my mouth. More on that later.
It was a pleasant enough morning, as these things go in wet, damp London. The weather was trying its best to cooperate, and mostly succeeded. There was just the barest whisper of a light drizzle. Temperatures were mild, around 64 degrees Fahrenheit (18 Celsius). The heavy rain that had been forecast was nowhere to be seen. I was hopeful, and I’m rarely hopeful about any damn thing. I was hopeful that I would see some tennis on the legendary green grass of Wimbledon.
Now, I am a huge tennis fan. I love tennis as a fan and as a player. I used to play it all the time, and got pretty good at it. I still hit tennis against the side wall in our tiny back yard because it’s just something I enjoy, and there aren’t enough public courts around here to play on an actual court, and I don’t really have anyone to play with, anyway. But, I still hit every now and then, and I watch tennis all the time.
I fast-talked my way into a Wimbledon qualifying round a few years ago, but this was my first time attending the actual tournament, even though we’ve been in London for about three-and-a-half years. Last year’s tournament was canceled by the coronavirus. The previous two years, I couldn’t score tickets.
Getting tickets to Wimbledon might be harder than getting a ticket to witness a moon landing in person, right there on the lunar surface. You have to register your name in the Wimbledon lottery to even have a chance to buy tickets, unless you are a millionaire or celebrity. After that, you have about a 1 in 23 million chance of actually getting tickets, unless you are either Very Lucky, or Very Willing to Stand in a Queue Every Morning for the Piddling Amount of Tickets They Sell to the General Public Every Day Outside of the Venue.
The only reason I got them this year, I’m guessing, is because ticket sales were thrown together at the last minute. Nobody was sure how many tickets might go on sale until a few weeks ago because of the coronavirus. They finally decided that it was safe to hold a mostly-outdoor tennis tournament and sell tickets to the public. They sold them online to those who registered on the official Wimbledon website. I signed up and made a note of when they would go on sale. I even set an alarm to make sure I could get into the online queue the second they went on sale.
Well, it didn’t go well at first. I hopped in the online queue, and after about 15 minutes my turn popped up. Excellent! Except they only give you three minutes to actually order the tickets and enter your credit card info. The problem – and it was a complicated one – is that my credit card is still registered in the United States, with our U.S. address. But we technically live in London. So, for some reason unknown to God or man, the Wimbledon ordering system simply could not handle someone who lived in one country but had a credit card in another country. Long story short: I lost out on Wimbledon tickets during my first stab at it.
The rage I felt then was on a par with the rage I feel now.
But, there was a second chance to buy tickets a couple days later. This time I got my wife’s credit card info, because she has a credit card registered here in the UK. I took my place in the online queue and my turn came up again. This time I used her credit card info and it worked like a charm. I bought tickets to the first day of the tournament. Then the fifth day! Then what the hell, I bought a ticket to the third day! And I succeeded. Three tickets, there different days! They approved the orders and I was in! Woo hoo!
Then I got an email a couple days later informing me that I had overstepped my bounds. You are not allowed to buy more than two tickets on two different days. They would have to take one of the tickets back. I was paranoid that they were going to expel me from the tournament altogether, forever, for breaking one of their 5 million precious goddamn rules. But no. They just took away my ticket for Wednesday, June 30. I still had my tickets for Monday, June 28, and Friday, July 2.
But if I thought that would be the only hoop I’d have to jump through, I was sadly mistaken. For one thing, you can’t just have them mail or email you the tickets. You have to get the Wimbledon app so they can put your ticket barcode on that. So I got the Wimbledon app. And I pulled up my tickets. But they don’t actually give you the barcode until the day of the event. I’m checking every day, wondering where the f**k my barcode is. It wasn’t until this morning that the barcode even showed up.
Meanwhile, you have to get a COVID pass in order to enter the Wimbledon grounds. I figured, no problem. I’ve had both of my vaccinations. I have the card they gave me after the second one to prove it. No problem!
Wrong. That card has about as much use as a pen with no ink. You have to register on the National Health Service (NHS) website and get a COVID pass. Then you have three options: have it emailed to you, print it out, or have it sent to your NHS app. I figured, I’ll get the NHS app. So I tried to do that. But it turns out that because my iPhone is registered in the United States, I can’t get an NHS app.
So I went with the email option, and, just for good measure, the print one as well. Except that your COVID pass expires after a month, and every day you have to wait for it to refresh so it is valid for a longer period of time. It wasn’t until Saturday that my COVID pass refreshed enough to make it valid for my Monday ticket.
Anyway, I woke up this morning with a valid COVID pass, a better-than-expected weather forecast, and a ticket with an actual barcode on it. Everything was finally coming together. I was headed to Wimbledon, finally!
Through the magic of public transit, it took a little more than an hour to get from our home in Bermondsey to the actual Wimbledon grounds, even though the two places are only about nine miles apart. There was a long queue to get in when I arrived. It took about an hour to get through it. This was not exactly a surprise, considering this was the first day of the tournament, nobody knew what they were doing, they had to check your COVID pass, scan your tickets, check your bags, and just putz around looking lost, which much of the staff did.
Just as I was getting into the long line I overheard a staffer on her walkie-talkie say, “We don’t have enough staff! Nobody knows what to do!”
Not an encouraging sign.
But the weather seemed fine. Just a bare drizzle. Once we got inside the venue I had no doubt that play would start on time, or at least close to on time.
As luck would have it, the line formed just beside some of the far practice courts, so we were able to watch some of the players warm up. One we saw was Nick Kyrgios, the mercurial Australian star who can be one of the best players on the planet when he gives a shit, which isn’t often.
As it turns out, his practice shots would be the only shots I saw today. More on that later.
A teenage girl behind me spotted Nick and went into full-on groupie mode.
“OMG, it’s Nick Kyrgios!” she exclaimed. “I think he waved at me! Did you see him wave at me?”
Nick must have noticed her because he hit a ball our way as a goodwill gesture. Unfortunately, the ball got gobbled up by a woman ahead of us in the line, and not the star-struck teenager. For the next 20 minutes the teenager told her friend how unfair it was that the other woman got the ball when it was her, the teenager, who waved to Nick. She kept devising plans to get the ball for herself. Finally, she walked up to the woman and said something like, “Sorry, but I think that ball was intended for me.”
The woman was gracious enough to hand it over. I was the only one who applauded the woman’s generosity. The Brits are not much on acknowledging good deeds.
When I finally made it through the front gates, the weather was pretty much the same. Just a bare drizzle. Just enough to delay play on the outside courts, but I was hopeful that I’d see some tennis very soon.
I had a quick bite to eat, visited a shop to buy some souvenirs, and wandered around the grounds. My ticket was a grounds pass, meaning I could watch most of the outside matches, but could not enter the roofed stadiums. No worries. I was sure that play on the outside courts would begin soon, since the weather was not that bad.
I found a courtside seat and looked forward to some tennis. At around 11 a.m. they put the tarps up to protect the grass courts from rain. Okay, fine. Just a precautionary measure. No need to worry.
At about 11:30 an announcement came over the loudspeaker saying that unfortunately, because of the threat of rain, no matches on outdoor courts would begin before 12 noon.
At about 12:30 p.m. an announcement came over the loudspeaker saying that unfortunately, because of the threat of rain, no matches on outdoor courts would begin before 1 p.m.
At about 1:20 the rain stopped.
At about 1:30 an announcement came over the loudspeaker saying that unfortunately, because of the threat of rain, no matches on outdoor courts would begin before 2 p.m.
Still no rain. But….
At about 2:30 an announcement came over the loudspeaker saying that unfortunately, because of the threat of rain, no matches on outdoor courts would begin before 3 p.m.
I was courtside, had a great seat, ready to watch American Dennis Kudla take on the talented young Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. There was no rain. The sun peeked out. Certainly play would begin soon. But the tarp was still on the court. Every so often the tarp crew would go out and make motions that they were going to remove the tarp, and our hope would kick in. But then they would pull the tarp back again, and our hope would fade.
My mood evolved from hope, to confusion, to frustration, to anger.
I literally sat there for four hours, in little or no rain, and did not see any tennis. Matches that were supposed to start at 11 a.m. didn’t start until after 4 p.m., despite mostly dry conditions. And we fans were just left to sit there with our thumbs up our asses, not being told anything but “unfortunately, because of the threat of rain blah blah blah…”
They were more concerned about the threat of rain than the reality of no rain. I finally said fuck it, and left. I had no idea when, or if, outside play would finally begin. And the people in charge didn’t seem to give a crap either way.
I have a theory about this, and it’s a theory that makes me madder the more I think about it. My theory is this:
The people who run Wimbledon probably learned that the weather was going to improve drastically around 4 in the afternoon. So they figured, let’s just hold off until then. Let’s just wait until we can pull the tarps up for good and not have to worry about putting them down again for a few minutes.
But let’s not tell anyone that. Let’s just keep them guessing. If people don’t have all day to wait around because they have jobs or families or lives to return to, that’s their tough luck. They should be rich enough to blow the whole day off, or don’t buy a ticket. The most important thing is that we don’t have to do more than we have to do. We can do the minimum, and that’s exactly what the fuck we are going to do.
All those fans who paid their 30 pounds for outdoor seats? Let them sit there for five hours watching no tennis, even though there’s no rain. We don’t really care about them, anyway. The fans who pay hundreds of pounds for the stadium seats with the roofs – they’re our main priority. Let’s take care of the fans who get the VIP passes and can sit in the nice indoor restaurants and lounges, beside Centre Court.
Those goofballs sitting outside? Screw them.
I truly believe this. I have no doubt about this.
It is part of the DNA of Wimbledon. They make it as hard as possible for regular folks to get tickets. They have a billion rules about what you can and can’t do, and they are goddamn proud of those rules. They see themselves as an elite sporting event, meant for elite people, and if you don’t like it, you can fuck right off.
I have come to loathe Wimbledon. It is the very living definition of privileged, asshole snobbery.
I have another ticket for Friday, and I will go, because I love tennis that much. I just want to sit at a cheap little outdoor court and watch great players do great things. That’s the fan in me.
But this I also know: Wimbledon doesn’t really give a shit.