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Wimbledon From The Inside… Part 1

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Originally published on: 26/02/10 14:14

Once again I am working at Wimbledon. I think it’s possibly my tenth year here I swore quite a while ago I’d never do another, but there’s something odd about SW19 that draws you back time after time.

All my friends still think Im being paid to eat strawberries and quaff champagne. Maybe this year Ill take photos of my office and post them on Facebook to prove just how wrong they are.

What a lovely guy Federer is. I’ve always had a soft spot for a French accent and a big nose.

I’d probably liken my working environment to a cross between a dungeon and, well, an office that’s blatantly just too small for the number of people it tries to house. Obviously, we run a tight ship and everyone is pretty flexible (sometimes quite literally) with regards to trying to fit 24 people around six desks. At the busiest times it almost becomes a sort of dance as people twirl around and shimmy past each other to get to the printer. Intense is not the word.

Where I work and what I do I will not disclose, but suffice to say, glamorous it ain’t. But it’s funny how swanning past the ever-swelling queue, photo ID pass swinging at the neck always seems to make the ridiculous hours, laughable working conditions and continuous pressure somehow worth it.

We’ve actually been on site for a few weeks now, and it’s always interesting to watch the grounds get ready for the tournament. I am astounded at how when I leave the office on the Friday before Wimbledon starts (usually a quivering wreck after a week of intense staff training) the place is actually presentable by Monday morning.

If there were ever a competition for ability to have long extended tea-breaks, I think the workmen at the Championships might be up for some sort of gold medal. I assume they work on the basis that its much better for the soul to sit about soaking up the British drizzle for a couple of weeks beforehand than go for one almighty 48-hour working frenzy to get it all ship-shape in preparation for the hordes, come day 1 of the Champs.

It was exciting coming to work under blue skies this morning though. I pray to God we don’t have another year like last year, when I made a desperate visit up to the AELTC offices to procure (steal) a much-needed machine-made coffee-flavoured coffee-substitute to keep me going on the middle Saturday (always a bit of a low point, no shimmering light at the end of the tunnel quite yet, and usually by then the draw is devoid of plucky Brits/stroppy Scots).

When I saw the proofs for a MIDDLE SUNDAY PROGRAMME I ran away and hid in a quiet corner for a while, whimpering. Thirteen days @ 14 hours a day is pretty tough to take by anyone’s standards and our precious middle Sunday is often a big source of morale boosting.

But the forecast is good for this week, not that I’ll see the big yellow thing in the sky for the best part of a fortnight as it’s usually dark when I get to leave, but at least we get a groundfull of happy people, which definitely has a knock-on effect for us.

So, who have I seen in the lead up to the tournament? Well the answer is, unsurprisingly not really anyone yet. Unless you want to hear about the catering people or the workmen? No? With over 200 staff to keep track of, I am unfortunately somewhat chained to my desk, but I have heard mutterings of Sharapova, Federer and Davenport all having been sighted around the grounds and all seemingly very happy to stop and sign autographs or even a quick chat. Federer was casually asked by one of our staff if he’d fancy working behind the tills for a bit… He got the joke and played along, what a lovely guy he is. I’ve always had a soft spot for a French accent and a big nose.

I did see some fuzzy-haired guy playing a bit of bat and ball the other day Murray I think it might have been Maybe he was warming up someone a bit better?

This afternoon I managed to escape from the darkness of my cell and visited my friend who runs Aorangi Park practise courts. It’s really alive up there, lots of impressively honed bodies either practising hard or kicking back and relaxing.

Andy’s more personable brother Jamie was being interviewed by the press, I believe they were talking to him about the spectacular height of his ginger ‘fro. Miss Bartoli hadn’t turned up for her practice court and was in everybody’s bad books. Tut tut. There was an air of peace up there though and it felt like a little sanctuary of calm. I stole more coffee and listened to that oh-so-satisfying thwack of ball against bat for a cheeky five.

Having worked in tennis for a long time now, over a decade in fact, I thought I had possibly reached my saturation point, but I still find myself trying to crane my neck if a courtesy car whizzes past. Funny how, even to me, it still looks like a glamorous life, but I’ve seen it from the players side of the net, and really unless you’ve hit the big time it’s actually quite a struggle. Remaining on the periphery of the top 100, or often even further down the scale, the expense of the travel, the hotels, the continuous ‘Littlest Hobo’ lifestyle gets hard to take.

Is it worth it I wonder? As a runner, I know how much effort, determination and will power goes in to training and competing. You have to say no to a social life and have tunnel vision, keeping your personal goal in mind at all times. I have friends who are tennis players, and they fight doggedly all year round, travelling to the Futures events in the likes of Uzbekistan, signing in at the Challengers where the office is run out of a changing room, or a Portakabin in the middle of a field and its all because of this tournament which is going on just metres from my keyboard. This is their goal, and now they are here they are going to fight tooth and nail to get through a round or two (I’m obviously talking about the Brits again here).

There is no doubting the magic of Wimbledon and it skewers all who love tennis with its charm. I will once again follow the draw with interest, albeit from rumour and gossip that manages to leak through into our tiny office/hobbit hole via anyone who is brave enough to find their way in (usually a lost member of the catering staff).

So that’s it from me and day 1 of Wimbles… I’ve just nicked some strawberries off an aforementioned unsuspecting catering newbie, so I’m going to hide somewhere even darker to enjoy them and take a break from the barrage of daft questions that seem to come my way.

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