Wimbledon 2012: Opening Day

After years of saying I would always go, finally I got round to it, heading to SW19 armed with a Sony NEX-3 and Rishi Sethi. My objective for the day was to try and capture the things that made Wimbledon special. Here are my efforts:

Lisicki versus Martic, Court 15

Before play began, I was delighting in all the little details – the varnished netposts, the carefully painted umpire’s chair, the Ralph Lauren gear sported by the ballkids – Wimbledon is as much about the image as the tennis.

Soon the players arrived, Sabine Lisicki and Petra Martic. While this happened I couldn’t help but notice the sudden build up of photographers, cameramen, security guards and officials. Their presence increased the sense that this was more of a stage than a tennis court and I almost felt nervous for the players on show. Of particular interest was Martic’s bag that drew much favourable gossip from the girls who were sitting behind me.

The Practice Courts

Following the match, which Lisicki won, Rishi and I headed over to the practice courts. This was probably the highlight of the day. Watching tennis players in their natural  habitat, away from pomp and ceremony, was a fascinating lesson in what it really means to be a professional. I was surprised to find Andy Roddick on the courts nearest to where the normal spectators can get access to, so I seized the chance to get some shots.

Andy Roddick was a really interesting person to shoot. Firstly, he had a support staff of about five guys including his canon fodder for the day, a new American player whose name I haven’t worked out yet. Every time A-Rod hit a good shot they would all nod encouragement. Every time a bad shot? They would nod encouragement anyway. Secondly, being that close to him I could see how powerful he really is. He sounds like a steam train as he shuffles around the baseline, puffing and puffing along with the swoosh of his racket. I was so focused on my camera, in fact, that I missed an ace he pummelled down the middle that smashed into the fence in front of my nose. Everyone else recoiled in time except me, and I was surprised that the ball, even though decelerating massively, still had enough energy to cause a minor shock-wave through the air.

Elsewehere, I caught two telling shots of Murray and Tsonga.

On the one hand, there was Murray, only visible through a field of cages. In some way that seemed an appropriate image to me given the pressure he has to shoulder in the UK, although when he walked past he seemed quite at ease which shows he is used to that existence. On the other hand, there was Tsonga. He also was smiling, but the bitter defeat he had suffered at the French Open would be hard for any professional to forget, and it seemed, in this shot at least, that it was still following him around. Elsewhere, I managed to see Francesca Schiavone. She was hitting the ball with such ferocity you might think she had been attacked by one in a past life. Marin Cilic was also practicing nearby.

The most surprising thing about the practice courts was the intensity. You would think that the players would take it easy before a match, but they were going after every ball as if their life were in the balance. It makes me wonder why opponents bother to warm-up before a match when they don’t play with that much ease any other time.

Pironkova versus Dolonc, Court 4

One of the great things about the outside courts at Wimbledon is how ridiculously close you can get to the action. For this match I was basically standing on the same level as the competitors about a metre behind the ballboy at the net.

While watching the match, I made a friend, Stefano. This is the other wonderful thing about the tournament. Tennis folk are friendly, knowledgeable and great to talk to. Stefano is an accountant from Oxford, and hopefully we will end up playing tennis together later this summer. In fact, it was with Stefano’s nudges that I managed to capture the next two photos, because there was a lot of activity behind me on the other court.

The first picture is of Bojana Jovanovski, and this was the only snap I could get of her because she was quickly surrounded. The second shot is of Fillipo Volandi, an Italian. I later discovered that he had once beaten Roger Federer and as such carried the tennis hopes of Italy for a short while. Here he looks very contemplative about life, which struck me as unusual right before a match. He went on to lose 6-0, 6-1 before retiring altogether. Back on the other court Pironkova began to turn on the power.

The last shot reminds me of a funny moment. I was standing right next to Pironkova’s family. During the match she hit a ball that was called out and she looked at me (in actuality the family). My instinctive reaction was to grimace and shake my head to indicate I thought the ball was in, the line judge had called it wrong. As if she would seek my advice! But that’s what you do when someone looks at you, even a professional. You feel compelled to give your opinion, even before thinking “why is she asking me of all people?”.

Petrova versus Camerin, Court 18

Court 18, home to the longest match in history, looked gorgeous in this weather.

Me, Rishi (Philosophical Bear Co-Editor) and Stefano

Petrova was pretty vicious all match, and perhaps this last picture captures the contrasting approaches of the players. Camerin was struggling, emotionally as well as physically, but the crowd warmed to her smiles and constant self-telling-off. “Mariaaaaaaaaaa” she would scold after getting a shot wrong. Behind me, some crowd members were unimpressed with her effort. Being a professional tennis player is hard work when your office is full of spectators. Imagine having a bad day, and a bunch of people crowded around your desk were pointing out your mistakes? It’s a shame the media chose to only give attention to the top players, because there is a much greater depth of story going on in the sport. I salute players like Camerin, and hope that one day they will capture some element of the dream that has led them to sacrifice years of hard work.

Watson versus Benesova, Centre Court

Stefano managed to get us resold tickets for centre court, which was a good bit of inside knowledge from him (he’s a bit like the tennis mafia – friendly and he get’s things sorted).

Heather Watson was impressively powerful for a player of her size, and her range of shots were making the crowd gasp with delight. Unfortunately my hayfever soon reached apocalyptic levels and I had to leave after the first set and bring an end to what was an amazing day I will never forget. My thanks to Stefano and Rishi for sharing it with me.

All photos were taken on a Sony NEX-3 camera with a 16mm lens and a Canon 75-300mm zoom with manual focus. If you would like to use the images in my blog then please cite Philosophicalbear.wordpress.com as the source.

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