Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Wimbledon: The Back Story

Every year in late June, millions of tennis fans from around the world settle down to watch the Wimbledon championships on TV. Much of the commentary is devoted to the special traditions and atmosphere of the tournament. A few thousand fortunate individuals get to experience the event from inside the All England Tennis Club. For anyone who has the patience and endurance to wait in line all night, tickets can even be purchased on the day.

While anyone who manages to get into the championships raves about the experience, unless you are a former champion, a captain of industry or a member of the royal family, access to the club during the tournament is a hassle. But anyone who loves tennis can participate in the Wimbledon experience and still avoid the hassles and the crowds by visiting the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum located in the leafy London suburb of the same name and take a “Behind the Scenes” tour of the grounds.

For years, NoCrowds couldn’t be bothered to do this. It wasn’t on our usual beat, we weren’t that interested in tennis and at £14.50 to see the museum and take the tour, it was pretty expensive. What got us motivated was the arrival from Shanghai of the complete set of Chinese “terracotta” tennis warriors, featuring the world’s top eight tennis players which would be on display at Wimbledon until March 2008. The press coverage had been intriguing and the whole idea sounded weird enough to be interesting.

As it turned out, while the terracotta tennis warriors were fun to see, we were taken completely by surprise at how much we enjoyed the museum and tour. In particular, we loved the innovative ways the museum went about presenting the personalities of the game. We were fascinated by the story of the French player, Suzanne Lenglen, (1899 – 1938), winner of 37 Grand Slam titles who shocked the staid British fans by wearing daring outfits and casually sipping brandy between sets. We found the “hologram” of John McEnroe talking about the great players of his era hugely entertaining, and we loved looking at the display of the Williams sisters outfits which continue to titillate British audiences. Towards the end of our visit, we had the good fortune to run into Manny, as charming a museum guard as you will ever meet and a bit of a tennis savant, who played clip after clip of the great moments in Wimbledon history for us. We got to watch the best matches of his favourite players (Agassi) and our favourites (McEnroe, Borg and Connors). Our hot tip for anyone thinking of visiting the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum, ask if Manny is working that day and go and find him.

After about an hour in the museum, we joined a small guided tour of the grounds led by a Blue Badge guide who really knew her stuff. We were concerned when she mentioned that the tour would take 1 ½ hours, thinking we just weren’t that interested, but once again, we were surprised at how the story of the club and the game held our attention.. Highlights of the tour include the BBC television studio (the views of London from the top of the building are amazing), the Press Interview Room and lots of areas in the Millennium Building normally closed to the public. As the 1 ½ hours flew by, we thought about how much more fun it would be to watch Wimbledon this year with the whole back story of the tournament in our heads. We also thought about how convenient and pleasant it was to get closer to the Wimbledon experience without getting closer to the crowds.

Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum
Museum Building
The All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club
Church Road, Wimbledon
Tel: 0208 946 6131
Fax: 0208 947 8752
Email: museum@AELTC.com

Open daily 10:30 am – 5:00 pm (except during the tournament)
During the winter, there is one tour per day except at weekends when there are two. Visitors should reserve a space on the tour by internet or phone.

We were also surprised at how easy it was to get to Wimbledon. There are lots of ways to do it (to see them click here). We chose to take the District tube line to Southfields station and walk for 15 minutes.

The cost for an adult is £8.50 for the museum and £14.50 for the museum and tour.

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