Three spectators enjoying the Wimbledon action off the court.
Three spectators enjoying the Wimbledon action off the court.

Annoying truth in girls’ Wimbledon photo

On another hot day - and not just by British standards, we swear - during the best two weeks on the tennis calendar, the crowd outside Court 14 at Wimbledon is straining to get a glimpse of Aussie duo Lleyton Hewitt and Jordan Thompson as they rally to stay in the second set of their second round doubles clash.

Midway through the set, about an hour after play began for the day, Thompson misses a forehand and chastises himself. Hewitt, as doubles partners do after every point, comes up and slaps his hand, offering words of encouragement.

The couple of hundred seats along the tram lines are all filled. In small gaps between the dark green barriers separating the court from the foot traffic flooding the adjacent concourse, those who weren't quick enough to nab a chair are packed together, standing on tippy-toes to catch whatever action they can.

The action is damn good viewing if you’re one of the lucky ones that can actually see the court.
The action is damn good viewing if you’re one of the lucky ones that can actually see the court.

It's hardly the best seat in the house, but it's the reality that faces so many people who fork out cash for a day at the Championships. Take what you can get.

At the back of the pack are three female friends - two who live in London and one Australian visitor. About five rows deep in the standing hoard of a few dozen people, two of them can see Hewitt's famous hustle but one can't.

That's because the odd one out is just 1.6m tall.

"It's the worst!" she tells news.com.au.

"It happens all the time but usually I just wait for people to see me and let me through to the front, but nobody's doing that here!"

It's her first time at the All England Club and she's finding out the hard way unless she gets to courts well before a match starts, the chances of her seeing any live tennis with only a ground pass are pretty slim.

Three spectators enjoying the Wimbledon action off the court.
Three spectators enjoying the Wimbledon action off the court.

Behind us, a teenage boy sulks, complaining to his dad about not being able to get a seat or see any tennis because of the sheer weight of numbers blocking his view. As they scurry away to find a more appealing vantage point, dad offers up his defence.

"That's because these people probably lined up for hours before the start and ran here. I didn't know you were supposed to do that," he says.

He's right. A text message lit up my phone screen that morning from a friend on his annual pilgrimage from north London to the south asking when I was planning to stroll through the gates.

"Got here at 5.25am," his message reads.

Those diehards who braved the excruciatingly early scream of their alarm clock - or more dedicated still, camped out overnight - provide the most entertaining off-court action of the day at SW19.

The opening of the gates at 10.30am each morning is a military-style operation. A sea of bodies lines up behind a perfectly straight horizontal line of Wimbledon officials dressed in white shirts, red ties, suits and police-style hats. A senior official at the front is in charge, commanding his troops to walk forwards and keep the crowd bundled together in an orderly fashion.

Eager attendees try to get ahead, skirting around the outside as bodies bump but no apologies are heard. The heaving mass turns right at a bend and walks 50m further before the real action starts. The General orders everyone to a halt and his line of lieutenants stands firm. He barks at some to walk forward, others to turn around and gives the green light for fans to walk through.

But no one listens to the "walk" part. Knowing they've got to sprint to get a seat, the crowd quickly breaks up as stewards' cries of "Don't run!" ring out but have little impact.

Wimbledon is an even like no other.
Wimbledon is an even like no other.

That sets the tone for a day at Wimbledon - everyone is always moving. No matter what time it is or who's playing, everyone is always on the go. Leaving the air-conditioned comfort of the media centre means zig-zagging in and out through never-ending streams of people wearing everything from linen shirts and boat shoes to footy shorts and thongs. Yeah, there's a heavy Australian presence here.

Lower-ranked players file through the precinct anonymously. Heads turn slightly as pros walk past dressed in all-white with racquet bags slung over their shoulder but unless they're a household name, no one stops them for a selfie or autograph.

Wimbledon is a tournament like no other.
Wimbledon is a tournament like no other.

Wimbledon officials are easy to spot. Umpires and line judges march around in bone-coloured chinos and navy blazers with pin stripes - replicas of which can be bought from the always-pumping Wimbledon gift shop, as well as towels for $60, any type of apparel you want and everything from coffee cups to keychains. It does a roaring trade at all hours of the day.

If you're wearing a lanyard with accreditation around your neck, chances are every door you walk through will be opened for you by those dressed like a concierge. Even journalists crossing the hall from the press centre to the bathroom have the arduous task of pulling the door open done for them.

What really makes the precinct glow are the splashes of colour - off the court, obviously, given the all-white dress code for players. Lush green ivy climbs over wooden pergolas and the outside walls of the major courts, while white and purple flowers greet your eyes at every turn, bar, walkway and food stall around.

The attention to detail at Wimbledon is impressive.
The attention to detail at Wimbledon is impressive.

Speaking of food, plastic containers of strawberries and cream definitely do run hot, as the stereotype goes, but there are also sausages and pizza services and a food court area that resembles the bookies den at a racecourse.

But grabbing an afternoon snack or a glass of Pimm's doesn't come easy. We've been led to believe the British love queuing and there are plenty of chances to do that at Wimbledon. With no clouds in the sky the line for the bar at the Southern Village snakes around at weird angles to accommodate the scores, probably hundreds, of people desperate to quench their thirst.

Fortunately for the hundreds of reporters, photographers and broadcasters who flock to SW19 to cover the year's third grand slam, queueing isn't such an issue in the haven that is the media restaurant. Hot dishes, cakes, pasta, pizza, drinks, burgers, steaks, salads and sandwiches are just part of the smorgasbord on offer for ravenous scribes like this one.

Wimbledon is busy from the first day to the last.
Wimbledon is busy from the first day to the last.

Space is always at a premium, be it in the walkways between outside courts or on Murray's Mound. The crowd on the famous grassy bank gets rowdier as the sun lowers and the libations flow faster, with more enthusiasm saved for those standing up and skolling their drinks to cheers from strangers than the actual tennis being shown on the big screens.

Everyone's having fun on the hill except the poor steward who, in the space of about 10 minutes, has repeated the phrase "You can't stand here, find a seat on the grass" at least 50 times to people who stand on the sandstone walkway because they can't spy a spare spot on the turf to park their backsides.

But as the hours tick by and the action moves to ticketed stadiums only, leaving those with ground passes devoid of live action, the final sips are taken, picnic blankets are rolled up and fans start flocking towards the gates - hopefully without the sunburn so many Englishmen and women have been sporting in week one.

The Hill hasn't had much to cheer about from English athletes in recent years.
The Hill hasn't had much to cheer about from English athletes in recent years.

At night, when all the matches are over but journalists are still typing away furiously trying to meet last-minute deadlines, it's a different Wimbledon altogether. The grounds are almost silent save for cleaners and maintenance staff tasked with ensuring the mess from that day magically disappears.

The lights from inside offices and hallowed halls extend out onto the asphalt surrounds as weary workers trudge to the exits, knowing a nightcap or warm bed awaits before they turn up again hours later to do it all again tomorrow.

News Corp Australia

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