Olympic tennis at Wimbledon is serene, if not entirely different

Olympic tennis at Wimbledon is fun, but it doesn't match the pristine image of the club that people see on TV.
I was part of a group of North Americans who cordoned off an entire end of the train car on the district line to Wimbledon on Saturday. Coincidence brought us together, but it provided a welcome escape from a week of Union Jack flags and Team GB cheers.

This country has gone from despair in the first few days of the Olympics to complete and unfettered patriotic, revelry. Six gold medals in a single day will do that to you. Especially when you haven’t pulled off a feat like that in modern Olympic history.

The two Canadians, American couple and the family of an American Olympian I found myself seated with were looking to escape that by watching an American talent — Serena Williams — on the historic green grass of Wimbledon.

It would be the first time any of us had been to the All England Lawn and Tennis Club, and I’m still trying to decide if our visit counts. So much was different about Olympics tennis at Wimbledon.

The sidewalks running from the Southfields tube stop were empty early Saturday afternoon. Instead of thick crowds of tennis enthusiasts buzzing with excitement before a women’s final at the Championships, there were small groups of Belgians and Germans and Spaniards who seemed to all be chewing over the same question: Will it look the same as it does on TV?

The streets were deserted. They had been barricaded and blocked off before the Olympics began for security reasons. IMG’s David Abrutyn, who goes to the Championships every year, said security was so tight that he couldn’t even use the backstreets where he grabs taxis every July. He had to make the long walk with the masses.

The first thing I did when I got inside was head straight to a concession booth and pay £2.50 for my strawberries and cream. It was nearly 2 p.m., but my tennis-loving father watched enough tennis from the Championships for NBC’s “Breakfast at Wimbledon” to be seared into my brain.

The strawberries and cream — as underwhelming as the clear plastic bowl in which it was served — were sold at a booth with a lime green sign in the shadow of Centre Court. Adjacent booths had the hot pink, deep purple and electric blue from LOCOG’s (London Olympic Organizing Committee) palette of ugly.

For Championship regulars like Tim Curry, the U.S. Tennis Association’s head of communications, those colors have been very disorienting.

Wimbledon is defined be the simple and bland forest green that is on its seats, railings, walls and trim outside the stadium. But for the Olympics, Centre Court was wrapped in London 2012 purple, and the Rolex clock and Wimbledon W’s were covered with the lime green logo of the Games.

Serena Williams' dominant performance caused the crowd to grow a little restless.
The crowd added another layer of dissonance for Curry and others. The place wasn’t filled with the tennis-loving rich fans who watched Williams play a month ago. It was a mixed group, many of whom were lucky enough to snag tickets through an egalitarian lottery system.

They were a rambunctious bunch. The emcee had to remind everyone to be quiet a few times as the match began. It didn’t help that Williams went to the bathroom right before the match started, which prompted a cascade of boos.

The masses wanted tennis, but I don’t think they wanted the tennis they got. Williams was dominant, winning the first eight points and hitting the ball so hard that Maria Sharapova was left to lunge and weakly hold out her racket hoping she could redirect the ball back over the net.

The first set was a 6-0 drubbing that ended in less than 30 minutes. The crowd started looking for something to cheer. There were catcalls when Williams’ skirt blew up and cheers when the first fan caught a tennis ball that popped off of Sharapova’s racket like a foul ball.

The action in the stands seemed more important throughout the Olympic tennis at Wimbledon. Curry said he was watching Andy Roddick’s first-round match on Court 2 when a baby started wailing. Roddick was just about to serve as the father stood up to take the baby out of the stands.

“Andy looked up at the guy carrying his screaming child and said to him, ‘Don’t worry. It gets better,’” Curry said.

After Williams’ 63-minute domination of Sharapova ended, I wandered around the grounds of Wimbledon. It was the most peaceful walk I’d had all Olympics.

Wimbledon, usually crowded and bustling during the Championships, was an oasis of calm during the Games. London 2012 ticketed individual matches rather than the entire day of tennis, so the place was practically empty.

There was plenty of room on the hill behind No. 1 Court. People were stretched out on the ground drinking cider and watching a giant screen while the Bryan brothers played for the gold medal on Centre Court.

They weren’t selling Wimbledon merchandise. The store was full of London 2012’s loud pinks, oranges and greens. There were no purple and green W’s. So I headed into town to buy a shirt.

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