Posted: Tuesday June 27, 2006 1:36PM; Updated: Tuesday June 27, 2006 6:13PM
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Wimbledon is the grand stage of tennis. Crisp green grass, pristine white clothes and strawberries and cream. These indelible images are etched in my memory of eagerly anticipating the famed Breakfast at Wimbledon television coverage.
Now, after playing Wimbledon as a professional for the past 10 years, my affinity for the tournament has only grown. It is a special experience just walking through the grounds of the All England Club, and when you step on court, you feel you are taking part in the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world.
England is where "lawn tennis" originated, and Wimbledon takes pride in maintaining the traditions of the sport. The men's champion starts play every year on Center Court on Monday afternoon at precisely 1 p.m., and the women's champion commences the action the following day at the same time. There is no tennis allowed on Sundays at the All England Club, where there is an almost religious parallel to the day of rest. It is an aspect of the tournament I truly enjoy, the calm before the storm. The unblemished courts and the emptiness of the hallowed grounds provide one of the most serene experiences of the year.
The most unique characteristic of Wimbledon is its grass-court surface. Grass courts once dominated tennis, as three of the four Grand Slams were played on grass (the lone exception was Roland Garros). Australia and the U.S. Open eventually switched to surfaces requiring less maintenance, leaving only Wimbledon with the surface on which tennis originated. Grass-court tennis is drastically different from the other surfaces we play; the ball bounces lower and moves through the court faster, giving attacking players an advantage. These are the exact opposite characteristics from the clay courts that we competed on a few weeks ago. Clay courts give the defensive player the advantage, and the points are often won by the player who makes the fewest errors. On grass, the offensive player controls the pace of play; those who serve better and have the ability to win points at the net have a decisive advantage. This why it is such a rarity for a player -- no matter how great a champion -- to win both the French Open and Wimbledon. It is an incredible challenge to make the adjustment in such a short span of time, with different movements, spins and shot selections rewarded.
Wimbledon Village, the town surrounding the club, is also part of the Wimbledon experience. The streets leading to the All England Club are lined with shops and restaurants, which are buzzing during the tournament and give fans a unique opportunity to interact with their favorite players, as most players competing in the tournament rent houses or apartments in the village. (Though the rents are astronomical, the convenience of being close to the club makes it a worthwhile trade-off.) Thus, you inevitably run into numerous players whether you are getting a cup of coffee in the morning at Starbucks, getting some groceries at Roots or enjoying an incredible dinner at San Lorenzo's (the most popular Italian restaurant in the village). Monday night at San Lorenzo's was a paparazzi dream, with Maria Sharapova, Justine Henin-Hardenne and Andre Agassi and his wife, Steffi Graf, occupying tables in a close vicinity.