When Roland-Garros Is On ITV4

Somehow February turned into June and Roland-Garros, the second grand slam tournament of the tour, and finale of the clay season, is in full swing. Though it’s been a few months since the last grand slam took place in Australia, various tennis-themed headlines have distracted me from the grand slam drought:

(1) On 22 March, an hour long online queue led to me successfully acquiring tickets for the semi finals of Roland-Garros (was very late to work that day);
(2) A letter arrived through the post from Wimbledon in mid-March to say I’d been successful in the ballot, on my first attempt (March was an exciting month);
(3) My friend Sara took me to the Wimbledon Tour and Museum for my birthday one sunny Saturday afternoon in April (such a joy when Andy Murray is the current champion);
(4) The Great British Tennis Weekend in May saw me discover my local tennis club and start a beginners course (we weren’t taught tennis at school in Inverness, very deprived);
(5) Last week, I booked my flights to the US/Canada for my US Open tennis adventure in September (this birthday keeps on giving!);
(6) And of course there’s always my favourite Google search: Andy Murray. No jokes, my phone has decided, without prompt, to make this a favourite on my Safari homepage. It’s important to find out what the world is saying about my favourite player. Shingles? Oh no. Elbow injury? How unfortunate. 30?

Happy birthday, Andy!


It’s fair to say it’s not been the best season for Andy so far but it’s made me so happy to watch him fight through the opening rounds of Roland-Garros, and even more delighted that this viewing hasn’t been through refreshing an online newsfeed, as I had anticipated, but through live coverage, courtesy of ITV4. Who actually knew? Has this always been the case? Have I been depriving myself of the pinnacle of the clay season year after year? Thank goodness I discovered in time this year! In all seriousness, it’s like Christmas came early. Every day this week, I’ve been in work early, to leave early, to get home as soon as possible and dive my face in front of my laptop screen. I want to watch as much of this tournament as I can.

 


I’d originally considered visiting Paris twice during this tournament, to experience both the early rounds and the finals, and to ensure I actually saw Andy play (remember that time I went to Australia?…). However, work constraints meant this wasn’t possible, and with an American adventure still to finance, it was probably for the best. Instead, I focused my efforts on getting finals tickets and when tickets went on sale on 22 March, I successfully managed to get myself 7000th-odd in the RG online queue for tickets. Unfortunately, the final was sold out by the time the 7000 people in front of me had finished their online shopping, so instead I opted to get tickets for the two men’s semi-finals. Two matches for the price of one? Sounds like a good deal to me. Read more about my experiences of getting tickets for the grand slams here.

Viv, a friend from Japan, is joining me for the Parisian adventure which will see us hit up Roland-Garros in the flesh on Friday, go for a cheeky Parkrun on the Saturday morning and then hopefully, if I haven’t made up that this exists, watch the final on a big screen by the Eiffel Tower on Sunday. Only two rounds stand between me and an Andy Murray semi final – fingers crossed he gets the memo this time round!

The Wimbledon Tour

“Winning Wimbledon is the pinnacle of tennis,” Andy Murray had said shortly after winning his first Wimbledon title, 77 years after the last British man had achieved the same accolade. As a fan, and a UK fan at that, it’s no surprise that Wimbledon is held in the same high esteem by me as it is by my favourite tennis player. I re-watch the 2013 and 2016 finals on a regular basis in a way that I have never done for the 2012 US Open final or either of the Olympic titles that Andy has won. It’s all about Wimbledon. Given my adoration of the tournament, you can imagine my delight when Sara, a long-term friend from university, presented me with an envelope which contained ticket confirmation for a tour of the Wimbledon grounds and museum entrance. My favourite place in London? Today?

Is Andy coming, too?


“It’s funny,” I voiced out loud as we walked towards the Wimbledon grounds, on one of the sunniest days of the year so far, “This is one of my favourite places in the world, yet I only come here once a year.” Until I gain my Wimbledon member status, it’s unlikely that my visit stats will be changing much, though I do plan to double my record by attending the tennis twice this year. With my tour of the grounds now behind me, that brings me up to a projected total of three visits for 2017!

Some have asked if it is worth doing the tour/going to the museum if you’ve been to Wimbledon as a spectator. Or is it just for the tourists who poorly plan their London holidays to fall outside the 2-week window of the tournament? I’d say: if you love Wimbledon, and you love tennis, you’ll love this.

 

The Tour

On the 1.5 hour tour you spend time in the broadcasting house where you are taken to the BBC studio, i.e. where Sue Barker chats tennis and interviews players every day of the tournament. You’re taken to the main interview room where players are obliged to be interviewed after their matches, regardless of whether they won or lost, and you have a chance to sit on the interviewee seats and see how it feels. You also get to see where the players enter the grounds, and walk around other VIP parts of the grounds which you wouldn’t have access to as a regular punter. And the final treat? A visit to where all the tears and joy have surfaced: centre court!

There were a lot of fun facts on this tour and I came out of it feeling like quite the Wimbledon expert; I plan to voice them loudly when I’m in the queue in July so people give me tennis respect. If you intend to do the tour in the future, maybe skip forward to my museum spiel so I don’t spoil the learning process for you!

Cat’s fav facts. Did you know…

(1) Wimbledon, as we know it, started in a different location down the road, and as a croquet club. It was only in 1877 that the name changed to include (lawn) tennis, and then only in 1899 that tennis became the primary sport in the name. This is the name it has retained ever since: The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Frightfully posh.

(2) The grass is kinda a big deal. It basically takes all year to cut it back, germinate it, cut it back, let it grow, cut it back. This grass is nothing less than perfect for Andy and friends!

(3) Last year, there were 5 million hacking attempts on the Wimbledon website. Like, why? Guys, you can’t stop Andy Murray from winning Wimbledon by hacking the website.

(4) The BBC studio is one of 18 broadcasting studios in the broadcasting house, and the broadcasting partnership between the BBC and Wimbledon has been running since 1927, making it the longest broadcasting partnership ever. Wowee. Just as well though, I would cry if the BBC lost broadcasting rights; Wimbledon is nothing without Sue Barker.

(5) It only costs £95 to become a member at Wimbledon  – bargain! All you need on top of that is three letters of recommendation from current members, or be a Wimbledon champion, or be heir to the throne. So obviously I’m about to become a member any day now.

(6) Tim Henman was asked last year how he’d feel about Henman Hill being renamed Murray Mound. Tim said straight-up, no: “If Andy’s going to win grand slams, I’m going to keep my hill.” Or words to that effect. I end up calling it both so people have no doubt what I’m talking about. “Shall we go to Henman Hill/Murray Mound?” This is definitely a long-term practical answer.

(7) Since 1887, there have only been six Wimbledon tournaments where it hasn’t rained at some point in the tournament. 2010 was the most recent year for this. Let’s hope 2017 follows suit!

(8) Mind that time Andy won Wimbledon in 2013 for the first time and he jumped up into his box to hug his coaches, and Kim, and then he forgot his Mum? Good times. Well turns out that’s a tradition that harks back to 1987 when Australian Pat Cash won Wimbledon and shocked everyone by clambering over seats to celebrate with the people he loves. It’s not obligatory, mind. Last year, Andy was so overcome with emotion that he just sat down to take it in, and even his pal Djokovic decided to eat a blade of grass when he won. I mean, each to their own.

 

The Museum
The museum is an incredible historical resource, telling the story not just of Wimbledon but of tennis in general, and how it has evolved over the years. I’d say it’s up there with the Parlamentarium in Brussels as being one of my favourite museums of all time (those of you who were with me in Brussels know this is high praise!). You can pick up a headset from the shop upstairs or you can choose to tour the museum without – I’d suggest you pick one up and then and choose what you’d like to listen to. The museum is very interactive, you can test your tennis knowledge (go to the museum after you’ve done the tour of the grounds if you want to feel smart!) and about halfway round, there is the coolest virtual reality experience ever where you’re transported to various venues within Wimbledon and given 360 degree vision thanks to some snazzy camera work they did last year. The highlight of the museum, for sure!

In conclusion, this is a must for all tennis-loving, Wimbledon-loving fans. And pre: Wimbledon 2017 is the perfect time to visit – because it’s all about Andy!

You can buy individual tickets for admission into the museum, or you can buy a combined ticket for museum admission and a tour of the grounds. There are no tours between mid-June and mid-July. The museum remains open in the lead-up to the tournament and is open to ticket-holders during the tournament. A few days after the tournament has ended the museum opens again. Check out the Wimbledon website for everything you need to know!

Watching the Tennis When You’re Not At the Tennis

Much like London during Wimbledon, there are an abundance of screens dotted around Melbourne, enabling you to watch the tennis, even when you’re not at the tennis. Although I had googled where to find the screens, I didn’t attempt to seek out a specific screen, partially because I quickly learned: there are screens everywhere. Here are my favs:

(1) Federation Square
Federation Square, situated beside the famous Flinders Street Station, is the beating heart of the city centre, and provides a central, public space which is used for multiple cultural and touristic purposes throughout the year. Interestingly, it was recently named the 6th Best Public Square in the world; not a shabby claim to fame at all. This is where you can find not one, not two, but three screens all in close proximity: two outside in the square itself (literally facing each other) and one inside the cafe area of ACMI, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (a museum like no other). Between the two screens, I camped out to watch Jo Konta take on Serena Williams. Unfortunately, the match did not go in British favour, but basking in the sun, surrounded by a majority British-supporting crowd, made for a very enjoyable experience. FYI, this square was not named after Roger Federer but there is a huge placard with his face on it beside the square because, why wouldn’t you? Everyone loves Roger Federer.

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(2) Crown
If in doubt about the names of streets and areas in Melbourne, choose your favourite London location and chances are, you’ll find it in the Australian city (no but really, I’m staying in Richmond, I saw a bus to Camberwell, just waiting for Brixton to pop up). A friend had advised me to go to the Southbank area, south of the Yarra, and right enough, when I arrived in the area, I felt like I stumbled back onto the Southbank in London. Either Southbank wins my heart. It was here that I stumbled across the intimate outdoor screening beside the Crown, a very posh hotel/restaurant/casino complex, with deckchairs aplenty and a Pimms stand at the back. I watched the last couple of games of the Dimitrov vs. Goffin match here and was pretty gutted I hadn’t found the venue sooner. Who doesn’t want to sit beside a river on a summer’s afternoon watching tennis and drinking Pimms?

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(3) Home
Every evening since arriving, I’ve returned back to my Air bnb apartment and watched whatever tennis is going with my Air bnb hosts. It was Nadal vs. Monfils on Monday, the end of Federer vs. Zverev on Tuesday, Nadal vs. Raonic on Wednesday. Tonight I’m off to Fed Square to watch Federer’s semi final against fellow countryman Wawrinka. I’m not gonna lie, I’m getting pretty psyched up about the idea of a Nadal vs. Federer final. Wawrinka, Dimitrov, can you just stand back and let that happen? The world will be forever grateful.

I love being able to watch tennis where ever I am, whenever I like: being in the right time zone is the best. I am seriously considering how I can give up my day job and become a groupie, following the tennis players as they travel the world on tour. Andy Murray, what can I do for you?

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En Route to Aus

You always think you’re going to have loads of time at the airport, waiting to board your flight. At least, I always think this and then find myself frantically rushing about trying to achieve a million things in a half hour stint (pretty sure I’ve bought every adaptor in existence several times over; they just seem to disappear into a black hole). Yesterday was no different and though I intended to launch this blog whilst sipping on an iced coffee at Caffè Nero in Heathrow Airport, I am actually publishing this in Delifrance, Hong Kong airport the following day, having written up the post on the plane.

As anticipated, this week was long, challenging and so bitterly, bitterly cold, but I got through it and as I arrived home from work yesterday afternoon, I felt a huge weight had been lifted. No less because Andy Murray has made it through the first week! It’s hit home again this year how time difference has really limited my enjoyment of the Australian Open up until now. You wake up to match results. You view snippet updates on your Twitter feed as you commute into work (‘Has anyone else seen that Djokovic has just gone out?’ I wondered (almost) out loud, looking around at my fellow commuters as the bus rolled down Brixton Hill). You check-in briefly with the BBC commentary when you arrive at your desk. But by the time your caffeine fix has kicked in properly and you’re ready to face the day, Australia has gone to bed.

You can understand why I’m so excited to be able to view this tournament in real time. And if the second week is anything like the first week, it’s going to be an incredible week of tennis! My man Andy has won the first three rounds in straight sets, most recently beating Sam Querry, the man who knocked Djokovic out of Wimbledon last year. Fellow countryman Dan Evans, currently ranked 51 in the world, has shown everyone that his impressive play in Wimbledon last year was not a fluke: he’s already beaten Marin Cilic, the world number 7, and Aussie Bernard Tomic, ranked 27th, to join Andy in the fourth round – what a hero. Not forgetting Johanna Konta who is smashing her way through the womens tournament, most recently beating Caroline Wozniacki to ensure her place in the last 16. C’mon the Brits. Meanwhile, the shock of the tournament has been Djokovic going out in the second round, although perhaps less surprising really given his early exits from Wimbledon and the Olympics last year. As you can probably imagine, my initial reaction was a mix of joy, shock and disbelief, and I was messaging everyone in my phonebook to tell them (I really appreciate how many of my friends humour me and my tennis chat – thanks guys). Djokovic has been the reason why Andy has lost 4/5 of his Australian Open finals. Does Novak’s early exit finally pave the way for a Murray win?

The Countdown Is On

It’s Sunday night and all that stands between me and my first grand slam adventure is a five-day working week in the bitter cold of January-in-London. This week is going to be hard and I’m slightly concerned that potential stress will cause me to be ill; can I please have some time off work in aid of holiday health?

Hopefully the holiday prep will keep my spirits high. Being the extravagant present-giver-to-self that I am this year, I’ll be going to get me some tennis-themed nails later in the week; I’ll also be picking up my birthday-slam-themed t-shirts from a print design shop; and then I’ll be donning my pride and joy Scottish flag that’s due to arrive midweek. Sidebar: Why do I not own this already?

The tournament starts at 00:00 GMT, just over three hours away from now. Andy will be playing third on the Rod Laver Arena against Illya Marchenko, a Ukranian player, who he’s only ever played once before. The time difference means it’s likely that I’ll wake up tomorrow and know if Andy is through to the second round or not. Nervous? Errr, a little.

It was always going to be a risk booking tickets for a final where there was no way of knowing whether or not my favourite player would feature. My dates for this trip also mean that, in theory, Andy could be out before I even get to Australia. But if there was ever a season to take such a risk, it was this one. I’ve got a good feeling about this.