Stefanie Maria Graf, one of my favourite tennis players from the yesteryears. She burst onto our TV screens like a breath of fresh air at a time when Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert dominated the world of women’s tennis.
The young determined athletic German girl who could have dominated any sports she put her mind to, chose tennis luckily for us.
The first Saturday of July was never the same again. The shopping was done, the house work all cleared, lunch served and the no disturb sign went up. I was ready to spent the next couple of hours glued to the TV watching the Wimbledon women’s singles finals. Even the introduction had to be seen. Steffi fooling around with her family, and then the actual match. I shared every triumph and despair with her. I watched Martina beat her the first time they met at the Wimbledon finals. The next year I watched as she beat Martina to claim her very first Wimbledon title.
In 1994, when Steffi lost to Lori McNeil in the first round of Wimbledon, I was driving home from work listening to radio 5 live. I was so engrossed in the commentary that I completely missed my exit and totally got lost. I had and still have no sense of direction. When I panic, the map directions are all a bit of a blur. The first day back from my job at King’s College Hospital, I took the wrong turning and it took me another 3 hours to find my way home. My A-Z was in tatters at the end and so was my nerves. This time luckily it didn’t take that long to find my way back.
I had a chance in 1992 to watch Steffi play live. I was off work on the Wednesday and that was the last day you could queue up to get tickets to watch the matches. After work, my friend and I packed some essentials and took a late underground train to Southfields. In those days you had to queue up on the footpath at night and then in the morning you get moved on to the proper queues. Nowadays you queue up on the open fields next to the venue and most people camp out with their tents, like Kavitha and Huw did a few years ago. You can get tickets via other options as well, but to get the best tickets i.e. front row tickets, this is the way to do it.
The atmosphere was quite jolly to start with. Some of the nearby residents brought us hot tea in flasks. We settled for the night, making ourselves comfortable on some newspaper we had taken with us. So I can say that I have spent the night out in the streets of London.
Our night under the starry night came to an abrupt stop when it started pouring down with rain by about 2 in the morning. The rest of the night was spent huddled in the temporary makeshift toilets that was set up for the visitors to the venue. Day dawned and we found out that we had a chance of getting front row tickets. We looked at the order of play and Steffi and Martina were playing on Court no:1 and Monica Seles and Gabriella Sabatini on Centre Court. I had been to Wimbledon before, but only to Court no:1 and the outside courts. I might never get a chance to be on Centre Court again especially on the front row. The choice was made easy when we found out that Boris Becker and Wayne Ferreira were going to be finishing off their match from the day before on Centre Court before the women’s quarter finals got under way.
It ended up being one of the most horrible days. It rained non stop till about 5pm. I was completely exhausted and was ready to give up and go home when the games finally got underway.
I have been to Centre Court twice since then, but never the front row. The seats we got were opposite to where the players sit and facing the umpires near the nets. Seeing the court in such close proximity, the grass, the speed with which the balls go whizzing past and the athleticism of the players was extraordinary.
Monica Seles was the number one player I believe at the time, till her short reign got interrupted by a crazy Steffi fan who stabbed her during a match. It was such a pity not only because of the mental and physical trauma that Monica had to endure, but also because tennis lost one of the best players in the process. Monica was never the same again after her return.
We didn’t wait to see the end of the Sabatini match. It was a very long day for us and one that was never to be repeated again.