BBC Wales at Wimbledon

Wednesday 2 July 2014, 14:12

Catrin Heledd Catrin Heledd

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As the second hand counts down to 10.30, hundreds of eager fans wait for the grand gates of the All England Club to fling open. They'll be waiting a long time. The home of the most prestigious event in the tennis calendar doesn't do 'flinging'. Instead, everyone waits in line patiently before a troop of stewards escort them in, slowly and in an orderly fashion. There's no pushing from the back, no sneaky queue jumping. Everyone behaves impeccably. It's all about military precision and conformity. Life here is very structured. Very British. Welcome to Wimbledon.

Media building rooftop. Photo by Catrin Heledd Media building rooftop. Photo by Catrin Heledd

I arrived in SW19 before the crowds, ready to provide regular updates throughout the tournament in both Welsh and English for BBC Wales. There may not be any Welsh superstars walking out on Centre Court but that doesn’t mean our audience isn’t interested in the battles between some of the biggest names in tennis. But why Wimbledon? Why doesn't the British Formula 1 Grand Prix have the same appeal?

The All England Club is a unique place. Nestled at the end of a leafy lane in the south London suburb from which the championship takes its colloquial name, away from the chaos of the capital, sits a serene scene of luscious green grass, crisp white attire and, of course, the strawberries. Although I was surprised to learn that alongside 28,000kg of the ubiquitous red fruit, 6,000 stone-baked pizzas are also devoured over the fortnight of the tournament. Not just any pizza though – we're talking the upper crust of the doughy world. Posh pizza.

On Henman Hill. Photo by Abby O'Sullivan On Henman Hill. Photo by Abby O'Sullivan

When you say Wimbledon, there are certain words that come to mind – yes, strawberries; the P-word (other alcoholic beverages are available); Cliff Richard. The rules and traditions of the tournament are very much a part of the experience. But it isn’t stuffy. It's just a very well-rehearsed event. People come here to experience a piece of British history. I spotted someone smoking as I dashed between courts the other day. I was surprised to learn there isn’t a smoking ban. But people don't appear to smoke here anyway. It just doesn’t seem to fit in with the whole ambiance.

Centre Court. Photo by Abby O'Sullivan Centre Court. Photo by Abby O'Sullivan

Not much has changed since I visited as a youngster. There’s the new roof on Centre Court, and Court One might be joining those sheltered ranks at some stage soon. This place is stuck in a time warp. But in a good way. It's timeless.

Sitting on Centre Court in the early hours of the morning with only BBC Breakfast's weather presenter Carol Kirkwood for company, I do look around and think wow, this is pretty amazing. You don’t realise when you watch it on TV just how close to the action you are as a spectator. It feels special. Celebrities and members of the public mingle on the walkways together. And so do the tennis players as they head to and from matches. You don't notice them until a photographer runs by, or someone tries to take a selfie with them. A cameraman that I spoke to said he almost took Rafa Nadal out with his camera equipment on his shoulder. Now that would have been a story.

The oldest and arguably most prestigious of the four Grand Slam tournaments, you really can sense what this place means to the players. And with Murray as the reigning men's champion, you do feel as though this is perhaps a golden era for British tennis. It's certainly a privilege to be a part of that.

Boris Becker on the media building rooftop. Photo: Catrin Heledd Boris Becker on the media building rooftop. Photo: Catrin Heledd

The fact that Wimbledon hasn't changed - it hasn't embraced whimsical fashions - shows how it's beyond that. It doesn't need to scream and shout about how big and important it is. Its history speaks for itself. And when Nadal wanders through the masses, on the lookout for unruly tripods, you remind yourself that everyone wants to be a part of that stately buzz of Wimbledon. And in that sense the players really are no different to you and me.

Hear regular Wimbledon updates from Catrin on BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Cymru.

For all the latest in the world of Welsh sport, go to bbc.co.uk/sportwales

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