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A 7.30am train on a Saturday morning may not sound the ideal way to begin a weekend but when the destination is Wimbledon there was nothing but excitement as sixteen juniors, parents and coaches took over one of the carriages on the penultimate day of the Championships.
Although it was a shame that Johanna Konta had been knocked out in the semi-finals, there was still plenty to look forward to as many of the kids awaited their first sight of Wimbledon. The day began promisingly with chocolate cake on the train to celebrate Sam Wilton-Davies’ 12th birthday. Despite this early sugar rush, the novelty of the trolley service couldn’t be ignored and one of the juniors paid £1.50 for three small jaffa cakes. This profligate use of spending money was only made worse by the realisation that one of the coaches has bought two entire packets to share out, much to the amusement of everyone else in the train.
The first activity at Wimbledon afforded everyone a chance to burn off the chocolate cake and extortionate jaffa cakes as we raced to the LTA’s ‘Play Tennis Zone’. This area included a mini tennis court and interactive games where you could compete to get the highest score of the day. Surrounded by competitive 9-14-year olds it was some achievement for Emily, one of our coaching team, to be by far the most determined and ruthless competitor present.
From warning Marcus to stop volleying on a game testing accuracy (only to be seen repeating this trick in an attempt at beating his score later) through to unrelenting attempts to surpass everyone’s score on the serve speed net, Emily’s competitive spirit led to a fiendish plan being devised by the other adults present.
With help from the LTA representative who was overseeing the game it was decided that Anthi, one of the parents on the trip, would be given a speed to put her near the top of the leaderboard. With Emily vying to get the high score in another game across the room the LTA rep stirred up the crowd to add effect. Emily’s reaction and subsequent attempts to beat the score of 80.3mph were only made more entertaining when one of her fastest attempts only registered 14.3mph on the machine.
The chance to watch some live tennis was delayed by some light rain showers. This did provide an opportunity to go hunting for autographs and photos with some famous players and celebrities. The initial search around the grounds was unsuccessful but did include a chance encounter with EGCC member Simon Irvin and Terry Viney. Loitering outside the press centre provided some far better results. After Marcus has been brushed off by Lindsey Davenport and other ex-players such as Tim Henman, Pat Cash and Greg Rusedski had clearly decided that it was unwise to go near an excitable bunch of red shirts we did manage to get a group photo with former British no. 1 Annabel Croft who could not have been more accommodating. John McEnroe then exited the press centre but despite Tim’s best attempts to arrange a photo, the former Champion all but stated “you cannot be serious” as he rushed to commentate on the ladies’ singles final.
As play resumed we headed to Court One to watch the girls’ singles final between two 17-year-old Americans: Claire Liu and Ann Li. Liu, the French Open runner-up, won 6-2 5-7 6-2 holding her nerve to win despite missing three Championship points in the second set.
The group then split into two with birthday boy Sam, Quillan and James getting on to Centre Court to watch some of the men’s doubles final. The surroundings and speed of the play certainly impressed the boys. The final proved to be an epic encounter taking over four and half hours and it was still being played as we were on the train back, not finishing until gone 9.00pm.
The rest of the group were watching some invitational doubles on Court One between Jacco Eltingh/Paul Haarhuis and Henri Leconte/Cedric Pioline. This proved to be the highlight of the day with Leconte performing his usual tricks to entertain the crowd, at one point even swapping places with the umpire.
After watching a set of the men’s doubles final, the Centre Court group headed to Court 8 to watch the legendary Mansour Bahrami partner Michael Llodra against Lleyton Hewitt/Mark Philippoussis. Bahrami lived up to his name playing some outrageous shots in front of a packed audience. To end the day on a high, we then managed to sneak a photo with Bahrami as he came off court.
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