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Tennis in the time of Football!

Jul 15, 2018

Wimbledon in a year of the World Cup Football cannot be just tennis alone! Moreover, hopping on and hopping off black cabs, private taxis and the Uber gives London yet another dimension.

The shortest ever answer to the immigration officer’s ‘what brings you to London?’ – Wimbledon – is like a magic password. At the Earl’s Gate station, nearest to my stay, the staff doesn’t need to second guess as to where one is headed. ‘Remember to get off at Southfields and follow the crowd’ is all you are told.

At this moment all the dominant football chatter, in whatever tongue, onboard the Heathrow Express – recedes. The cabbie’s reaction to mine ‘whether Uber still exists in London, given the ongoing controversy’ was nothing surprising and set aside for further validation!

Suddenly, I become conscious of my pilgrim status. What must be an otherwise sleepy station, now has a concentration of fans from the world over – headed to the Mecca of tennis. A Grigor Dimitrov for Hagen Dazs ad beckons you to a strawberry and cream treat. Part of the platform is covered with a green mat suggestive of what awaits ahead.

Once out in the open at the Southfields, the option is to keep walking in the direction of SW 19 or take a cab-ride for ‘just two pounds to tennis’. Most prefer to march the picturesque downhill.  Intense conversations can be heard on anything ranging from previous years to previous days, today and the beyond!  Some stop by to reinforce their headgear or any other form of bargain, food and drinks that spring up between beautiful homes with pretty gardens. There is even a Maui Jim outlet. Many who you do see wear a straw hat inside the Club – probably picked it here. Every step is an exciting buildup to the drama that is about to unfold.

On my day 1 commute, I am focused on the first match at the Court 1. In my mind it could be a Halep versus Kerber clash at some advanced stage with a good likelihood of one of these coming on the top. There is no doubt whatsoever that today Halep should be able to overcome Hsieh. A quick strawberry and cream treat at the Food Court and I am one of the first one to get inside. Much before even the net comes up. It is amazing to be inside that arena awaiting the arrival of the spectators and the gladiators. Am I overwhelmed? That would be an understatement!

Much to everyone’s surprise the slightly built Taiwanese girl not only matched Halep’s screams but outplayed her in every department. Game after game one expected the recent French Open champ to pull something from her armour to neutralise the challenge. But that was not to happen. Perhaps this was an exception?! Falling seeds seemed to be the underlying theme all throughout. Nothing could be taken for granted. The day after this heady win Su-wei too fell – to opposition – at one of the side courts.

Later in the day the Gulbis and Zverev match saw the departure of the high seeded German whose temper in parts dominated his talent. And in the last of the contests Nishikori outwitted Kyrgios, thereby challenging the very rationale of seeding. The same day while Russia and Croatia were also clashing, it was Sweden versus England that registered its presence in the thick of the tennis drama. None should have missed the passionate ‘come on England’ call at the Court 1.

My day 2 at the Court 1 started with a Kerber versus Bencic. A spirited one but the German girl prevailed over the Swiss Miss. It was in his match with Monfils that one saw the raw power and surgical precision of  the ‘skyscraper’ Kevin Anderson. This followed Djokovic annihilating Khachanov. The Serb looked too good to be written off too soon despite all the media speculation.

The France and Belgium match was expected to be an epic not worth missing. For many locals the discussion was around who might they possibly play in the finals if they overcame Croatia.

I woke up on my day 3 with a most incredible text informing me about the Federer play on Court 1. Had to literally rub my eyes a couple of times to make sure it was not a dream. ‘Fans who probably bought the Court 1 seats months ago, had no idea they would be seeing Roger Federer’, commented Patrick McEnroe. Likewise, after winning the first two sets, the Federer loss to Kevin was a bit too surreal. Just when I thought the match was getting one-sided, the tide turned in the favour of Anderson. The Court became near empty soon thereafter. Some who had the option of moving to the Nadal match at the Centre court did that while many rushed to follow football.

The prospects of watching Federer play from a close distance was an absolute treat and a dream come true. But then what a rude awakening! Howsoever disappointed I was with the untimely Roger exit, I decided to stay put and watch the two big North American boys – Raonic play the giant Isner. The after effect of the first quarter final of the day was telling. And I even contemplated the possibility of getting some AI into the tennis racket… If only Roger had that luxury, he would not have squandered some of his backhands into the net! Some wishful thinking, isn’t it?

With a cool breeze, after three warm and sunny days, came the news of England scoring a quick first goal. However, by the end of it all just as the faithful headed back for the return ride to Southfields, the mood was somber. Some like me were still reconciling to the GOAT’s demise from the championship and the others smarting from the three lions’ loss to Croatia.

We all love the re-emergence of Novak Djokovic and salute the marathon man Kevin Anderson. That despite the comeback, Novak is not yet in the top 10 speaks for why not to take the business of seeding seriously. And with a roof in place on the Court 1 (come September) there will hopefully be no need to obsess about the bees in your bonnet (alluding to the bee attack on Court 1 ahead of my time)! But could that ensure a zero distraction to the champions from the likes of fluttering butterflies (Roger and Rafael) and the noisy jet engines (Roger) – flying to and fro?

PS: Now all about the drivers!

  • Never got to know the name of the driver (black cab) who drove me from Paddington. When asked about the existence of Uber. The response was rather curt. ‘Yes they are very much here. As always upto their usual tricks!’
  • Abdul (private cab) Afghan origin. Drove me from Earl’s Gate to Pall Mall. Came in as a refugee when he could still learn to drive in London with the only language he knew then – Pashto. His first employer was a Gujarati. Hence more keen to talk in both Hindi and Gujarati. Was invited by the employer to attend the son’s ‘lagan’ in India. Could not make it due to his visa status then. But anyway got to know ‘lagan’ means marriage! ‘What brings you here’, he asks? ‘Oh Wimbledon, I dropped a guest there the other day.’
  • Sattar (private cab) Iranian descent (native of Bandar Abbas) and could speak Hindi thanks to his burqa trading days in Dubai. His ‘cutter’ was from Mangalore not Bangalore (he mentioned twice). Very happy like Abdul for having made UK his home. Drove me back to the Heathrow Express. Exceptionally warm human.
  • Nuno (Uber) originally from Portugal. Drove me from Trafalgar to St Pancras. Very critical about his home team. ‘There is only one real player. The rest keep looking at him’! His most preferred team lifted the Cup. On private cabbies: Always spreading rumors…
  • Ilchan (Uber) a Turk from Greece. Drove me from King’s Cross to Aldermanbury. Cool guy. Happy bachelor. No more girl friends coz ‘they call you all the time to know where are you’! Takes a break when he thinks he has had enough. ‘Who knows, I might get married one day’! What about the other cabs? ‘They are only available in limited places and not round the clock. We are available all over, anytime’.









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  1. Ratika permalink

    This was such a fun read, especially because as I was in London around the same and was witness to the frenzy !
    Cabbie stories were just the best.
    Can’t wait for the next one. Write on my friend !

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