Behind the Scenes of a Grand Slam… While the Aussies labour down under, see Wimbledon and the U.S. Open outside the lines.
One of the first things a spectator at the All England Lawn Tennis Club notices, when walking into the Wimbledon Grand Slam on any given day, is their fellow spectators — those of us standing on our toes, looking through perfectly manicured flora, craning their necks over various gates and lines just to get a glimpse of the action… any action. To be frank, seating is sparse at the AELTC, and while in New York, Americans might shout some choice words at someone in the way or climb on top of an ivy-coated wall to get a better view, the English simply live without stadium seating. Therefore, so do the Americans.
That pesky, polite colonial deference aside, the U.S. Open and Wimbledon possibly have the closest relationship, despite the playing surface. In the same manner as “The Championships” at AELTC, the U.S. Open actually started life as the (U.S. National) Championships in 1881 — some four years after. The Americans also began on their tournament on grass, first at the Newport Casino and then, beginning in 1915, at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, Queens. Forest Hills Stadium, the center of match play, held 14,000 people in its heyday — about the same as AELTC’s Centre Court.
But in 1978, most of those similarities ended. The United States National Lawn Tennis Association (USNLTA) became, simply, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and it moved to a behemoth complex of 22 bleacher courts, including four “show courts” — Louis Armstrong Stadium, the Grandstand, Court 17 and the 24,000-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium Court — at the USTA National Tennis Center three miles to the north in Flushing, Queens. With that, the attitude of the U.S. tournament changed, too — from one of classist to capitalist. Unlike Wimbledon, which still uses a lottery and keeps members tickets close to the chest, anyone who wants a ticket to the U.S. Open can get one, depending on the corporation for which they work or how much they want to pay. Large, global conglomerates that buy up sections of Ashe for their clubhouses, are barred from Wimbledon, where the only box is royal.
Attend both events in 2019, and the differences are stark: intimate vs. colossal. Yet, somehow both are truly communal — in true homage to homeland and former colony.
Above: Located within the grounds of Wimbledon, the Rosewater Pavilion was added fewer than five years ago “to capture the atmosphere of tennis in an English garden”. The Pavilion, has a concierge “at hand to ensure any request is dealt with swiftly.” The others who camp for tickets add up to 400 queuing by 8am with 1,300 by noon (depending on whether Federer plays). Below: At the U.S. Open (below), crowd control, paid hourly, direct all guests to two different lines: one with bags and one without bags. With microphones to aid voice volume, witty banter is included in the ticket price. In years past, the Open has been called a two-week “TennisCon” that draws upwards of 700,000 fans. Above: The official play board at Wimbledon, which is still maintained by one of 10 head referees in the Gate 3 piazza at the north side of Centre Court, as they have been for decades. But gradually, everything else — including the scoreboards on Centre and Court 1 in 2008 — have transferred from wood to dot matrix to LED lighting. Below: An improvised scoreboard at the U.S. Open, made of vinyl tarp placed just outside the entrance. The old U.S. Open scoreboard hung on the front side of Louis Armstrong Stadium just above the crowds and was maintained by a staff of two on an hourly basis. This one is more for show — most fans know the scores of their favorite players thanks to the app. Above: A spectator views Benoit Paire through the iron bars that separate the courts from the crowds at Wimbledon, keeping the matches more of a curiosity. On all but the four show courts — two ticketed, two not — seating is limited to about 100 people, who do not leave, even under duress, or they forfeit their seats. Court 17 is generally known as court to camp on for its capacity. In 2019, Kate Middleton turned up on Court 14 to see British wildcard, Harriet Dart, play in the first round — one of the few times a royal has been seen outside the box. Below: Johanna Konta plays a point during her fourth-round match at Louis Armstrong Stadium, otherwise known as “Louis II” for its $600 million renovation. By 1976, the U.S. Open had outgrown the West Side Tennis Club: players complained about cramped locker rooms; fans griped about limited tickets and parking. In 1978, the Open moved to Flushing Meadows Park and “Louis I”, which was christened Louis Armstrong Stadium after the singer died in 1972, was converted from the Singer Bowl, a concert venue. Above: Formally known as Aorangi Terrace — Maori for ‘Cloud in the Sky’ — Henman Hill, named for the former British №1, has become a popular area to watch the action on Centre Court, in this case, the debut of Coco Gauff. Attached to the outer wall of the stadium, this newly updated screen now measures 20 feet by 60 feet so that more people can gather on the Wimbledon grounds. Below: One of three 85-foot television screens showing the U.S. Open upset, Daniil Medvedev, anguish over a serve to Dominik Koepfer during his quarterfinal round at Louis Armstrong Stadium. Armstrong, about the same size as Wimbledon’s Centre Court, is said to offer fans a more “intimate” experience than Arthur Ashe. Left: Serbian tennis umpire Marijana Veljovic, who has become a sex symbol in a decidedly unerotic profession, prepares to take the chair before the Jamie Murray/Bethany Mattek-Sands quarterfinal against M. Pavić/Gabriela Dabrowski at Wimbledon 2019. An example of the ITF’s effort to attract umps under 40, Veljovic, who rarely grants interviews, was in the chair during most high-profile matches. Right: Daniil Medvedev sits quietly by the chair umpire during his fourth-round match against Dominik Koepfer. It had been a battle to the finish between the 23-year-old Russian and line officials at the U.S. Open, starting with third-round umpire Damien Dumusois, to whom Medvedev gave the middle finger after he threw his racquet following a code violation All in all, Medvedev ended up with $19,000 in fines. Left: A ballboy at Wimbledon runs as fast as he can to retrieve a net ball during the Jamie Murray/Bethany Mattek-Sands quarterfinal match on Court 17. The ball boys and girls (BBGs) — about 250, 15-year-olds — must pass a battery of tests including fitness and tennis knowledge at their schools before the AELTC considers them. Two serves per point, the number of balls needed during a let, the terms for scoring per game: all are relevant to a ball kid’s ability to toss or offer a towel. Right: Two “ball persons” rush over with a towel and assistance during the U.S. Open second-round doubles match between Coco Gauff/Katy McNally and Květa Peschke/Nicole Melichar. The U.S. Open ball persons have an easier go of the selection process: a tryout, a call-back and if they make it, an afternoon of basic training — no age cut-off. Tony Downer, from Stamford, Connecticut, a retired investor, was the oldest in 2019 at age 61. Left:A crew manager meets with a team of “environmental stewards” in an empty out court at Wimbledon around two in the afternoon. Just as it oversee players’ dress Wimbledon has a strict code for its workers: “no earrings, bracelets or any other jewelry other than a plain wedding band and a wrist watch”; fake tan is prohibited; and “shoes should be plain black, fully enclosed, and polished.” No ballet-flats, even. Right: A manager meets with a group of Court 17 ushers after a Mattek-Sands/Murray doubles match. It’s around 9pm and these workers have been on the job since around 9am. The USTA hires a total of 1,800 seasonal staff for guest services, including ticket vendors, suite administrators, locker room attendants, court ushers, nursery care workers (for players’ children) and fitness center supervisors. Entry-level roles start at $13 per hour, while umpires and linesmen earn daily rates of around $300. Above: The BBGs line up at the end of the first Saturday of Wimbledon. For the 2019 edition, about 53,000 Slazenger balls were used. Each had come out of one of the hundreds of tins used daily, all stored at 68 degrees — hotter balls bounce higher. BBG teams will work for one hour and are then off for an hour. Their shift ends after six hours, so they go home in time to finish their homework. Below: A very tired ball person at the end of the Sunday fourth-round matches. Ball people at the Open typically work 90 minutes on the court, then hydrate and rest off-court for 90 minutes. In 2019, this collective crew caught and roller approximately 70,000 tennis balls using keen eyes, quick legs and smooth wrists. Also, tight lips. Ball personnel never get chummy with players. Left: The USTA’s homage to Arthur Ashe, “Soul in Flight” a 14-foot bronze nude statue in the tennis serve position, which, upon its unveiling in 2000, was not exactly well-received. The sculpture, by artist Eric Fischl was supposed to reflect the “feeling, desire, tradition and thrill of what Arthur Ashe meant.” It has since become an admired figure, but at its unveiling, comments such as “Whoever heard of playing tennis without any clothes?” were reported by the national press. Right: The AELTC’s commemoration of its best British tennis player since the First World War, Fred Perry — up until Andy Murray came along. Although the inimitable Perry has stood alone since 1984, it was announced in early 2019, when Murray — the first British player in 77 years to win the men’s singles title — decided to retire from tennis, that a statue of him would join Perry. Murray has since returned to tennis, putting off his bronzing. Left: Since Wimbledon is actually the village and not The Championships, public transportation stops at one of two places near the AELTC: Southfields a 15-minute walk or Wimbledon station, a 20-minute walk. Sometimes, lucky spectators catch a double-decker for a quick ride. Players are trusted to VIP drivers, who — like everyone else at Wimbledon — are tested rigorously. So far, only one attempted carjacking and a stalking incident have been reported, despite an average of 500 journeys undertaken every morning, and 275,000 miles covered during the event. Right: Both the New York subway and the MetroNorth Long Island Railroad have stops a mere 400 metres from the action at BJK. Depending on the time of day, both are crowded with fans, some just to pick up their annual U.S. Open kit and to have a few Honey Deuces, the USTA’s answer to Pimm’s. For players, a fleet of 140 Mercedes cars and SUVs, in addition to 20 buses and another 20 vans, navigate the gridlocked streets of Manhattan and highways to Queens.