I’ll never know why I didn’t do it before, but when the ballot was announced for this year’s Wimbledon, I thought to myself: ‘Why not give it a try?’ And so I did, and as a reward I was offered two Court 2 tickets, for Thursday 28th June 2012. Fellow Rafa fan Liz (@lizziebee2), who I met in Paris and Seville last year, was sweet enough to offer me to stay at her house in London, so off I went. I didn’t expect to see Rafa, for me the experience of going to Wimbledon for the first time was enough – it’s the tournament I always wanted to visit, since I started watching tennis, a long, long time ago.
Liz had already suggested we could try to catch Rafa practicing and at the end of the day we could try to get Centre Court tickets from the resale. Still, I didn’t count on me to catch a glimpse of Rafa. However, the schedule on Wednesday night turned out to be a good one: Rafa’s match was scheduled last, after Andy Murray. So I carefully started to think I might be lucky enough to catch maybe a last set of Rafa!
We started that Thursday at the All England Lawn Tennis Club with planning our day around the information we got from the Wimbledon twitter account. Rafa was to practice at 11.30, at Aorangi parc, so that was our first destination. When we settled at the fence we started to figure out the chance that we actually would be able to watch the practice – there are only 2 courts that are accessible for public, the other courts are in a restricted area and can’t be seen from where we were standing.
We watched Sam Stosur hit in front of us, alongside Marcos Baghdatis on the other court, and in the meantime caught sight of many players as they entered or came out of the tunnel behind us. We could hear by the noise people were making if it was a player of any significance. Delpotro, Murray, Fish, Tsonga, Schiavone, Sharapova, Federer were among them. And then came Rafa, a little later than scheduled, of course. We watched him walk to the back of the practice courts, enjoying the swagger he was definitely exposing. That was a good sign (little did we know…)! He stood on the terrace for a while, biting his fingers, and off he went, to the practice courts that were out of our sight.
We decided to go watch some real tennis then, and headed to court 15, where Marc & Marcel were playing a doubles match, against Marray & Nielsen. We only watched them until the second set (which they lost, unfortunately, as they did lose the match in the end) and then went on to Court 2 to watch Daveed take on French player Kenny de Schepper.
Our seats were a couple of rows behind where Daveed’s team was seated and we were really close to the court (Court 2 is an intimate court anyway, so I guess you always have a good view, even on the last row). De Schepper is a tall player, but he couldn’t do enough to Daveed, who came through in straight sets. Vamos!
Next up was Andy Roddick vs. Björn Phau. We watched the first set and then left, because we wanted to be in the resale queue at 4 pm. The queue was quite long, and hardly moving. It was just bad luck that Andy Murray was playing on Centre Court, and he needed 4 sets to seal his victory. So most of the crowd waited for that match to end before they went home, thus leaving their seats for the ones in the queue (I think other tournaments should also do this – tickets get resold for 10 pounds and the money goes entirely to charity).
Rafa started his match and, as we could see on a tiny screen, already let Rosol break half way through his first set. O dear. But, I wasn’t worried at that time. After all, that happens more often, and Rafa, being Rafa, is able to lift his game and get the break back.
At 6.30 pm we reached the front of the queue and got ourselves what we came for: Centre Court tickets!! I considered myself very lucky (can I still use the word ‘lucky’ knowing now what the outcome was? – Yes, I can, and I’ll come back to that later): I had had no expectations what so ever before I came to London and here I was about to watch Rafa play on Centre Court at Wimbledon!
We got in just in time for the deciding part of the first set, meaning: the 12th game and the tiebreak. Unnecessary to say we immediately were on the front of our seats from the beginning. And very much relieved when Rafa finally won that tiebreak.
Soon after that, we started to notice things. I remember mentioning to Liz I thought Rafa’s movement was off, and later on she said ‘That’s not good’, pointing at Rafa bending down, stretching his legs/knees.
And then there was his opponent, Lukas Rosol. A player neither of us had ever seen play before. But boy, was he on fire! I’ve seen both Delpotro and Söderling live from up close in Rotterdam, but this guy seemed to combine the power and speed of their shots - not to mention the preciseness with which they touched the lines - to make Rafa unable to catch many of them. (we were very surprised to find out afterwards that Rafa had served 19 aces! We didn’t notice during the match because of the power of Rosol’s return, I guess). And then there was the way Rosol himself served, unbelievable.
When Rafa lost sets 2 and 3, but managed to come back and win the 4th, I thought this was the turning point of the match. Rafa was pumped at that time like I haven’t seen him many times before. Unfortunately, timing was bad. The decision came that the roof was being closed due to darkness. The break took ½ hour. After that, Rafa started to serve for the final set, and immediately got broken. That’s when we knew: he wasn’t going to win. And he didn’t, as we all know. It was very sad to see Rafa leave the court, knowing he’d lost in the second round of a Grand Slam for the first time since 2005.
But, and this is where I explain why I still feel lucky, it’s all part of the sport. Rafa had said it too: it’s only tennis and there are things in real life that are far more important than him losing at Wimbledon. Therefore I feel lucky, very lucky, that I got the chance to watch him play, to watch him fight and eventually to watch him lose. Not because I wanted him to lose, but because being a fan means also being able to deal with losses.
dutchgirl (twitter: @vamosdutchgirl)