The Grand Slam tournament is one of the emblems of the British people
Of all the tennis Grand Slams, the one I had always wanted to experience was Wimbledon, yet it has always proved impossible to acquire good tickets.
As the years went by, it dawned on me that I may never get the chance to see Roger Federer in action, as there was no telling when the great man might decide to retire, as the pressures of age, possible injury, and fresh competition mounted upon him.
Then, this summer -- out of nowhere -- it all worked out. An organization I have been involved with for years informed me that I would finally have the opportunity to attend Wimbledon.
On July 9, I rushed to the Wimbledon grounds to ensure that it was not all just a dream which would vanish at the first attempt to actualize it.
But no matter how many times I pinched myself, everything remained solid and real. Yet in a way, it remained a reverie as the surroundings sank into my consciousness: Green turf and stately stadiums, smartly dressed people of all ages and nationalities, the ripple of nearby applause, the open blue sky -- a sense of orderly rendering in every sphere of operations, all choreographed into a 100-year-old dance of tradition.
I made it to court one, and the dazzling sheen of the lawn (it is, after all, called lawn tennis) calmed me down. It was the second Monday of the tournament, the day the competition would begin in earnest.
As the quarterfinals unfolded, the whiff of danger in the players’ nostrils began to impact their play.
As the aspiring champions go deeper into the Grand Slam and the stakes get higher with every match, the testing of their stamina and agility is made even more acute, as it has to be sustained over longer periods. Only the player who is able to endure numerous matches gets to stamp a winner’s foot on to the ground.
Beneath the genteel exterior, there was a savage contest going on -- the players in their whites, which proclaim peace, are beasts of war.
That is why the Wimbledon crowds are so special. They pick up on the agony of the fight, and provide a cushion of what can only be called love.
The stage was set for drama at Wimbledon, and while I was there, I saw plenty. For instance, Gael Monfils twirling like Nijinsky as he ensures that every tennis shot is flamboyantly conceived.
Or the amazing sequence in which Kevin Anderson fell to the ground during a sharply contested point with Novak Djokovic, scrambled to his feet while picking up the racket with his left hand, as it was the only option available to reach the ball, and somehow got it over the net -- which so bemused his opponent that he conceded the point.
Then there was the moment when Jelena Ostapenko was playing a critical point in her semi-final match. Having just missed with a fast hard serve, she let out a high-pitched screech, slightly twisting her willowy body as her left fist snapped sharply up to mouth in a gesture of dismay.
I went to Wimbledon as an international guest, one of many invited from countries ranging from Paraguay to Malaysia. In an act of heroic generosity, the Wimbledon tournament authorities and the Lawn Tennis Association of Great Britain jointly reserved a limited number of excellent seats for their foreign guests.
For example, in centre court, we were seated directly behind the baseline, just high enough to qualify for what must have been the best possible view -- an opinion which was reinforced when we glanced up and saw the Royal Box, full of celebrities, directly opposite us on the other side of the court.
The great consideration shown to us by the tournament authorities emphasizes how important it is to the world’s leading tennis organizations to spread top-class tennis to every corner of the globe -- and I for one will do whatever I can in response to their generosity to help the Bangladesh Tennis Federation and its fine enterprising executives achieve a strong tennis infrastructure in this country.
One can’t help but be inspired to do so after seeing the great tennis players of our time in the flesh. One match that particularly resonated with me was the match between Rafael Nadal and Juan del Potro.
As I watched the struggle between two players of contrasting styles up close, a strange alchemy took place, and I became so immersed that I started to feel that I myself was playing every shot and scoring every point.
Ultimately, I was able to fulfill my main desire. I turned up early on July 11 and watched as Roger Federer and Kevin Anderson entered the green arena for their quarterfinal match.
A wave of excitement swept over the packed stadium and continued to grow to feverish heights as Federer made an incredibly explosive start to the match.
Deploying the bounce and spring of an impala, Federer was all over Anderson’s hard, well-directed ground strokes. Federer’s returns were caressing, liquid, placed from corner to corner until his opponent was undone.
Like any great player, Federer seems to have so much time to play his shots that even the fastest blows are hit back with effortless grace, plumb in the middle of the sweet spot of his racket.
And of all his repertory, it is the backhand passing stroke which is a signifier of God’s art as he takes the ball low down on bended knees and threads the needle down the line with exquisite accuracy to bring the audience roaring deliriously, as the first set ended with a score of 6-3 to Federer.
After another such set of tennis bliss, I ceded my spot so that other foreign guests who were waiting outside could also have the chance to enjoy Federer’s artistry, as well as to try and make Ms Rachael Gangji’s life easier, as she had the delicate job of rationing the available seats among all the clamouring guests, a task she performed with unfailing graciousness, the very word which serves as a trademark of the entire Wimbledon tournament and its role as one of the emblems of the British people.
Sal Imam is a writer and a keen tennis player.