July 1, 2015
When you’re seated just behind the Players Box on Court One, having obtained your tickets through Wimbledon Debenture Holders, the drama you witness, both on and off the court, can be so intense that it makes for the tennis experience of a lifetime.
Not only do you have a fabulous view of the tennis – as good as the players themselves want for their nearest and dearest – but you also begin to see matches through the eyes of the coaches, mothers and fathers of the chief protagonists.
Take Toni Nadal, both coach and uncle to Rafael Nadal. He can remain silent for long periods. But when he wants his player to wrap up a victory in straight sets and minimise the errors that are creeping into his game, it appears he can remain silent no longer.
Uncle Toni spoke up in the third set against Thomaz Bellucci on Tuesday. When Nadal mistimed a shot and hit the ball weakly into the net, Uncle Toni seemed to offer him some words of advice about how to avoid putting the rest of his shots in a similar place.
When Uncle Toni seemed unhappy with Rafa’s position, while the former champion was receiving serve, he appeared to offer his nephew more words of wisdom.
And even when Nadal was serving and about to toss the ball up, there were more timely words from Uncle Toni, who seemed to have a good idea where he wanted that ball to go.
Sometimes Toni’s words are nothing more than a “vamos” or something similar – the usual timely words of encouragement. At other moments they seem to mean something much more. But always you notice a controlled economy in what Uncle Toni says, because the best coaches don’t rant. And the best coaches don’t want to be caught coaching their player during matches, either, because that is supposed to be against the rules.
Toni Nadal has been pulled up on this before; though it is Boris Becker, coach to Novak Djokovic, who has most recently come under scrutiny. Quite why players should be forbidden from communicating with their coaches during the action is a mystery. As long as it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the match, what harm does it do?
But the fact remains that it isn’t allowed, officially at least; and yet it happens anyway. Do the umpires pretend they can’t hear? Perhaps they really don’t hear. However, when you are seated right behind the Players Box, you do hear. And it is a fascinating dynamic to witness, this coach-player relationship.
Occasionally family members will bypass coaches and tell players more than they want to hear. As third seed Simona Halep was dismantled and eventually dumped out of Wimbledon by Jana Cepelova on Tuesday, a male family member appeared to be offering his opinions rather too readily. He received a withering look from Halep, one that said: ‘Do you think I don’t know that already?’
Often players know what is going wrong but still can’t do anything about it. This is frustrating for them and every bit as frustrating for their family, but the tide cannot always be turned by advice.
Some don’t try to dish out advice from the box. Cepelova, ranked 103 places below Halep, had a very vocal team, too. But there seemed to be no instructions coming from them, only support at key moments – and plenty of it. The volume of noise from the Slovak end of the box didn’t necessarily thrill Halep’s entourage, and yet they just about managed to maintain their composure.
And it was hard to begrudge Cepelova her cheerleaders, for you could hear precious few other voices in the large crowd willing her on when the chips were down. Her team kept her going and they left victorious, having done their job loudly and effectively.
Finally, it was the turn of Tomas Berdych to fill the Players Box with his team and family, leaving precious little room there for those valued by his opponent, Jeremy Chardy. A middle-aged female seemed to hold most sway in that large Berdych camp, although her words did little to settle the number six seed during the middle part of an enthralling evening.
The action on the court is still the main drama, of course, whatever soap opera sideshows we might witness in the Players Box. And some of the best tennis of the day was played as the light faded, the air cooled slightly, and the crowd warmed to the participants.
After no fewer than three tie-breaks, two Mexican waves, a work-to-rule by Hawkeye, an intervention for bad light by the referee and a popular decision by the players to continue into near darkness, Berdych emerged the winner at 9.38pm.
No one wanted to go home. The gloom had been magical, perhaps more so than the searing heat of the day. But whatever the weather, Wimbledon is unforgettable, especially if you’re in the right place at the right time.
Those seats so close to the Players Box were a credit to Wimbledon Debenture Holders; and they opened a window onto some fascinating theatre.
Whatever your vantage point, however, it’s hard to imagine that anyone could ever be disappointed by their day at Wimbledon. In this particular case, it wasn’t just a day; because day had met night and resulted in a memorable sporting spectacular.
With the moon already shining, and the glorious grounds of the All England Club only just left behind, it was easy to wonder what surprises might lie in store the next time you walked through those elegant gates into the home of tennis.
Wimbledon is a place where tradition and spontaneity, rule-makers and rule-breakers have often collided. And yet together they have shaped the future of tennis. The creative tension is still there. And you sense that the inhabitants of the Players Box aren’t ready to be silenced just yet – whatever the rules say.