July 6, 2017
There was a strange sound when Roger Federer walked on to Centre Court. It wasn’t exactly a hearty cheer because it was mixed with something else – reverence.
The sound wasn’t defined by volume, because it conveyed something internal too – awe.
Here were thousands of people who couldn’t believe how lucky they were to be in the presence of the great Federer. You could hear it. You could feel it.
But within two games, something else had gripped Centre Court – bemusement. Then concern.
The man who so regularly produces perfection was doing something unthinkable. He was hitting the ball into the net. Then, horror of horrors, he actually served a double fault. Federer. How could he?
And in that moment you imagined what it must be like to be Roger Federer. To be viewed as a sporting god, so much so that when you fail, even for a moment, there are gasps of sheer disbelief and murmurs of unease, as though the natural world order has suddenly been turned on its head.
The fretting lasted until the first set tie-break. Then the real Roger Federer turned up. And poor Dusan Lajovic, who had played well until then, didn’t get a sniff of a point when it mattered.
After taking the tie-break to love, Federer turned on the style with impossibly deft volleys up at the net, and then awesome power, generated with a nonchalant flick of the wrist from the baseline.
Before we knew it, Roger was through in straight sets again. Which is more than can be said for Juan Martin del Potro, thought capable of winning Wimbledon, yet an easy victim on the day for Ernests Gulbis.
And we warned earlier in the day that the women’s favourite for the title, Karolina Pliskova, had better not underestimate Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia. Sure enough, the warning proved valid, even if it wasn’t necessarily heeded.
Pliskova took her foot off the pedal, let her level drop…and was defeated in three sets. Cue widespread shock in SW19.
Centre Court lost none of its joy, though. We had already been treated to the magical athleticism of Gael Monfils, who hung in the air an eternity to make some of his trademark smashes, and was able to smile when he missed one like a novice.
Britain’s Kyle Edmund battled gamely but faded during the big moments. It’s not always that Monfils emerges by far the stronger player mentally in a big match, but he did this time. The crowd was superbly entertained, even before Federer Mania took hold.
And what was it like to be the holder of a Wimbledon Debenture ticket through all this? Glorious.
If you were a businessman with a bit of work to do before all the action started, then the Business Centre, available to Debenture Holders and located just inside one of their exclusive entrances, next to Courts 15 and 16, was a godsend.
First job done, a walk up some stairs sent me into a delightful hidden kingdom, with what seemed like my own private window onto a Court 16 clash below, involving the impressive Coco Vandeweghe.
The Champions Room offered a perfect dining environment for those who had booked, and a warm invitation to do so on another occasion for those who hadn’t.
Super-clean rest-rooms away from the main crowd, and then on to Centre Court and into that precious seat. The one we all dream of securing for days such as these. And mine couldn’t have been more perfect.
Right behind the court and just above it, opposite the Royal Box, with a supreme view of the action. We knew whether line-calls were correct even before they were made, and we saw every swerve and curve conjured by the magicians from their rackets, as they coaxed the ball wide of their opponents and then back inside those lines.
Within five minutes of sitting down I was offered a glass of champagne by my friendly debenture neighbours, Jess and Charlotte. That isn’t part of the package but it isn’t unusual in the debenture seats either, where a convivial atmosphere always enhances one’s enjoyment of the day.
With excellent company and wonderful tennis, I sat comfortably protected from the sweltering heat by the merciful shade, the entire day building towards that Federer magic.
How the crowd muttered their disquiet when Federer didn’t find it immediately. But he had only been warming up, almost teasing us for the unreasonable magnitude of our initial demands.
How we roared our approval and relief when the great man came up with the kind of tennis only he can, full of elegance, fizz and impossible subtlety. And what a view we had of the true master of our sport in perfect motion.
Did a day with Wimbledon Debenture Holders live up to expectations? Of course it did. All those long-held dreams came true.
The hottest ticket in town right now is worth every penny. See for yourself.