London takes centre stage after the abrupt switch to grass
So we have bid farewell to the vibrant clay and its glamorous havens in Europe’s most desirable cities. But as one door closes, another opens, and it is the door to the glorious grass.
In the weeks before Wimbledon, the British Isles -or rather, England -becomes the place to be for tennis aficionados, give or take a certain Swiss who steadfastly heads to the grassy German outpost of Halle.
For the rest -Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and the two Andys, Roddick and Murray -London will become their home and their field of dreams for an all-too-short month.
The most prestigious event ahead of the most prestigious Grand Slam is held on the most pristine grass in the Kingdom: appropriately enough at the Queen’s Club.
Founded in 1886, this was one of the world’s first multipurpose sports complexes, and is named after its first patron, Queen Victoria.
It is still the national headquarters of “real tennis”, but its surroundings bear little resemblance to the leafy environs it enjoyed in Victorian times. The Club is now shoe-horned into one of the most desirable, yet densely populated, residential areas of London: West Kensington.
Unable to expand beyond the constraints of the surrounding houses that overlook its grounds, the venue has been able to preserve its compact, intimate quality.
Its short string of practice courts nestle beneath the outer wall of the main show court. And the Club’s turf centrepiece, surely one of the smallest arena’s on the ATP circuit, is bordered on one side simply by the clubhouse itself.
For some players, Queen’s offers their very favourite surface: ask Andy Roddick. Many contest, indeed, that its grass is the finest in the world.
There is one more factor, over and above its history and its quality, that makes this event special. The lottery, literally, that is Wimbledon permits only a fraction of those who apply the chance to enjoy this loveliest of sports.
The Aegon Championships sells its tickets -albeit at a very substantial price -to all comers. It is therefore that very precious thing indeed: a chance to experience the best tennis players up close and personal.