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Come rain or shine, Wimbledon fans flock to cream of tennis

A wet start failed to dampen the spirits of the thousands of fans who flocked to the Wimbledon tournament on Monday for the start of two weeks of strawberries and cream, lawn tennis and "Henmania".

india Updated: Jun 23, 2003 22:48 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse

A wet start failed to dampen the spirits of the thousands of fans who flocked to the Wimbledon tournament on Monday for the start of two weeks of strawberries and cream, lawn tennis and "Henmania".

Die-hard fans who camped outside the grounds of the All England Club overnight in the pouring rain were rewarded with a change in the weather as the sun shone down on the first day of the grasscourt Grand Slam.

Among the first to stream through the gates of the grounds was Mark Cruttenden, a 46-year-old security guard from south London wrapped in a St George's flag.

"It's been a bit chilly this morning but the rain hasn't dampened my spirits at all," he said.

"Normally I'm about fourth or fifth in the queue every year and this year has been no different," added Cruttenden.

Among the others at the front of the queue for tickets were American pair Cathy Sanford, 72, and Mary Peeters, 60, who travelled all the way from Santa Barbara in California especially for the championships.

Asked why, Cathy simply replied: "Because it's Wimbledon, because of the tradition, and because this is one of the most special Grand Slams ever."

But she added: "This has to be the worst weather on the first day of the competition that I can ever remember and I've been coming since 1988."

Up to half a million fans are expected to throng the grounds of the 126-year-old annual championships for a fortnight of pomp, ceremony and tennis tradition, come rain or shine.

The gates opened against a backdrop of heightened security amid the threat of terrorism and stalkers, with fans shrugging off new measures such as random body searches introduced for the first time ever.

Though police could be seen patrolling the event in pairs, most appeared relaxed, with some even finding the time to peer over the fences to enjoy a spot of tennis.

After the rain clouds cleared, fans basked in British summer sunshine, with many nibbling on the traditional tournament snack of strawberries and cream, and sipping Pimms and lemonade.

A staggering 27,000 kilos of strawberries and 7,000 litres of cream are expected to be sold over the next two weeks.

One fan indulging in the traditional Wimbledon snack was Margaret Chapman, 62, from London.

She was among the many on "Henman Hill," the picnic area where fans unable to get a courtside seat to watch Britain's perennial favourite Tim Henman follow his matches on the big screen.

"It's perfect weather for watching tennis," said Chapman, who was also unperturbed by the beefed-up security measures at the tournament.

"They checked very thoroughly when you come in. They obviously have ample security about," she added.

But unlike Henman fans, Chapman will be rooting for a win by British rival Greg Rusedski, firing on all cylinders after romping to victory in the Nottingham tournament in central England on Saturday.

Henman fans have to wait until Tuesday for a glimpse of their idol, who for two weeks every year replaces England captain David Beckham as the man carrying the hopes of the nation on his shoulders as "Henmania" grips the country.

Four times in the last five years, the British number one has advanced to the semi-finals only to crash out just as the biggest prize in tennis appears to be within his grasp.

But his army of fans will never give up hope that their Tim will be the man to finally end Britain's 67-year wait for a home-grown champion.

First Published: Jun 23, 2003 22:48 IST