For Britons, no gloom, not all doom, but, inside gates, not enough room

June 28, 1993|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

WIMBLEDON, England -- Can this be Wimbledon? Where rain and fog and gloom nearly always envelop the All England Club?

Tradition counts here. Surely, it will rain. But there is no rain, as the fortnight of Wimbledon begins its second week.

Only sunshine and smiles and an Englishman playing in the Round of 16. The English find the fact that Andrew Foster is still alive in this tournament the hardest fact of all to believe.

No one planned for any of this. Least of all the All England Club, which has set off a howl of disapproval all over London by apparently snubbing Foster's accomplishment.

The All England Club may be snubbing the world's No. 1 player as well, because it has banished Foster and his opponent, top-ranked Pete Sampras, to an outside court.

Court 14 is small, and much of its grass has been worn away in a busy first week. It could be picked up and set down again in a Baltimore suburb without anyone noticing something out of the ordinary.

The court is far beyond the glow of Centre Court.

"I am sure the English tennis fans will take it in their stride," said a spokeswoman for referee Alan Mills. "That's the way the cookie crumbles. We cannot put every match on Centre and No. 1 courts. . . . People bought their tickets a long time ago and would have had no idea that a Briton would still be left in."

But the No. 1 player in the world -- on Court 14? Well, Wimbledon is a study in contrast.

Different image

It is known for its propriety, its traditions and its lore. But while the rules haven't changed much since the summer of 1877, when the first championships were held, the image has.

One of the first signs that you are on your way to Wimbledon is not a photo of a 19th century garden party. It's three 12-foot-high posters of Andre Agassi's upper body bursting from the subway walls advising: "Make war, not love, come to the Wimbledon Tennis Classic."

Agassi absolutely has taken over. As the club continues to follow its rules, Agassi continues to be his unbridled self.

With the Duke and Duchess of Kent sitting alongside Charlton Heston in the Royal Box last week, the English class system seemed to collide head-on with show business as Agassi took the court for his first match.

Blond ponytail flying out of the back of his cap, Agassi swirled and bowed in the direction of the Royal Box, and the duke and duchess nodded their . . . approval.

Yesterday, aside from Foster, the biggest story of the day was whether Barbra Streisand would fly in and confront Agassi's longtime girlfriend, Wendi Stewart, who plans to attend Agassi's match on Centre Court today against Richard Krajicek.

All Agassi will say about his relationship with Streisand is: "We came from completely different worlds and we collided, and we knew we wanted to be in each other's company right then. She is my dear, dear friend, and I want her to always be that."

The tennis fans queueing up outside the gates for hours are eating this stuff up.

And still Wimbledon is very polite. Very civilized. An afternoon tea is served from 3:30 to 6 p.m. in a garden restaurant open to the public.

Of course, it costs about $10, and most people prefer to sit on the grass in front of the place and brown bag it.

But they brown bag it amid ivy-covered walls, mountains of hothouse-forced hydrangea blossoms in pastel blue and pink and roses of countless colors.

There are lush green lawns and carryout stands for sausages and champagne and bowls of nothing but strawberries and cream.

The strawberries are 18 pence a berry, $2 for a bowl of about nine. Up Church Road, two full boxes can be had for $1.50, but the price hasn't seemed to put anyone off the traditional treat.

Officials have ordered 18 tons of berries and expect all of them to be savored by the end of the tournament.

There are lines of people everywhere.

"Just stand still for a minute and someone will queue behind you," said one member of the Corp of Commissionaires, who help usher and guard entrances. "Everyone thinks everyone is going somewhere."

But no one goes anywhere very fast. Especially on the outside trying to get inside the gates to the grounds.

In the mornings, the lines stretch from the ticket office at Gate 1 nearly to the Southfield tube (subway) station, about a 20-minute walk. There, tennis fans arrive by the thousands to make their way along Church Road to the gates.

The first 4,000 are assured entry, and only 600 of those will see Centre Court. But no matter how many get in, there always seem to be thousands left waiting, ever so patiently, in the afternoon sun.

At night, they unroll sleeping bags and blankets, prop their backs against the brick wall behind them and wait for the next morning to improve their luck.

Bathed in moonlight, they look like an encampment of refugees.

"I feel sorry for them," said police Sgt. Jeff Minns, who scoffed a bit at tradition and wondered why a ticket booth couldn't be open at night for the next day's matches.

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