"I was sooooo nervous I couldn't get started."
So said Tim Mayotte in the locker room after his quarterfinal loss to Rod Frawley here at Wilbledon Tuesday. Less than one month after winning the NCAA singles title, Mayotte found himself playing on court No. 1 for the first time in his life.
His admission is rather commonplace for first-timers, whether you are a qualifier or an NCAA champion. Playing in the two stadiums here, Centre Court and No. 1, is not like playing at your local park or the local college courts.
There are still quite a few Wimbledon veterans who have yet to play a singles match on the famed Centre Court. And the list of those middle-ranked players who have played but one match there could easily fill a potent 32-player draw.
Billy Martin, another former NCAA champion, has played here nine times, beginning in 1973 as a qualifier. He played Vitas Gerulaitis in 1977 on Centre court in his first appearance there and was thoroughly confused during the first set. "I was very disoriented and nervous at first. There were so many things about the Centre Court that I'd read about that I felt like I was taking a tour of the place. I lost in three straight (sets)."
Paul McNamee, last year's Wimbledon doubles champion with Peter McNamara, is ranked No. 30 in the world. Like Martin, Paul has played only one match on Centre Court. "I was so looking forward to playing there. It was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, but I felt I had earned it. Though I lost to Roscoe (Tanner), I played pretty well. But it sure is different out there."
Centre Court and court No. 1 are both enclosed and abut each other in an east-west direction. Only a narrow walkway separates them. The Centre Court is an octagonal-shaped structure that seats about 13,000. There is room for another 2,000 to stand.
Tickets for Centre Court are allocated more according to Wimbledon's preeminent position in tennis politics than for purely mercenary considerations. The most privileged position is the royal box, located 12 feet above court level at the south end. It offers the best view of professional tennis anywhere in the world. And of course these places are not counted toward paid attendance. Court No. 1, which seats 6,000, has no royal box.
Second in the pecking order is the international box. Situated next to the Royal Box, these seats are allocated on a daily basis to various tennis officials from around the world. And for good reasons: The International Tennis Federation office is located here under the Centre Court and its annual meeting is always held the week after Wimbledon.
The players' section, the press section and the members' section round out the nonpaying allocated seats. Clearly the idea on Centre Court is not to try to maximize the profit per seat. It is rumored that Wimbledon grosses in excess of $13 million during the two-week event.
But whether you agree with the way the precious Centre Court seats are meted out, the selection of the players for the tournament itself is quite fair and objective. One hundred and four of the highest-ranked players who enter get straight in. A qualifying draw of 128 is played down through three rounds to 16, who then get in. And finally, the Wimbledon committee is allotted eight wild cards to be given to any male players they choose, usually Englishmen. The women have a draw of 128 with 32 byes.
The qualifiers are immediately made to feel "different." Most of them, if not all, are relegated to locker room B. It is as if the actor John Houseman appeared there and made them all aware of having to "earn" their way to locker room A, let alone a chance to play on Centre Court.
Form has held very well here through the years. No qualifier has made the final. No unseeded player has won the men's singles. Only one qualifier this year, Matts Willander of Sweden, made it as far as the third round.