WIMBLEDON — Some fields and courts of play shall forever be more revered and hallowed than others: Augusta National, Madison Square Garden, Fenway and Wrigley, Lambeau Field, the old Maple Leaf Gardens. Black-and-white photos of champions past, stained-mahogany corridors . . . they just reek history. These cathedrals of athletics eventually need to be personally experienced to fully comprehend their nostalgic pull on the soul.
And there’s this over-manicured puddle in Southwest London: the All England Lawn and Torrential Downpour Club.
Grab your Gortex hoodie. If it clears up on Court 15, Alex Ovechkin’s girlfriend should play by, oh, the next millennium.
“When it’s sunny, you won’t find a greater experience anywhere,” Julie Morris promised under her umbrella, standing to the right of Henman Hill, which overlooks the damp, tarp-covered Wimbledon courts.
“When is it sunny?” you ask beneath the hood of a sopping-wet sweatshirt.
“About two days a year,” said Doreen Beeton, who has morosely shared the rain and cold with her daughter here since Julie was about 12.
“We actually had a lot of nice sunny days in July,” Julie said “It’s been great lately, hasn’t it Mum?”
Doreen: “Yes, the last time was 1918.”
More than half of the 50 matches were canceled on the second day of the Olympic tournament. The sun peeked out occasionally, taking the rain to a tiebreak in the fifth set. But the droplets always win here.
“How dare they criticize our rain,” Rodney Newman, the press operations manager said, cheekily standing up for Wimbledon’s glory. “We have the finest rain in the world. It’s quality. Some of it is so good you don’t get wet.”
Another problem is Henman Hill. Named for Tim Henman, it’s long lauded as a place where the peasants without a Centre Court ticket can gather and watch their countrymen never win. It’s a nice little berm with a few picnic tables and all. And someone obviously mowed the grass and put up a big-screen TV. But it’s not exactly Day on the Green or hill behind Lamade Stadium at the Little League World Series in Williamsport.
Also, who names a hill after a guy who never even made a Wimbledon final? That’s like winning the Super Bowl and raising the Marty Schottenheimer Trophy or naming an airport Mondale National.
“Actually, we’ve tried Murray’s Mount, but it hasn’t quite stuck,” Doreen said.
There was also Rusedski’s Ridge for a bit. But Greg Rusedski, a British Canadian player and now a BBC tennis analyst, made it to the Wimbledon quarterfinals only once.
“There was a Davis Cup player named John Barrett once,” Rodney Newman chimed in. “Maybe they could call it Burial Ground for him.
“No, check that, mate; he’s actually still alive.”
Like the rain, Rodney will be here all week.
“Go see the big beautiful roses, smell them, see everything,” exhorted a colleague with a sunny disposition whom I’ll call Susan (real name: Sally Jenkins, who swears by Wimbledon.) “You’re going to love it.”
Oh, yeah, what a treat, Sal. Breakfast at Wimbledon or, as the weather service likes to call it, Seattle on performance-enhancing drugs.
Who does the grounds here anyway? Big patches of Centre Court and other surfaces were scuffed up, sodden hunks of grass just lying there, lifeless. It’s like DeMatha and Good Counsel played in the mud last week. They tried to pawn off the “But Wimbledon just concluded a couple of weeks ago” excuse. Sure, okay.
They also relaxed the all-white dress code here, which they should’ve announced more often. Of all the days to show up in your Bill Tilden Sunday best — white polo pullover, white trousers, white tennies, and white undies, today was not that day. (“You’ve kind of taken this Chariots of Fire thing a little too far, haven’t ya mate?”)
Did we mention there was a flash mob of 50 kids performing yesterday on Henman Hill, followed by the Pet Shop Middle Aged Men doing three songs? Somewhere, the Queen winced and Wimbledon was desecrated again.
On the bright side, Maria Sharapova played well and so did Murray. They were among the few fortunate players whom the competition committee thought enough of to let them play under Wimbledon’s one retractable roof.
Ovechkin’s girlfriend, Maria Kirilenko, never got to rally. Her match was called at about 7 p.m.
Memo to Wimbledon board of trustees, quorum, council, whoever: Build more roofs, preferably 18. Construct them over every court at the club. This will automatically lead to two improved measures: (1) you can get rid of the ugly tarps, and (2) your tournament will conclude before Rio 2016.
Disappointing. Very disappointing. For such a hyped-up maiden voyage to the place where Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe made history, where Chrissie and Martina battled each other, groundstroke for groundstroke, where Roger and Rafa traded lasers until one dropped to his knees in utter euphoria, where Arthur Ashe gracefully ruled and Ilie Nastase was so damn irascible . . . I have to say: not impressed.
The one savior, the one shining light amid the gray and clouds: strawberries and cream. The berries were so red, candy apple in color. And succulent. Not too firm or mushy. The cream was so thick it stuck to my lips after I devoured that little bowl of sweetness that cost but 2 pounds and 50 pence. Which after the conversion rate cost about $400.
Whoever those dairy farmers and growers were, well, they made me want to come back someday, preferably on something that will float.
Jenkins: Solo could learn from Chastain
Swimming: France rallies past U.S. in 4x100 relay
Photos: The best from Day 2 in London
Photos: Scenes from the London Olympics