Wimbledon wishes and strawberry dreams

It became official at 12:31 a.m. that's when the "bobby" came by with a stack of index-card size vouchers, handing one each to the hundreds of people in the single-file line, who by now were resting on the sidewalk, leaning against the brick wall.

The number on my voucher said 137. It was meaningless to me, but not to the two sisters from Manchester, England, who were crouching in a tent to my right.

"Wot number do ya 'ave?" the younger one asked.

When I showed her, she smiled.

"You're in," she said.

I asked her how she knew, and she told me she and her sister camp out for Wimbledon tickets every year, and anyone with a number under 300 was guaranteed one of the daily tickets.

"Yes!" was all I could say.

This summer I was fortunate enough to be able to live a long-time dream: to see Wimbledon. Ever since I saw my first match Boris Becker beating Ivan Lendl in 1985 I felt a need to see how green the grass really was and if the strawberries and cream tasted as good as they looked on TV.

I expected to be awed by the majesty of the place, but the club called the "cathedral of tennis" sits on a regular two-lane street in the middle of a tree-lined middle-class neighborhood with no clues as to its locale if there was not a sign on the gate, you might drive right by it.

Technically, Wimbledon is not even in Wimbledon. There is a "Wimbledon" tube stop (London's subway), but that's two stops too far. It's actually in a town called Southfields (which is comparable to holding the Super Bowl in Casa Grande), about a 20-minute ride on the tube from the heart of London.

I guess when you're Wimbledon, you don't need to advertise.

I arrived in back of the line at 7 p.m., next to a 26-year-old Dutch named Marika, who, besides being a lab technician, was also a member of the Andre Agassi Fan Club.

Marika held court on all topics Agassi. "Oh, I like him bald very much," and, "I think Brooke is a very nice girl."

Finally, I told her I was a ballboy for Agassi a few years before at a tournament in Scottsdale.

Her eyes got wide, she leaned forward and yelled to the Manchester girls also Agassi club members "Did you hear that? He ballboyed for HIM!"

She didn't even have to say his name, the sisters just knew. They squealed.

After Andre-mania died down, I pulled out the food I brought to get me through until the next morning: Gatorade, carrots, french bread and a bag of cheddar cheese goldfish crackers my mom had sent from home the day before.

As I was munching on the goldfish I offered some to Marika. She just looked at them. She did not know what they were.

The number of people in the world who have never had goldfish crackers decreased by one as I gave her a handful. To complete our cultural exchange she gave me some Dutch gummy worms.

At 4:30 a.m. I gave up trying to get to sleep. Apparently everybody else in line had either a plush sleeping bag or a tent and was sleeping comfortably.

I had a stack of newspapers and a cheap, thin, nylon rain poncho.

So the newspapers became a mattress and the poncho became a comforter. Then I froze for four hours.

Yet when the line finally started to move at 9 a.m., I knew I had survived. After waiting in another line for two more hours, we were finally at the ticket counters. I was close enough to the frontto be able to buy a ticket for whatever court I wanted. I took Court One because both Agassi and Becker would play on that court that day. With ticket firmly in hand, there was only one thing that stood in the way of making June 27, 1995, a perfect day and I took care of that as soon as I got through the gate.

The strawberries and cream do taste as good as they look on television.

Patrick Klein is assistant sports editor of the Arizona Daily Wildcat.

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