Sunday, July 29, 2012
Olympics or not, Wimbledon IS Wimbledon
By Marc Stein
Sure, the grounds at Wimbledon look a little different for the Olympics. But it's still Wimbledon.
LONDON -- Olympic tennis at Wimbledon really isn't Wimbledon.
Or so they say.
That's the warning you get from some tennis savants when you tell them you're thinking about heading out to SW19 while in London for the Summer Games.
Or this one: Why, of all sports, would you burn precious time at the Olympics watching tennis?
Tell it to someone else, purists.
Nothing was keeping me away from the place that Bud Collins, one of my boyhood heroes, has always made sound so magical. A place which, after some three decades as a tennis addict, I can finally say I've seen with my own eyes.
One of my strongest motivations to go into sports writing, truth be told, was the painful admission in my teens that my dreams were fantasies and that I'd have to try to do as a reporter what I was never going to achieve with a racket: Making it on the pro tour.
Tennis, soccer and the highest levels of hoop have always been my three sporting passions. And I flat-out won the sportswriting lottery at 24 when I was given the chance by then-Los Angeles Daily News sports editor Tod Leonard to trade the tennis beat for my adult dream: Traveling with the L.A. Clippers. I haven't budged since and hope to stay here for another 20 years, because covering this league is the best gig in our biz. Hands down.
Trips to Wimbledon in late June or early July, though, don't exactly mesh with the NBA calendar, no matter how badly you want to sneak across the Atlantic. So Saturday, at last, was my shot. The very first opportunity of my life to actually step onto the grounds of the All England Club.
After Team USA practiced in the afternoon, making its final preparations before Sunday's Group A opener against Tony Parker-led France, I naturally couldn't resist, happily making the complicated journey from East London to Wimbledon Village with the help of both tube and overground train and arriving just in time to catch two guys I'm proud to call friends -- 2008 Australian Open champions Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich of Israel -- win a first-round doubles match against the Spanish pair of Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez.
And, from my seat, it couldn't have been better. I know that the pinkish-purple Olympic signage that's plastered all over London these days is a major turnoff to Wimbledon regulars. I understand that the sight of the Spaniards wearing gaudy red shirts and funky shoes offends many traditionalists. Whatever.
The 1978 demise of the Buffalo Braves has left Manchester City, Cal State Fullerton and the Israeli Davis Cup team as my three favorite teams on Earth. So watching from a few feet away in a right-there chair on Court 17 as Ram and Erlich, two of finest sportsmen and ambassadors their country has ever produced, controlled both tiebreakers on Wimbledon's hallowed grass helped me realize a lifelong dream.