Players, fans enjoy autograph line

WIMBLEDON, England -- World No. 1 Dinara Safina loves doing it because "after all, we are playing for the fans."

Teen schoolgirl Helen Racki is thrilled about it since "they are giving something back to us."

Daily autograph sessions are all the rage at Wimbledon and, in true British fashion, excited fans form an orderly queue to get the signatures of their favorites.

It makes a refreshing change for the top players who can be isolated from the public by their globe-trotting lifestyle as they fly around the world from one five-star hotel to another.

Nothing beats the high-speed production line at Wimbledon where the organizers whip the fans through in double-quick time.

Famous authors at book signings could learn from All England Club officials who can martial through 100 fans in 10 minutes.

The autograph hunters line up grasping Centre Court tickets, Wimbledon programs, giant tennis balls, baseball hats -- pretty much anything they can get their hands on.

For the fans it is well worth waiting for in the baking sunshine at the world's most famous tennis tournament.

"It is very difficult to meet the players. We are very excited," said 15-year-old schoolgirl Racki. "It makes you respect them more as they are giving their time for us."

Top seed Safina strides in and reaches for a felt pen so she can scribble her name, offering a quick smile and a "You're welcome" before the next delighted fan is ushered forward.

This is no contractual obligation. The players agree willingly to do it.

For Safina, it is a chance to give something back.

"Sometimes when we walk through the fans we don't have enough time," the Russian said after her autograph session. "We are always rushing either to practice or after practice.

"Here we have time to sit down, relax and spend some time with the fans," she said. "We are playing for them. The more time they spend with us, the more they like us. It is better for us."