By Hanya El Ghetany
It’s that time of the year. It’s the time when the purple and green colours fill our lives, and we only eat strawberries. Buckle up, because grass season is here.
I’m lucky enough to be in London, and today was undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable days I’ve had here. It all started when I arrived at Queen’s Club to see Fokina training with Musetti and a crowd of people milling around, sipping coffee, and watching the morning training sessions. Then I walked around the grounds and unexpectedly ran into Tommy Paul, who smiled and said hello after noticing how terrified I was. I blushed like a high schooler chatting to their crush. I saw Taylor Fritz, who photobombed my photo with Musetti. Casper Ruud, Denis Shapovalov, Reilly Opelka, Lorenzo Sonego, and Marin Čilić were all practising on the ground, and basically every usher was striving to help me run into Grigor Dimitrov, one of my favourite players. Here’s my story from the day.
People living in London will probably understand why I absolutely dreaded the idea of commuting for three days this week from a suburban town in West London and taking the daily route on Piccadilly Line to Queen’s Club. It wasn’t because I’ve been in London long enough to adapt to the locals’ attitude on the tube of hating it when people stand on the wrong side of the escalators, walk too slowly, or make eye contact or when they treat the tube as a social networking site or blast music and talk loudly. It was because the daily commute from where I live to Queen’s was about 50 minutes of this. However, there was so much that made the journey worthwhile. For starters, this was my first time attending an ATP event. Second, the entry-list for Queen’s was so exciting from the moment it was announced: Ruud, Berrettini, Norrie, Fritz, Shapovalov, Schwartzman, Opelka, Dimitrov, Murray, De Minaur, Čilić, Davidovich Fokina…it was a fantastic field. Buying tickets for Queen’s was also much easier and more straightforward than Wimbledon, not to mention cheaper.
Summer weather in London fluctuates pretty wildly. It rains a lot in June. Last year, a couple of matches had to be cancelled and moved to the next day because there are no roofs at Queens. I was talking to fellow Popcorn Tennis contributor Vansh who was also making it to London during Queen’s, and I told him never to trust the weather app in London. Summer in London also means that it stays sunny till 9 PM. I’m still trying to get used to this, but I absolutely love it because I’m completely a morning and summer person. So, the few weeks it gets really summery in London, it’s heaven for me. This is the message on the Cinch championship website:
“If there have been no breaks in play it is likely that play will finish by approximately 7:30pm. However, play may continue as long as the light is good, which can be as late as 9pm. Unfortunately, we cannot confirm the exact schedule of play in advance as timings are very dependent on the weather and other conditions and are subject to change at the Tournament’s discretion”.
You get the gist.
The night before the first day, I had a rough sense of who would be on the main court. First would be Opelka vs. de Minaur, then Fritz vs. Draper, followed by Dimitrov vs. Norrie and ending with Broady vs. Čilić. I was looking forward to watching them all play live for the first time, but Dimitrov vs Norrie was the match I was most looking forward to. I’m completely smitten with Dimitrov for obvious reasons. (Insert Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me.”) Like a friend put it, “He’s the level of hot that you can’t even look directly at him. Dimitrov = the sun”.
There are three crucial ushers in today’s story who play an important role. One delightful security guard – who resembles my grandfather yet has the energy of my toddler cousin – was guarding the entrance where people stand to watch players train, plus two comical teenage ushers who were standing by Court 7, where the top-seeded players were training. Although it is impossible to see Court 7 up close, you may get an indication of when players begin and end their training sessions, as well as when they will depart the court. I’ll call the Court 7 ushers Usher 1 and Usher 2 for the sake of clarity.
Let’s back up a few hours before I met Ushers 1 and 2. It took me a few encounters to summon the bravery to approach Musetti and ask for a picture. I first saw Fokina, then Tommy Paul twice, and the second time, he smiled at me. I was elated. When I turned around after taking the picture with Musetti, I saw Taylor Fritz standing just inches away from me. “Fuck, it’s on the fritz,” I yelled. I’m pretty sure I scared him away. Later, Claire Stanley made me realise that he photobombed my picture with Musetti.
“All right, Hanya, calm down,” my friend told me. Usher 1 had noticed that we were trying to get close to the players for a picture. We probably gave him the complete entry list when he asked who we were most thrilled to meet. We stressed, however, that we were most excited to see Dimitrov. He told us where the players exited each court, that Čilić was currently practising on Court 7, and that Dimitrov would most likely arrive 2 hours before his match. I took a closer look at Court 7, and immediately recognised the left-handed one-handed backhand Shapovalov training. People acknowledged my sharp vision when I observed (read: screamed) who was playing.
We met Usher 2 closer to the exit of Court 7. We asked the same question and got the same answer. He asked me if Dimitrov is the Bulgarian dude and I felt slightly offended that he did not know who he was – but we laughed about it. There was still an hour till matches commenced at centre court, so my friend and I kept walking back and walked past training courts hoping to meet someone else. Whenever we passed by Usher 1, he told us who was training. Whenever we passed by usher 2, we were told if Dimitrov had arrived yet or not. One of these rounds, Usher 1 found us and quickly yelled that Dimitrov was leaving the training court. We ran to the exit, passing through Usher 2 who screamed “hurry up”. “Eye of the Tiger” was playing in the background. Unfortunately, as we made it, Dimitrov was already speed walking to where the muggles weren’t around to enter. We got to see him up-close though, and he was, in fact, “the sun”. Usher 2 left his post to ask us if we made it, and he was as disappointed as we were that we didn’t. It was so adorable. As play was about to begin, Ushers 1 and 2 said their goodbyes as they were changing shifts and introduced us to the new round of ushers as their best customers. I’m literally still crying from the cuteness.
That’s about it for my teenage moments today. We went into Centre Court; it was very cosy and beautiful. The first two matches were quite straightforward. The two Americans (Opelka and Fritz) lost to De Minaur and Draper in straight sets in about an hour each. Dimitrov and Norrie took about the same time of the first two matches combined. There were many moments where we saw vintage Dimitrov. Norrie was quite decent. I mean, I like the guy, but c’mon, it’s Dimitrov. I kept my cool to respect the Brits in the stadium. The first set was as heart-breaking as any tennis match could get, mainly because Dimitrov was playing so well and lost in a tiebreak anyway. He went to win the following sets 6-1, 6-4. I was screaming so hard in the last set that the guy next to me broke silence and asked me “excuse me, I’m sorry if I’m being too forward, but are you Dimitrov’s girlfriend?” I daydreamed for a few seconds before I fell back to reality and replied, “I wish”. Not “no”, I said “I wish”. The guy laughed. By the time we got to Broady vs Čilić, the sun had eaten possibly every person on the court alive. I got a sunburn in London, which is a sentence I never thought I would use.
Here’s a tip for Vansh and everyone else who is thinking of making it to the tournament: bring a lot of snacks, and a water bottle, as there are a lot of refill posts around the grounds. It took Čilić two hours to beat Broady in three sets. To be honest, at this point I was rooting for Broady because the Brits weren’t having the best of days, and honestly, they’re the nicest bunch to hang around. By the third set, we also heard that Murray pulled out of Queens. The cheers for Broady at that point were crazy. Čilić ended up winning the match, and the Brits still applauded him. Take notes, Roland-Garros crowd.
The day ended about 7:30 P.M. with the sun still shining. I had so much fun today. Queen’s Club is smaller than Wimbledon, but it felt much cosier. I took the Piccadilly Line back home, wrote this, sent it to Owen and Scott and will now watch the videos I took of the day.
Let’s hope the quarters will have as many exciting stories as there were today.