By Nick Carter
I was hoping to bring you a report of the semifinals day at the Birmingham Classic, but sadly the weather intervened and there was no play. There were points where the rain stopped, but at around 3 pm UK time it was announced that play had been cancelled as more bad weather was on the way. I stayed in Birmingham for a couple of hours after and saw they were right to do so.
Regardless of the lack of play, I thought I’d share some thoughts on my experience of visiting the event. This is the lowest category of event I have attended, having only previously been to Wimbledon and the ATP Finals when they were held in London. (I’ll try not to make too many comparisons but it might be useful for those who have up to this point only visited big events.)
As I parked in the school field that was being used for the event, I immediately saw how rough and ready aspects were. Now, to be fair, were I to park at Wimbledon it would be a similar experience (for the record I have never done this, nor do I recommend it to anyone as it is a ludicrous price and involves driving in London). The Edgbaston Priory Club is a private tennis establishment that is hosting the Birmingham Classic, and it is clearly well resourced. I counted multiple courts on the way in that were still open to members to use, including ones with hard and clay surfaces. One suspects the membership fee is at a premium. However, it is a tennis club first and a sporting venue second. This is where you will see the biggest difference with Wimbledon (other than scale), which is a sporting venue first and a tennis facility second, with far more permanent structures around it (at least once you get on the site and past the queue). Besides the scale, the whole event feels like having a grounds pass at a major championships. The small courts are the same, with the main stadium being much like a mid-level one at a slam.
This is the second time I’ve been to a rain-affected tennis event. Both times, shelter was at a premium. Tennis is usually an open-air sport, and the only indoor places are usually restaurants, bars, shops or any overlapping stands. If there aren’t enough of these, then you’d better have a good waterproof on you. Waiting in the rain is a strange experience, as everyone there is hoping it will pass, hope rising with any mild brightening of the sky. If there has been no rain for ten minutes, everyone starts getting impatient and saying that they should start play straight away. We’re here for tennis, we want to see tennis, and we don’t want to go home disappointed.
One of the things that’s great about tennis, rain or shine, is the interactions with other fans. Today I spoke to a someone who was bringing his young son to a tennis tournament for the first time (this seven-year-old told me he was a fan of Emma Raducanu, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal), a fan who had flown over from Ireland to visit the tournament (a regular pilgrimage for their family and fortunately they had enjoyed the Quarter-Finals on Friday), and I got to meet Lee, who is the mastermind behind the website and Twitter account @tennisontelly, which has helped many a tennis fan know when and how to watch a tennis match on TV. It is wonderful that it is possible to talk for hours with a stranger about something we instantly share, and generally everyone I’ve met at an event has been so nice. Rain provides even more opportunities for such conversations, outside of a good old-fashioned British queue.
I would have loved to talk more about the event, but due to circumstances beyond their control they couldn’t provide the full product. This does not put me off visiting another 250 or 500 event in the future, and I’m looking forward to going to somewhere like Nottingham, Queens or Eastbourne. I would like to encourage anyone reading this, it is worth visiting a pro-tennis event at any level because the experience is similar across the board and the quality of play will usually be very high.