LONDON, Great Britain – It’s an odd experience, watching live tennis on a giant screen. The action is taking place just a few metres away, yet you’re not quite there; applauding the points and cheering the players is both involuntary and necessary.
But then to interrogate the magic of Wimbledon’s Henman Hill too much would be to miss its point completely. The grassed slope just outside Court No.1 has become the gathering spot for those with grounds passes to watch the big matches – and perhaps most famously to cheer on the British players in an atmosphere that’s festive, respectful and patriotic.
Tim Henman might have given the area his name. It gets referred to as Murray Mount every so often when Sir Andy is on a roll. But in 2017, it’s a British woman’s turn to stake her claim to some Wimbledon real estate.
What price Konta Contour?
Johanna Konta’s quarterfinal match against Simona Halep took place under the Centre Court roof. The weather outside was dire; the rain was pouring and a nasty breeze was blowing. Yet those on the hill were fully prepared. The best course of action for a seasoned hill-dweller is to arrive early, stake out your space, spread out a blanket, unpack your picnic basket, and make sure you have a very large umbrella under which to shelter, should it be required.
And it was certainly required on Ladies’ Day.
A mother and son, visiting London from Norwich, were excited to be able to watch the British No.1 from their vantage point. They had tickets for Court No.2, where the rain was too heavy for play to continue. Instead, they grabbed their umbrellas and began a little picnic on the hill just before Konta and Halep took to the court.
“She’s good! And she’s got a really nice personality,” said the mother. “British women tennis players have been so few and far between – and then someone comes along, and you just really, really root for them.”
When Konta lost a tightly-contested first set on a tiebreak, the fans did not drift away. Indeed, the hill filled up even more; play had been suspended on Court No.1 and those with tickets to watch Magdalena Rybarikova and CoCo Vandeweghe opted to watch Konta and Halep in the elements rather than cowering in the bar or simply heading home.
The British bulldog fighting spirit was much in evidence – not just on court. The fans had faith in their favorite.
“I do think she’ll come back,” said Sarah from Leeds. “She’s playing well. I think she will.”
She gestured at the packed hill.
“Look. Everybody loves her. She’s just got a really strong game. She doesn’t give up. She doesn’t quit.”
Even those with tickets for the other show courts were not too disappointed that they were not quite getting to see any live action. Watching a British woman sizzle into the Wimbledon semifinals – albeit at one remove and in the pouring rain – was worth the ticket price alone.
“I’m getting to watch Jo!” enthused Sharon Davis, celebrating her 60th birthday with her first ever trip to Wimbledon alongside her daughter Nicola. “I’ve been doing the ballot every year, and then my daughter surprised me and we’re coming back on Saturday. Twice in five days – and I’ve waited 50 years to get here.”
Perhaps she will get the chance to see a British woman in the Wimbledon singles final that day – for the first time in almost 40 years. If that happens, it will be standing room only on Konta Contour.