By Melina Harris
I jumped at the chance to attend the pre-Wimbledon tennis event at the prestigious Hurlingham Club in London last week. The club has a very relaxed, London-park feel and the grounds are just beautiful. The many grass courts scattered throughout the club are impeccably well maintained and it came as no surprise that Andy Roddick wanted to follow up his Queens’ appearance with a practice match against Thomas Berdych that afternoon.
I made my way to the press room, through what appeared to be a five star hotel lobby, with dining tables laid out for corporate guests either side. Evian were heavily involved in the event and had brought along presenter Kirsty Gallagher along for the ride. Free bottles were being given away, but didn’t seem to be nearly as popular as the complimentary champagne. The majority of the guests were congregated around the free bar at the front of the building, shaded by trees and fed with canapés. I thought I saw one of the cast of E4’s posh reality show ‘Made in Chelsea’ but then realized everyone was dressed in chinos, deck shoes and Ralph Lauren shirts.
When I entered the press room, I was stunned by how quiet it was, however when lunch time arrived I was pleasantly surprised to be joined by legends such as Henri Laconte, Pat Cash, Mansour Bahrami and Thomas Enquist. Andy Roddick seemed to be enjoying himself around a table with his entourage including coach Larry Stefanki. I recognized a familiar face on the table next to me, but it took me a couple of minutes to realize it was former England Rugby Captain, Will Carling. What was he doing there, I thought? We all enjoyed a lunch of salmon, new potatoes and of course, some strawberries and cream.
I was happy when I noticed my friend and photographer Paul Cunningham who always provides the highest caliber of banter and incidentally promised to send me some pictures for my new website. At 2.30pm we walked out to the press box to watch Roddick take on Berdych. The standard of tennis was high and thankfully the rain held off in time for Roddick to take the match in two sets. He only seemed a little perturbed with the fact that he kept ‘shanking’ his first serve, a term familiar to amateur players across the globe, but one not often connected to one of the best servers in the game. On this showing, despite the aforementioned ‘shanking’ he should do well at Wimbledon. Berdych looked pretty sharp too and will be looking to follow up his final appearance last year with a good run this fortnight.
Despite the threat of rain, the legends brought sunshine to South London with their trickery and wit in the exhibition doubles. Goran Ivanisevic received a warm welcome and an award to commemorate the tenth anniversary of his famous Wimbledon victory as a wild card. Having also watched him compete against Tim Henman at the Royal Albert Hall late last year, it wouldn’t be such a reach to have offered him another for this year’s championships at SW19.
Unfortunately, the rain renewed its threat and there was a mass exodus to the bar as it was clearly Pimms O’clock. Luckily it was a brief shower and Pat Cash and co were on again in no time to finish their game, motioning to the students on the entrances to let the spectators in even if it wasn’t a change-over. Shock horror! Predictably, they were told off by the management who I overheard as saying ‘We are the Hurlingham Club. We have standards to uphold. Who cares what the players say!’ Ooh er, for a moment there I forgot I was in London! So, with the seats half full, we watched the last few points of the match, before heading back for a well-earned cuppa in the press room. Paul even managed to get a paparazzi shot of me in the press box! All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable day and one I would recommend to anyone with some holiday leave to use up!
On the way home I realized that a certain someone had retweeted my Twitter conversation with one of my followers who had asked ‘What the hell is Will Carling doing there?’ to which I replied, ‘Presumably speaking to fifty old farts’ in reference to his famous comment about the Rugby Association. Hilariously, he somehow found the cyberspace exchange and answered, ‘I was interviewing Pat Cash and btw my tennis is bloody good haha’. So you’ve heard it here first people, Will Carling is a wannabe Sue Barker. Sorry Will, you’re going to have to tackle me first for that job!