LONDON—IT WOULD be the start of a beautiful romance, albeit a one-sided one.
My love affair began the moment I stepped on the sacred grounds of the All England Lawn Tennis Club.
The arena is a living coliseum to the world’s oldest tennis competition, and you know in an instant that you’re in a tournament steeped in history and tradition.
This is where my debut in the pantheon of tennis begins, and it feels rather like a giddy first date. But you can’t get too caught up with the hype. Like the top players in the tournament, I had to put on my game face and get on with the job. First on the assignment list, round-robin interviews with the tennis stars! Three minutes with each tennis player, and in that time, find out as much as I could about him.
Can’t say I have ever tried speed-dating but I know it involves speaking to many people in a brief period, trying to leave a good first impression, getting the other person to like you in a wink of an eye, and getting to know as much about them as quickly as possible. It’s a three-minute round before someone motions you on to the next “date.”
Well that doesn’t sound much different from what journalists are doing every day in Wimbledon—asking the best questions possible in the hope of getting the most interesting answers. In our round-robin interviews we’re limited to 180 seconds with each player. We try to make each second count.
The hard-hitting questions out of the way, I find myself asking, “What’s your favorite restaurant at Wimbledon?” Now that I think about it, it is a rather “first date-ish” sort of question. (I like light-hearted questions—they give me better insights into the players’ personalities. It’s not so that I can stalk them later. Really.)
Here are some of my “dates” that stood out.
Date # 4: They say that a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and world No. 16, Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, often makes reference to his girlfriend who is whipping up dinners for him at home in the two weeks of competition. They head out occasionally, “Italian, maybe Indian,” he says. It’s nice to know the bigwigs of tennis are not all about fancy restaurants and posh dining.
Date #7: “She makes me laugh.” It’s a bit clichéd, but it’s always a good thing when your tennis star smiles at your attempt at being funny. Having just been knocked out of the tournament, Taiwan’s Yen-Hsun Lu had apparently been bracing himself for something a little more critical. “I wasn’t expecting that question,” he chuckled while patting his belly. Ice broken—success! This is another man who loves being pampered at home; this time by his mom. With many of the players from Chinese Taipei, he’ll sometimes eat at China Town, 30 minutes away in London. I’m getting the impression that there is some really amazing food there. Note to self—must check out the tofu.
Date #9: It’s said that you make a decision about a person within the first three seconds of meeting them. Within that time, I had decided I could listen all day to the accent of former world No. 6, France’s Gilles Simon. What?! Three minutes is up?! This was one “date” I wouldn’t mind going on for hours!
Before you know it, the round-robin session is over, and I’m called to the next assignment. Who is my next lucky date?
Renai Mattu is a presenter on Star Sports. Catch her on Star Sports’ coverage of Wimbledon, or catch the tournament in high definition on ESPN HD.