There's nothing like Wimbledon

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:45 AM ET

LONDON -- The long drive from London, through winding roads seemingly going nowhere, ends here and somehow as you look around for the first time your breath is taken away(TM).

A cynic reduced to awe.

A lifetime of watching Wimbledon on television doesn't prepare you for this.

It is that large, that different, that crowded, that bright.

It is reminiscent of walking in to Fenway Park for the first time, standing at home plate, and staring at the closeness of the Green Monster.

It is like the first trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, trying to grasp the enormity of a half million people all seated in the stadium that never ends.

It is instantly memorable, the way Yankee Stadium is and the way the Montreal Forum was.

You can see all the photographs, watch the highlights on television, hear all about it but suddenly it is nothing like you imagined. Up close, all around you at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club there is buzz and people, history and tradition, more buzz and more people.

Television doesn't begin to capture the size of Wimbledon, only the scope.

This has never been just another tennis tournament.

Here in person, it seems more event than competition, more spectacle than anything else.

And on my first day it was hard to know where to look first: There is no day like this in tennis: The round of 16s for both men's and women's singles.

This was a buffet line with too many choices.

The weather was perfect, the sky blue, the sun shining, not the gloomy Wimbledon we have seen too often and may see again as early as today.

There were, from early afternoon to night, too many decisions to make.

There were defending champions Lleyton Hewitt, Lindsay Davenport and the magnificent Roger Federer, all sharp during their victories on centre court.

There was Maria Sharapova and all the clicking cameras followed by Andy Roddick on the show court. On another show court, there was Venus Williams destroying Jill Craybus, who just two days earlier was one of two reasons why Serena Williams is no longer in this tournament.

And somewhere in between, if you looked hard enough you could find Martina Navratilova still playing, Mark Knowles playing without his regular partner, Daniel Nestor, or almost any of the 22 Russian women playing here -- many of whom may in fact be the same person.

"You know, there's no event like it," said Roddick, the American. "It's not only a tennis tournament, its a place to go, it's the place to be.

"You drive home (at night) and you see the people queuing. You see the vines on the wall. They've upheld traditions. They have such a great blend of kind of old and kind of new. It's a special place.

"One of my favourite things is when we get here for the practice week, the first walk, when you walk in the door and there's nobody here ... You kind of get a feel for it. You're excited to be back."

The place just isn't strawberries and cream.

It isn't just aristocracy. It is kids with backpacks and sleeping bags camping out so they can lineup for tickets the following day. It is 560 million people watching around the world, 6,000 hours of television time.

All this for tennis.

Because it's Wimbledon. Because it's special. Because there's nothing quite like it.


Videos

Photos