On the middle Saturday of the All England Championships at Wimbledon, my brother John and I had to play on the Centre Court against Margaret Court and Marty Reissen, the number one seeds.
Although we were the next match on, and had been duly instructed where to wait, I was the only one who was sitting on the hard, board seats in the small room behind the CENTRE COURT. The other more experienced centre court players and my brother – who no doubt had been counselled by Harry Hopman, the Captain of his team – remained in the comfort of the change rooms until the very last moment. Unfortunately it gave me too much time for my already shattered nerves to kick in, especially as I was confronted by two crossed swords over the doorway out to the court with the words from Rudyard Kipling’s poem underneath:-
“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same.”
Triumph I could handle easily, I reflected, as I sat there. It was Disaster that was my main concern.
I found it hard to believe that I was about to play on the hallowed turf, the scene of so many long and torrid battles, fought by past champions. As a young girl, growing up, I’d dreamed of this moment, as I’d lain sprawled on my parents’ bed, sipping hot, sweet tea and listening to the crackly radio broadcasts from Wimbledon in the early hours of the morning. Now I was here and it was about to happen.
When eventually the others arrived and I stood up to go out on the court, I couldn’t feel my knees. They’d completely gone to jelly. Nor as hard as I tried, could I get the butterflies in my stomach to fly in formation. They were running wild. I then made the mistake of looking up at the Centre Court stands, which were full to overflowing with people. They shimmered in the afternoon sun, appearing to rise out of the ground, almost perpendicularly. I prayed fervently, to the God of all tennis players, that I would play my best, not let my partner down, or worst of all make a fool of myself. I stepped gingerly forward, wishing fervently that I was a turtle and could just disappear into my shell.
We lost… but only just. The good part was that as a brother and sister combination – only the third in the history of Wimbledon – we were the crowd favourites and were cheered loudly every time we won a point. Mum back at home would have certainly been bursting with pride as it had always been her dream for John and I to play mixed at Wimbledon.
Excerpt from “A Spanish Love Affair” by Susan Joy Alexander