A year ago, Wimbledon was a victim of COVID-19. The event was canceled for the first time since World War II.
The ESPN tennis team has been going to London since 2003, when the company first acquired rights to televise from the All England Club. But many of the commentators have been there every year, going back much further to their playing days.
As the 2021 event approached, Front Row asked a few members of the ESPN crew what they missed most about not going to Wimbledon last year. For more information on ESPN’s Wimbledon coverage, visit ESPN Press Room.
“I remember the first time walking through the gates of Wimbledon as a 20-year-old and getting goosebumps from the experience as this is the most famous place in tennis. I walked straight to Centre Court to see if the place where I grew up watching the Borg/McEnroe finals years ago was how I imagined, and it wasn’t.
“It was much smaller and more intimate than I expected, and if you closed your eyes, I swear you could sense and feel the roar of the crowd and the brilliance of the champions that had graced the court through the generations. That is what I mainly missed about Wimbledon last year as I still walk into an empty Centre Court every year to sit down and take in the beauty of the court and stadium. Of course, it’s changed considerably in the last 35 years, but the ambiance has not, and it will always remain the most famous tennis court in tennis history.”
“Day One of the canceled Wimbledon 2020, I was home in Connecticut with a gut feeling that I was supposed to be somewhere. I missed my work. I missed being a small part of a huge tradition. Wimbledon transcends sports. It signals that Summer has arrived! Today I sit in a trench coat; gray skies and rain surround us. Yes! It’s summer in London. And I’m working Wimbledon.”
“Before last year, the only time since 1983 I missed Wimbledon was 1988 when I had an injury. Last year, I missed remembering that first time I walked through the gates. It’s such a special feeling. I missed my 17-day groove of being on foot, walking from my place in the village to the courts.
“It’s such a unique experience being in the SW19 neighborhood. I so look forward to it every year. I thought about being there so much as a kid, the hallowed grounds and the pristine grass courts.”
“Last year I missed the banter of the morning production meetings that are informative and a comedic opportunity. Those meetings set the tone for your special workday at the most famous tennis club in the world.”
“What I most love about Wimbledon is arriving early (we are fortunate as ESPN announcers are able to have access) before any crowds are there, smelling the fresh grass, watching the grounds crew meticulously prepare the courts, draw the lines, raise the nets, check the height of the bounce. And walking into Centre Court, reimagining the epic matches that took place in this, the tennis cathedral, and wondering what will happen next.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Cliff Drysdale first went to Wimbledon in 1962 and before last year had only missed one year when he had a scheduling conflict. Here he is in front of his favorite Wimbledon restaurant, Carluccios.
“I missed Carluccios Italian restaurant in the village and the Dog and Fox for a visit to an authentic English pub. And the stroll thru Wimbledon common dodging golf balls, dogs chasing foxes, and losing my way again.”
“There is nothing I didn’t miss about Wimbledon last year. It’s the first time since 1989 not coming to the Championships either playing or doing tv. I love everything about it, the atmosphere, the fans, the walk through Wimbledon village, the flowers around the grounds, the smell of the grass courts, the rain, the announcer asking the security to open up the gates to let the patrons in. There is no tennis facility or tournament in the world I love more. Every time I walk through the gates and onto the grounds of the AELTC [All England Lawn & Tennis Club] I feel privileged. It’s tennis heaven and I am so happy to be back here.”