Souhan: Reserved Wimbledon loosens up for Olympics

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 31, 2012 - 11:15 PM

The All England Club still is dripping with tradition, but the Games crowds have ushered in a carnival atmosphere.

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What's that we're seeing at Wimbledon? Colors. Andy Murray of Great Britain wore navy blue during his match against Jarkko Nieminen of Finland on Tuesday, and the All England Lawn Tennis Club sported some virbrant images, too.

Photo: Elise Amendola, ASSOCIATED PRESS

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WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND - The British love the English language so much they decorate it like a Christmas tree.

Why use one adjective when you can call something "absolutely fabulous," or "quite fantastic"? Why settle on a simple name for a pub when you can serve pints at "The Walrus and the Carpenter"?

Dotting the Isles are town names such as Stratford-upon-Avon and now, thanks to the Olympics, there is Wimbledon-yet-not-Wimbledon.

A long bus ride takes you from the prefab arenas of the industrialized Olympic Park to the All England Club in pastoral Wimbledon, where the Olympic tennis tournaments are being held. The most prestigious tennis club in the world is where dull green paint goes to die, but for the Olympics, the staid club has dressed up as if for Mardi Gras.

While much of the grounds radiate green, the players are not required, as during the Grand Slam event, to wear white. Centre Court is decorated with purple Olympic signage, and the interlocking rings are woven into each end of the net.

Wimbledon is the tennis version of Augusta National or Fenway Park, a place of myriad greens and quaint beauty. The world's best tennis players, far from treating this like a lesser tournament, are embracing the grandeur of the setting, and of their quest.

"It was amazing to be here on Centre Court, where the legends lie, where it all started, where the Queen comes," said Canada's Aleksandra Wozniak, who lost her second-round match to Venus Williams on Tuesday. "I think at Wimbledon you feel that way more than any other Grand Slam. The tradition gets to you. I was really happy to be a part of this, representing my country at the Olympics."

For all of her accomplishments, Venus Williams exuded a childlike sense of wonder at the Olympic experience. After the final point, she traded Olympic collectible pins with fans. She had braided her country's colors into her hair, and her prized pins adorned her lanyard.

"It's so fun, and it's a great way to meet people," Williams said. "The pins are very beautiful. I have a collection all the way from 2000. They're the pride for me, the pride of the Olympics."

In successive second-round matches Tuesday, Williams defeated Wozniak, Great Britain's Andy Murray beat Finland's Jarkko Nieminen, Novak Djokovic beat American Andy Roddick and Maria Sharapova beat Great Britain's Laura Robson in a parade of stars and local favorites on Centre Court.

"A few times when I stepped up to serve, it was the sort of noise you get when you're serving for the match, normally," Murray said. "The crowd [was] really good."

The crowd cheered loudest for the Brits, and Murray responded with emotion after his match, pumping his fists, saluting the crowd, and firing his wristbands into the stands. Every player had his or her own cheering section, though. Every player saw a flag from home, and wardrobes that would not be allowed during "The" Wimbledon.

Williams wore dark blue. Murray wore a blue shirt that looked like a geometry test, and orange-and-blue sneakers that would embarrass the most garish New York Met.

"Most Olympic venues you come to, it's the first time you have played there," Williams said. "But this one has history. It has a history of the Olympics. I'm glad to have played in a year when the Olympics came back to Wimbledon."

During Wimbledon, there is a lot of shushing. Any stray noise from the stands might draw a warning or even a glare from the serving player. Tuesday, a baby cried loudly and fans waved flags and cheered loudly, even as the ushers held curtains across fifth- level entrances and restricted the movement of fans to provide a calm background for the players.

"We're wearing colors, people are clearly cheering for their nations, and the Olympics are happening all around us," Williams said. "There's no confusion as to what this is."

At most of the venues in and around London, it's a bizarre sporting carnival. At Wimbledon, it's pure, venerable sport, dressed up for Mardi Gras and wearing pins.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. jsouhan@startribune.com

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