DREAM TRIPS 2008

A Witty Guide to Wimbledon Etiquette

Some amusing traditions explain why Wimbledon draws the world's best-behaved players and spectators.

Wimbledon tickets (courtesy Bell Pottinger Sport & Sponsorship)

1. Players' etiquette: Mind your knickers

When French tennis star Tatiana Golovin arrived on court at Wimbledon in 2007, her elegant white dress suggested she knew all about the tournament's famously strict sartorial code.

Then she stepped up to serve—and promptly revealed a pair of bright red underpants to anyone who cared to look. Everyone, of course, did. Golovin won the first-round match, but sought guidance from the All England Lawn Tennis Club before sporting her knickers again.

The sartorial decision was a small triumph of British diplomacy. Wimbledon's "predominantly white" clothing rule had not been breached. As Reuters reported last summer, the judges ruled that Golovin's knickers were above the hemline and thus deemed "underwear" rather than shorts. Etiquette survived intact.

Rather than challenging the age-old customs, many players revel in them. James Blake may flash his biceps everywhere else on tour but admitted to ESPN.com, "I still always wear the sleeves here."

For Venus Williams, whose second passion is fashion design, the regulations offer a challenge: "I think it's easy to be creative. I actually like the all-white."

And who can forget Roger Federer's stylish cream blazer of 2006, which earned Nike plenty of plaudits?

One longstanding stricture remains: If the Queen or the Prince of Wales is occupying the Royal Box, a bow or curtsy is obligatory upon entering and leaving the court. You may have just lost a grueling five-setter. You may be desperate to fling your racket against the locker room wall or to unleash a torrent of utterly foul language. Instead, you must pause, peer up at the dignitaries sitting on their Lloyd Loom wicker chairs, and daintily bend your knee.

2. Spectators' etiquette: Leave your Klaxons at home

You may wear any color you like as a spectator, but there are still rules to follow. Some are listed in the printed program. Others are based on more than a century of court tradition. Herewith, the highlights:

  • Don't make noise during a rally. Never applaud a let serve or double fault. No shouting, swearing, or booing. (Where do you think you are, the Australian Open?)
  • Strawberries and cream: You may not even like soft fruit, but eating at least one bowl (about $4) is compulsory.
  • Pack a hat and slap on the sunscreen. But, in a spirit of preparedness, you should also bring an umbrella. And if it rains, don't admit defeat. At least one fan must be photographed for the newspapers sitting stoically beneath a "brolly" as the downpour reaches biblical proportions.
  • Fancy an alcoholic drink as you watch? Sorry, quaffing on court is a no-no. You may, however, bring a bottle of wine or a couple of cans of beer to enjoy with your picnic lunch on the lawn outside.
  • Tote a pair of binoculars. Who is that flirting with Her Royal Highness?
  • Carrying banners, flags, or Klaxons? These signs and noisemakers won't get past the stewards at the gate.
  • Guys, there's no formal dress code, but for heaven's sake, keep your shirts on. Rafael Nadal can change his gear on court as often as he likes because he's a star. You, alas, are not.
  • Turn off the flash on your camera. And silence your ghastly cell phone, too.
  • Want to make a political statement in front of the TV cameras by wearing a message across your chest? The stewards may insist on a quiet word with you.

For a guide to the tournament's quirks and eccentricities, visit wimbledontennis.co.uk, a comprehensive site set up by self-confessed Wimbledon nuts.

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