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Wimbledon lawns become a celebrity safari

Mark Hodgkinson
June 28, 2014
David Beckham, here with Sir Bobby Charlton, was the star attraction on Middle Saturday - ahead of even the players themselves © Getty Images
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To walk around the All England Club, to glance across at the Royal Box, is sometimes to feel as though you are in a celebrity safari park. To the extent that Wimbledon appears to have overtaken the US Open as the grand slam tournament that attracts more famous faces.

On the Middle Saturday of this summer's Championships, a coiffed, grey-bearded David Beckham took centre stage in the front row of the Royal Box. Traditionally, Day Six of the tournament is when athletes are invited to Centre Court, and the other sporting VIPs included Sachin Tendulkar, Sir Bradley Wiggins, Tom Daley, Ian Poulter, Victoria Pendleton and Andrew Strauss.

The weekend before the tournament began, Hollywood's Samuel L Jackson popped by the All England Club, and during the first week of competition, we've seen One Direction, plus former NBA basketball player Shaquille O'Neal, and comedian Ricky Gervais, who was one of Andy Murray's guests on Friday evening. Pseudo-aristocracy - Pippa Middleton and Lady Mary from Downton Abbey - have also been in attendance.

Still, unlike the US Open, Wimbledon's celebrities don't have their faces projected on to the big screen.

One roof is on fire...

Consider the Centre Court Roof to be one of the celebrities. It has its own Twitter account (@wimbledonroof), which at the time of writing had almost 10,000 followers, making it more popular than some of the players who compete beneath it.

...while another can't stand the pressure any longer

For several tennis generations, players have never been in greater physical danger than when they have just won Wimbledon.

It was Pat Cash, the 1987 men's singles winner, who started this trend for climbing up Centre Court to embrace your friends, family, lover and members of staff; there's now almost an expectation for the champion to seek out their supporters in the guests-box.

The problem was always that players would reach the box by walking across the flimsy roof of the TV commentary booths. To avoid the possibility of a new champion disappearing through the roof, the All England Club have this year added a gate to the guests-box. While Cash is against the gate - he believes it is "way too easy now", and not enough of a challenge - the steward who looks after the guests has told ESPN that the danger was very real.

"That roof is made with a light timber frame, so it's dangerous for a player to be walking across it. It wouldn't look great if the roof collapsed and a player fell through. The roof hasn't been designed to have people walking across it," David Spearing told me.

But it's not just players who have ventured out on to that surface over the prize-giving weekend. "I remember once that Venus Williams' father, Richard, climbed on to that roof to take photos of his daughter below, and the roof was apparently vibrating," Spearing said. "Chris Evert was below doing commentary, and she was nervous because the roof above was bouncing up and down. I helped Richard down from the roof. I told him that it was much too dangerous up there. He was in danger and so were the people underneath."

Mark Hodgkinson is the author of Lendl: The Man Who Made Murray. He is writing daily pieces for ESPN during Wimbledon.

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