Meet the Last 8 Club

The woman next to me obviously knew quite a bit about tennis. Thursday June 30 this year at Wimbledon: there we were courtside on Court 17, a group of Aussies watching Sam Stosur play Sabine Lisicki. We were all barracking for our Sam: three young women working as nurses in London, an older woman and me. It wasn’t that Sam was playing badly, but Lisicki was powerful and had the edge.

As the game drew to its obvious conclusion we started talking about what had brought us to Wimbledon. I had queued for five hours! The older lady said she had been invited to Wimbledon and this was her fourth visit.

“How do you get invited to Wimbledon?” I asked.

“Well, I was a finalist and semi-finalist in the Ladies Doubles in the 50’s”, she replied. “This means I join the Last 8 Club. You become a member if you’ve reached the quarter-finals of the Singles Championship or the semi-finals of the gentlemen’s and ladies’ doubles or the final of the mixed doubles. The benefits include a pass to access the Grounds every day of the fortnight, a guest pass and allocated seats on Centre Court and No.1 Court”.

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2016 marks the 30th anniversary of the Last 8 Club that was inaugurated in 1986 as part of The Championships’ centenary celebration.

Fay Muller was her name – a sun-kissed Queenslander and a typical Aussie – self-effacing, generous of spirit. She was off to Court 1 once the match was decided. She gave me her Souvenir Program for the day and told me how different the Wimbledon of her day was from the Wimbledon of 2016.

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“When we played, there were no seats on the court, fancy towels or the regular breaks of today. Once when I was really tired I had to perch on the steps of the umpire’s stand.”

Apparently the other Grand Slams have taken up this gesture for retired players. How interesting it would be to hear the comments of all these former players as they reflected on the matches in play. I felt privileged to have sat next to an old champion of my favourite sporting pursuit – more so because of her attitude to the game. She was fiercely supportive of Sam, bemoaning the odd double fault at inopportune times, proffering advice on tactics, but at the same time appreciative of Lisicki’s craft around the court. She was also gently forgiving of our male high profile tennis players, only admitting that they were “naughty boys”!

Unexpected things happen at Wimbledon.

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