Photographers' Blog

Center Court – A 30 year wait

July 1, 2010

Gary Hershorn poses on center court at Wimbledon June 30, 2010.

Wednesday finally saw the culmination of a 30 year dream of mine to shoot a match on the famed center court at Wimbledon. After 30 years of being a photographer, 25 of those spent with Reuters covering every conceivable sports championship around the world, there were still two things I always wanted to photograph, but for one reason or another never had the opportunity to do so. One was shooting a match on center court and the other, covering a British Open golf championship at St. Andrews.

This year is not my first at Wimbledon, I have been here a number of times editing the great pictures our photographers take during the fortnight of tennis. There is no tennis tournament that produces the beautiful images that Wimbledon does. From the simple white clothes that the competitors must wear, to the light that seems to illuminate the court in a magical way, to the darkish backgrounds of spectators the perfect distance away from the player and to the history that has played out on the grass year after year, one can only describe the chance to be here as special.

Special in the same way it is to have a chance to photograph the Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club. Wimbledon and the Masters are ageless events played out in a similar way with no commercialism and lots of green as backgrounds. They are both considered ultimate events to cover as a photographer. The Masters I have been fortunate enough to attend 20 times.

Tiger Woods hits out of a bunker on the fifth hole during first round play in the 2000 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club, April 6, 2000.  REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

Growing up a huge sports fan and then becoming a sports photographer, Wimbledon was a place I wanted to see. The first tennis final I covered as a professional photographer was the Canadian Open final between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe in 1979. I don’t think I ever missed watching the men’s or women’ finals at Wimbledon enjoying the yearly Breakfast at Wimbledon TV broadcasts. Yes, my favorites were like everyone’s, the Borg-McEnroe marathon and the Nadal victory over Federer 2 years ago.

Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates after defeating Roger Federer of Switzerland in their finals match at the Wimbledon tennis championships in London July 6, 2008. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico

Arriving at the All England Lawn and Tennis Center yesterday, it was suggested to me by my colleagues and Bob Martin, the photo manager for the tournament, that today was the day that I should leave the confines of the editing room and photograph the first match of the day between Roger Federer and Tomas Berdych. If you are going to take pictures it might as well be of a six-time champion who was expected to win his quarterfinal match and move into the semi’s on his way to another final.

Switzerland's Roger Federer serves during his men's singles tennis match against Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic at the 2010 Wimbledon tennis championships in London, June 30, 2010. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

After a little hemming and hawing I grabbed the cameras of our photographer Phil Noble, who graciously agreed to take over the editing and made my way to the court. Luckily our photo messenger escorted me out as I had no idea how to get to the photo positions at the side of the court.

Walking out a tunnel and arriving on center court for the first time was definitely a wow moment. Standing there you instantly take in the sights that you have seen in pictures but never with your own eyes. First you notice how intimate the stadium is. This is not Arthur Ashe stadium at the tennis center in New York. This is lower, more compact and with a very clean look. Not an advertisement to be found anywhere except a few unobtrusive corporate markings on a wall and a couple of corporate names on the umpires chair.

Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic laughs after challenging a line call in his match against Switzerland's Roger Federer at the 2010 Wimbledon tennis championships in London, June 30, 2010. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

Then you notice the grass, the new roof tucked away at the ends of the court, the Royal Box, the families box, the pre-match scurrying around of people measuring the net, stocking up the refrigerator with water for the players, positioning the players chairs just right, and so on. Then slowly the grandstand starts to fill up, actors, today, Sir Michael Caine and Ben Stiller take their seats in the Royal Box, Federer’s wife and father arrive, ball boys and girls appear, line judges, the umpire and then finally the players walk onto the court to a loud round of applause.

Actor Ben Stiller of the U.S. (CENTRE ROW L) and British actor Michael Caine (CENTRE ROW R) wait with Michael Caine's wife Shakira (CENTRE ROW C) in the royal box for the start of the match between Switzerland's Roger Federer and Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic, on Centre Court at the 2010 Wimbledon tennis championships in London, June 30, 2010.  REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

Within a few minutes, play begins following a short warm up. The last full tennis match I shot was the final of the U.S. Open two years ago. Needless to say, you expect to be a little rusty shooting a sport you haven’t covered for awhile but it doesn’t take long to get your timing down and take pictures consistently with the ball in them.

It is hard to describe how exciting it feels to see balls whizzing back and forth. The sound of the ball hitting the racket is different. I don’t remember a court being so quiet while play was on. The US Open never seemed to be like this. Visually, looking through the camera it seems easier to pick up the ball coming into the frame as the backgrounds are solid green, the yellow ball vividly stands out unlike other tournaments where you have to pick it out of a host of advertisements in the background.

Switzerland's Roger Federer hits a return to Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic at the 2010 Wimbledon tennis championships in London, June 30, 2010.       REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

It didn’t take long to realize this was not going to be a normal Roger Federer three set match. Berdych came out strong and in the fourth set it was apparent Roger was not going to win today. That is when it hits you that there is a news story happening here, a six-time champion who has been in the past seven finals bowing out in the quarterfinal round. As the fourth set progressed I could feel my heart beating a little faster with each game Berdych won. Match point arrived, Berdych won and with heart racing, your mind remembers to photograph everything you see, the winners celebration, the losers walk to the net, the handshake, the after match waves of the winner and the players departing the court together.

Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic celebrates defeating Switzerland's Roger Federer at the 2010 Wimbledon tennis championships in London, June 30, 2010.                REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

Switzerland's Roger Federer walks off the court after being defeated by Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic at the 2010 Wimbledon tennis championships in London, June 30, 2010.                REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic (L) shakes hands with Switzerland's Roger Federer after defeating him at the 2010 Wimbledon tennis championships in London, June 30, 2010.                       REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic celebrates defeating Switzerland's Roger Federer at the 2010 Wimbledon tennis championships in London, June 30, 2010.    REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

Switzerland's Roger Federer (2nd R) walks off the court after being defeated by Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic (R) at the 2010 Wimbledon tennis championships in London, June 30, 2010.      REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

All in all it was far more than I expected. I started off thinking I would be photographing just another tennis match but left wondering if I had photographed a bit of history, a great champion exiting a championship earlier than expected and wondering if he would be able to win this great event again. While Federer will make a return to center court I knew when I walked out it was doubtful I would ever be back to shoot a match in this stadium. Walking down the tunnel I looked back one last time, thinking how my dream to photograph a match on center court completely lived up to the billing I gave it in my own head.

The British Open will be played in 2 weeks at St. Andrews and finally, I will get to live out that other dream of mine and help cover that event.

Two dreams completed in less than one month is more than anyone can ask for.

Comments
4 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

I found his story very interesting, so I think I saw you live in the USA, so maybe he had to wait so long to realize these dreams. I shoot sports and also has big dreams of making the major league sports that exist, such as Grand Slam Tennis, Major Golf and many others, but as I’m from Brazil I think I’ll have to wait much longer !!!!!
http://www.flickr.com/photos/guilhermedi onizio/

Posted by netesportes | Report as abusive
 

Wonderful story, but I am confused. I read about this man who has photographed many important sport events and yet he has to borrow cameras to take photographs? Why does he not arrive at this assignment with his cameras? Perhaps this is why it has taken 30 years! A photojournalist carries his cameras with him everywhere, non? I do love the story though – and interesting is the repeated mention of backgrounds – so, very important. Please, next time, bring your own cameras and maybe you will not have to wait another 30 years.

Posted by CRunier | Report as abusive
 

Thanks CRunier and netesportes for your comments. To answer both of your comments, yes I traveled to London from the U.S. with my camera’s but since my assignment and job function here is editing and not shooting pictures, there was little reason to have them at the club. It was only after I arrived at Wimbledon Wednesday morning that the encouragement came and I received the permission needed to shoot the match. Here you receive a credential to do one or the other job. I hope you understand editing Wimbledon is as gratifying an experience as photographing the event is. Now, the reason I had to wait so long is we have very talented photographers working in the UK who first and foremost deserve the honor of shooting this tournament so it was only going to happen when the timing was right. See how important patience is.

Posted by GaryHershorn | Report as abusive
 

Great story, the third in a small space of time about the photographer’s feelings of the sports assignment. Getting your dreams come true is certainly worth the extra mile to try to squeeze in from editing to the actual shoot. I hope I get to share a similar story sometime around 2040.

Posted by mondogonzo | Report as abusive
 

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