By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Front row at Centre Court for the Wimbledon Championships is a good place to watch a tennis match.
Just ask Kay Hazelwood.
The Princeton resident is back home, but still bubbling about her experience watching the first couple of days of the revered tournament in London, and seeing her favorite player, Roger Federer, in person. She won a sweepstakes through the Tennis Channel to get the opportunity.
“It was a Cinderella experience,” she said. “Centre Court, right on the front row, only about 15 feet from Roger.”
She and her daughter, Teri Beck, had all-day seats for the tournament's first two days, taking in three matches a day.
Though she had been to London once before, 13 years ago, her first visit to the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club was special from the start, shortly after emerging from the subway system known as “the Tube.”
She said, “When you get off the Tube, walking up to Wimbledon, they've got it set up at the entrance like a tennis court. The grass was so green, and so cushy. You sort of got a feel for what it was like on the court. It was wonderful. It was kind of like a Garden of Eden.”
Her familiarity with the world tennis elite, a familiarity borne from watching the TV screen, was obvious.
“We saw Serena (Williams) and we saw (Maria) Sharapova and (Novak) Djokovic ... but we didn’t see Nadal get beat; he was on Court No. 1.”
She also reflected about the off-court scenes.
“The little ball boys, they really work,” she said. “They run and run, constantly. Everything runs like clockwork, very efficiently.”
She also observed security guards, “standing there, facing the crowds. They are constantly standing there facing the crowds, watching and making sure no one’s doing what they're not supposed to.”
“And in the crowd, there was complete silence. You don't even talk to the person next to you. I had to cough a couple of times. I just tried to make sure I coughed quietly.”
“We had beautiful weather the first two days, at the tennis courts. The next three days, it rained off and on then.”
While at the tennis site, she made sure to order the traditional strawberries and cream. And she bought a big towel for the equivalent of $42 in American money.
The Tennis Channel arranged for five days of lodging at a prestigious hotel, Cadogan Gardens. “It was a lovely hotel,” she said. She didn't realize that she was in a very exclusive area of London until she was informed that the heirs to the British crown, Prince William and Prince Harry, had gone to a private school just down the street.
“And I took part in High Tea,” she said about the Britons' afternoon tradition. She and her daughter also saw Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.
She said about her time in Britain, “Everybody there was just so helpful and friendly … and my daughter was a great navigator. She got us where we needed to go.”
“It’s just unreal,” she said on Saturday.
When she first was told by phone that she had won the sweepstakes for the trip, she thought it was literally “unreal.”
The Tennis Channel, celebrating its 10th anniversary, invited viewers to enter online, daily if they wished. “And I did,” Hazelwood said. “I got an email, maybe in February, that said you are possibly a winner. I didn’t know what that meant.”
She answered the email — and called a telephone number to verity she was really communicating with the network.
“I didn’t believe it. My son didn’t. Nobody did,” she said. “I thought it was just a hoax of something.” When she was sure about the good fortune, she said, “You could almost hear me in California. 'It's real! It's real!' ''
The Tennis Channel gave her a tour of some of the media headquarters at Wimbledon, and taped an interview. Hazelwood recalled that Rennae Stubbs, who did the interview, “was laughing about the fact that I didn’t believe it at first.”
Asked about why she was a big tennis fan, she said, “I don’t know. I’ve watched it for years.” She came upon the Tennis Channel when visiting her daughter, and switched to a satellite TV provider so she could get that offering in Princeton.
Her real-life experience with tennis stars did not start at Wimbledon, she said.
“Last summer, there was the (exhibition) tournament at The Greenbrier with John McEnroe and Pete Sampras,” she said.
Hazelwood, who is now retired after working for 25 years at Mercer County Bank (now BB&T), has now signed up for Tennis Channel sweepstakes trips to the French Open, the Australian Open and the U.S. Open in New York.
Wimbledon didn't turn out well for Federer, who lost in the second round on June 26, but that didn't affect Hazelwood's fan interest.
She said, “It broke my heart, but he’s still my favorite. I don’t care.”
— Contact Tom Bone at