"ANYTIME YOU AND Mel would like to see Wimbledon, just let me know. I've got two Centre Court tickets I'd like you to have."

Wimbledon? One place in the world you never have to identify for anyone, the contest with a mystique all its own, the queen of the tennis world, somewhere I'd dreamed of seeing over a lifetime of tournaments and tennis trips. "Really? Wimbledon?"On the phone at our daughter's house near Monterey, it was her father-in-law, Tony Trabert. In 1955 he'd won three of the four championships in the Grand Slam - the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, had lost in the semi-finals to Ken Rosewall in the Australian and then toured the world with Rosewall, Lew Hoad and Pancho Gonzales when pro tennis was in its infancy.

His son, Mike, married to our daughter, had run the Tony Trabert Tennis Camp in Ojai for years and now was director of tennis at Pebble Beach and Spanish Bay, all in California. Once, visiting their camp, I played mixed doubles with Tony against our kids, him as easy swinging and smooth moving as he must have been at 20, now complimenting me with "Hey, look at that shot!" or "Quick hands!" when I hit anything the least bit decent. The gentleman, the quintessential champion.

I'd always been lucky in my partners. I'd played tennis in Salt Lake since I was 12 with my three brothers, Homer, Rick and Gill Warner. Rick had been Intermountain champion and coached me into winning the mixed doubles with him. We traveled where tournaments invited us, and summers were tennis, tennis, tennis. My best friend and partner, Diane Hun-saker Jones, a state and regional winner, ranked No. 2 in National Public Parks, laughed with me and brought us through other trips and trophies. When she died suddenly at 28 of polio and left a husband and three small children almost the ages of ours, I quit playing, couldn't be around the court. But we named our fourth daughter, now married to Mike Trabert, Diane. We called her Dinny.

Then our five daughters began to grow to an age to pick up a racket, and I was back hitting to them or to the tennis buddies who welcomed me back to rollicking on the court. When I was 50, one of them, Kathy Rothfels, who would win a dozen gold balls as a senior champion, asked me to fill in for her partner, who'd had to drop out of the draw for the National Senior Indoor Championships at our Salt Lake Tennis Club.

I hadn't played in a tournament in 20 years. At first, nerves had me. My feet were cement, my elbow refused to give. I missed easy shots, served double faults, tried to swallow what was cotton. Then, the plonk of the ball on the racquet no longer wood, the rush of getting to a lob or a drop shot, the heady concentration and stomach-grabbing excitement of playing competition tennis - all had me. I was a girl again, my legs brown and firm, my energy endless, my spirit soaring. On the sidelines were my own family, husband, daughters and sons-in-law, cheering - for me, the "Old Gray" back.

Kathy and I ended up playing the No. 1 pair in the semi-finals and lost in a tie-breaker in the third set. None of that mattered nearly so much as the coming together of all of the best elements of my life. Here were the connections that bind generations and peoples. Here, sharing that moment with my so-darned-good partner, was what men must feel playing for the Davis Cup that Tony once coached or women representing their country for the Wightman. Here was what I would wish for my children and theirs, to have a challenge to sweat and strain for, to compete as my athletic father, Homer "Pug" Warner, taught us to compete. His way and Tony's: Try hard, play fair and have fun!

And talk about fun - now, almost 20 years later, Tony was on the phone asking me and Mel, a latecomer to family tennis, if we would like to come to Wimbledon. He'd be in the broadcast booth from 11 to 9 each day, so couldn't use the lifetime tickets he'd won in this tournament of tournaments, and he wanted to give them away. Centre Court. At Wimbledon.

This is what fans from around the world buy into lotteries for, queue for hours - even overnight - hoping to get tickets to at any price. What I'd watched and thrilled to for more than half a century. Like to go? June 23rd to 30th? We'd miss the final four days. He'd promised them already to Nike, one of his sponsors. So? Seeing the first week was best anyhow, with all the players still in, not just those who'd made it past upsets and injuries to the finals. Yes, thank you, Tony, yes.

We could not imagine the adventure. We'd fly Delta, watch a screen with computer graphics to plot our course minute by minute at 35,000 feet, tell us our air and ground speed, time and distance to Gatwick Airport just out of London. We'd take a bus - the trains were on strike - to Victoria Station and then a cab to Sloan Square and our flat on Cadogan Place. All so British. Later that day, we'd walk to the underground tube station only blocks away and each buy a pass for the week, with our picture on it. We were told to wait for the Wimbledon train and get off at South Fields Station. Straightforward and formal was the station master, and exact. We would never miss a beat or a match.

Our first day at the tournament, a taxi to Fred Parry Gate No. 4, through aisles of everything Wimbledon - purple and forest green - the Lawn Tennis Championships. A feeling of carnival, as if all England were caught up in this mystique. Tony, gray-haired like me, imposing, handsome in his forest-green blazer with his Wimbledon winners' emblem, would escort us past the swirl of humanity in the food courts under the striped purple, white and green canopies, to introduce us to the uniformed guard at The Last 8 Club.

"Swanky," we would have called it four decades ago, where only those who'd made it to the quarter finals were invited to eat. Among the celebrities from my playing days were Ted Schroeder and Pancho Segura (who both remembered playing with my brother Rick). And there were Pauline Betz Addie and Margaret Osborne DuPont and others I recognized still from their pictures around the walls, lunching too on salad and scones - biscuits with raisins - and, yes, strawberries and clotted cream every day we were there. Curious, I asked and found that 24 tons of berries from Kent and 150,000 scones and buns would be delivered to Wimbledon, each berry sweet as a first kiss.

Mel and Tony would visit as I searched out some of my tennis legends. When Tony would bring out his laminated pictures of the same four grandchildren - Mike and Dinny's - that we carried in our wallets, too, and we'd have a mutual bragging time and Tony would talk of his "great fatigue" visiting the turmoil of four kids under 9. We'd commiserate about unpredictable tolerance levels for us in the youth of old age, laughing and pointing out that he was six years younger than we were, even as the grandmother in me ached to see them and have hugs.

He'd take us to the broadcast booth and we'd watch Fred Stolle and John Newcombe announcing as Tony had for nearly 25 years, making jokes as they received bulletins and data on whoever was on court, everything from where born to age, height and weight, schools, rankings and romances, and of course, tennis connections. Above Centre Court, they could tune in on their own TV to any game on any court, and on whim call it up and comment on it. Other countries, like a U.N. assembly, broadcast from their booths, on one side the Japan booth, on the other South Africa. In all, Wimbledon was seen by a TV audience of more than 500 million, in TV transmissions for 2,400 hours. We were heart center of the world.

It felt like it down below, too, with 33,000 of us on the spotless grounds, milling, 13,000 in the oval of Centre Court. Among rivers of shoulders and heads, during the week, we'd walk the grounds to 18 courts surrounded by pink azaleas a foot across under window boxes and hanging baskets of burgeoning flowers. Walking past the outer courts, we'd see serves slide 120 miles an hour off the grass, hear the pounding returns and overheads - incredibly faster than any TV screen could show. In the food courts we'd eat ice cream on a stick and a Dutchee - sausage we took for a hot dog. Pepcid, please! Or a Last 8 Club salad! It all would feel festive, but, as Mel smiled, "The bars seem to have a lot more fun than the `Tea Houses.' "

We'd visit the Wimbledon Museum, where Tony and his challengers Lew Hoad, Ken Rosewall and Rod Laver served and volleyed at about mid-history on those fabled green courts. From frames of questions, we'd guess at things like the last year a wooden racquet was used at Wimbledon - 1987! We'd see Mary Cassatt and Renoir paintings of tennis, a visual record of the past 120 years by artists, illustrators and cartoonists, beside full-size replicas of turn-of-the-century lawn parties and dioramas of the rebuilding of the stadium after being bombed in our generation's World War II.

Outside, under the 100 banners and medallions of purple and gold proclaiming "Wimbledon - the Championships," we'd gawk like the thousands of others walking to our stairways as players not three feet away were escorted between security (added precaution since the stabbing of Monica Seles) to the courts where they would perform. And performing it would be like gladiators in the Colosseum or teams at the Super Bowl or in the World Series, divas at the Met or stars in "Phantom of the Opera," just across London in Leicester Square.

We'd feel very English amid the pomp and costumes of bobbies and British military in full uniform to inspect our bags - every time we came in - and usher us to our seats. And we'd smile, showing our daily colored tickets and moving across knees to green (of course) plastic, armless seats at the corner just up from the grass, where we didn't have to swivel a vertebra to see every move on the court. Tony's seats - ours - were directly across from the Royal Box, where even Princess Di appeared, and where the consistent and loved Duchess of Kent watched for the final curtsies from women and bows of men after each match, some stiff and embarrassed, others relaxed as dancers, there where final singles winners would receive more than a half-million dollars each for doing what tennis players around the world aspired to.

Like those in the royal box, we sat in privileged covered rows, in the blessed shade on some of the hottest afternoons in Wimbledon history. There was a time when I'd have hated sitting in the shade, not having "the rays," but now I walked to our places with hat, sun block and all, with Mel and his scorchable skin we'd kidded about - to sit happily in the shade!

Right down to the stiff men facing the crowd, standing guard at the umpire's chair when players changed courts, everything stayed steady and royal, nothing slipshod. Of the 330 line judges and umpires, 100 of them women, whole shifts of 11 would enter and exit every 45 minutes like offense and defense on a football field. Ball girls and boys, in line and in step, in Wimbledon purple and green shirts, shorts or skirts, would march to change positions, race for balls, exchange new for old, re-can them, roll the new ones dexterously to those at the back curtain to toss ceremoniously underhand to the serving players on demand. The servers would take precise measure of each ball, batting one back as if with some flaw, and then pocket a second - the men, that is. Women mostly kept one at a time, except Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, whose style setting was a contraption attached to the back of her skirt to stuff the extra in.

Players had practiced to get used to playing on the very fast and slippery grass courts after playing across the Channel only weeks before on the very slow clay surface of the French Open. Now, with orderly precision - since with play, the balls get heavier, picking up grass, in contrast to getting lighter on hard court - the umpire would order new balls to be poured out of cans at the end of seven and nine games. Ball kids would line the old ones up under the umpires stand and return them immediately to those cans. Could the tournament really use about 2,600 dozen in the two weeks of play?

Not until 1986 did Wimbledon join the rest of the world in using yellow balls instead of white, and white is still the only acceptable tennis wear in the tournament. One junior player was ordered off a back court for having a too-conspicuous colored highlight on her skirt. Nothing haphazard here. Or informal. Flowing beige paisley dress for women officials to bend with hands on knees to call a service line or keep a hand on the net for a let ball. For men, trim beige slacks; for both, green blazers for cool weather and the coming of evening. The English around us would sit unconcerned in shorts or sun dresses as I added layers and traded culottes for lined pants, thinking I liked heat better than the damp chill of even late June.

Contrary to most Wimbledon weeks, only at the end of one day did rain threaten. Just after Agassi, adored by the British, had scorched a winner past Aaron Krickstein and thrown his sweaty shirt into the screaming crowd, clouds gathered and a few drops dropped. Promptly a dozen grounds-men ran to the rescue in their green and purple to roll out and stretch a huge tarpaulin - green - two feet above the now scuffed and trampled grass to keep any rain from getting near the precious turf of Centre Court. In less than five minutes the job was done. The court was protected until it could be rolled and lined for the next day's play.

Fascinating, the whole affair. With only a rest break now and then, we sat in our slanty and not too comfortable chairs among the sometimes hourly changes of other attenders, and watched matches from 2 until 7. Even with standing and stretching, moving was no cure. Seatitis! But who'd want to miss a stroke?

Three times we saw Martina Navratilova, Sports Illustrated's Woman of the Year in Sports, triumph in her almost worshiped attempt to beat the nine-win record of Helen Wills Moody, made 60 years before, and establish herself even more firmly as the greatest woman tennis player of all time. Other idols, unseeded Andre Agassi and Britain's Jeff Bates, would get to the semis before an ecstatic crowd, as former winners Pete Sampras, Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker came out or went down in dramatic contradiction of seeding. We saw young exotics like Conchita Martinez (who would win the championship) and Jana Novotna stay in the tournament and Zina Garrison-Jackson, possibly the best black woman contender since Althea Gibson, as she upset No. 2 seed, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, while older favorites like Steffi Graf and Gabriella Sabatini bowed out. We watched doubles and mixed doubles, their speed at the net as fast as the pingpong of Forrest Gump.

Ten thousand memories swelled in me - of courts from Boise to Denver to Seattle to Vancouver to Reno to Salt Lake and Liberty Park, Reservoir, Victory, Fairmont, Forest Dale and Lester Park in Ogden - and now England, London, Wimbledon. Every volley or lob, drop shot or long rally brought tingles to my re-mem-ber-ings - the sound of a slice or a drive (hearing is almost as crucial as seeing the ball), the drone of the umpire calling the score, the intricate moves of mixed doubles, the ecstasy of a win, the despair of a loss, especially if I, not my partner, had lost the last point.

I could feel the elixir of tournament arrival and focus and exertion and finding moments of playing "in the zone" or the agony of the start of that match of mine in the over 50s, getting "the elbow" and being cemented into nerves and dry mouth and total inertia. I remembered laughing with my partner or sensing the forlorn ending of a missed set point. I loved it. And I loved thinking I got to do it all - play, travel, meet people, and bring it all home with me even into my past half-a-hundred years. A lifetime of compellings and frolics. I'd be back!

Never were we ready to leave. But in that warm cool of English evening, we would head into the throng trying to hail a left-handed taxi in the line for miles along the golf course turned parking lot. We made better time to rush into the flow of six or seven abreast, festive, to walk the mile shopping in booths hung with Wimbledon towels, racket covers, jackets. We bought T-shirts, of course, and caps and tennis ball key chains for 17 grandchildren, for Mel a green sweatshirt with purple collar to take the place of the ALASKA one he's worn forever, and for me from him a deluxe tennis shirt, white with Wimbledon emblem to remind us of where we had been.

Now we'd wait for the Underground, to stand sweating and swaying in it for 40 minutes reading poems by Keats or Elizabeth Barrett Browning or Dylan Thomas mounted with ads above our heads, till our stop at Sloan Square and the 15-minute walk to our rented flat and a very late dinner of cheese and apples and Scottish shortbread picked up at the Deli Europa at the corner. Weary. Happy.

Happy to search TV for the final roundup of the games we'd already seen. Nothing but "Dances with Wolves" and soccer on three channels and a deadly dull version of "Jeopardy," scholarly beyond comprehension and in something like an opera house. Finally, the BBC, as blurry as we were, the matches as we'd see them at home, the points, the winners, the losers, the interviews. Even dead tired, we'd smile to feel the excitement again of maybe the greatest tournament in the world, in my tennis world, and smile that we, my 45-year-partner, Mel, and I, had been there. At Wimbledon. Really. Really.

On June 30th, on Delta again, we wondered how ever to tell of our magic journey. Back home as we sat glued to the now paled TV-familiar renditions of the finals, I closed my eyes. In the sounds - the roars for a winning shot, the communal moans for one missed, the umpire announcing the score in his faultless British, the interviews preceding the bows and curtsies - I was there again, in that green plastic seat at the corner of Centre Court, smiling. Where I'm sure I'll be for every match I ever watch again.

Wimbledon, Tony? Yes. Thank you. Yes.



Wimbledon '95

June 26 - July 9

Top singles seeds for the Wimbledon championship

(singles world rankings in parentheses)


1. Andre Agassi, USA (1)

2. Pete Sampras, USA (2)

3. Boris Becker, Germany (3)

4. Goran Ivanisevic, Croatia (6)

5. Michael Chang, US (5)


1. Steffi Graf, Germany (1)

2. Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Spain (2)

3. Conchita Martinez, Spain (3)

4. Jana Novotna, Czech Republic (5)

5. Mary Pierce, France (4)


Consecutive wins

Singles championships


6 William Renshaw, 1881-86

5 H. Lawrie Doherty, 1902-06

4 Reggie F. Doherty, 1897-1900

Anthony Wilding, 1910-13

3 Fred Perry, 1934-36


6 Martina Navratilova, 1982-'87

5 Suzanne Lenglen, 1919-'23

4 Helen Wills Moody, 1927-'30

3 Lottie Dod, 1891-'93

Louise Brough, 1948-'50

Maureen Connolly, 1952-'54

Billie Jean King, 1966-'68

Steffi Graf, 1991-'93


Past champions

Men's singles 1985-'94

1985 Boris Becker Germany

1986 Boris Becker Germany

1987 Pat Cash Australia

1988 Stefan Edberg Sweden

1989 Boris Becker Germany

1990 Stefan Edberg Sweden

1991 Michael Stich Germany

1992 Andre Agassi USA

1993 Pete Sampras USA

1994 Pete Sampras USA

Women's singles 1985-'94

1985 Martina Navratilova USA

1986 Martina Navratilova USA

1987 Martina Navratilova USA

1988 Steffi Graf Ger.

1989 Steffi Graf Ger.

1990 Martina Navratilova USA

1991 Steffi Graf Ger.

1992 Steffi Graf Ger.

1993 Steffi Graf Ger.

1994 Conchita Martinez Spain

Construction site for the new No. 1 Court, expected to be completed in 1997. The original No. 1 Court will be converted into a catering hall.

Source: The International Tennis Federation