The hill was the place to be to watch a Briton reach the summit

The thousands on their feet on the hill were a rolling tide of sound, so quiet during points it seemed as if they were all holding their breath, so loud every time Murray won one.

Updated: July 08, 2013 08:52 IST
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Wimbledon, England: When they open the gates at the All England Club, the public address announcer says, "Please do not run." The stewards on the grounds reiterate it: "Please walk."

But try telling that to fans who were heading to the best place to watch Andy Murray again attempt to become the first British man to win Wimbledon since 1936.

The place, which faces the big screen outside of No. 1 Court, is officially Aorangi Terrace. But it is commonly called Henman Hill, though increasingly - and perhaps permanently now - it is referred to as Murray Mound or Murray Mount.

At 10:29 a.m., the hill was an empty expanse of dying yellowish grass. As soon as the gates opened at 10:30 a.m., the race - and it was a race; sorry, stewards - was on. A surge of people headed to premier positions on the base of the hill or to a center spot higher up.

Marilyn Tasker sneaked into a spot at the top of the stairs at the base of the hill. When she won a ticket lottery at her tennis club in May, she thought it would be a nice quiet day, as men's finals day usually is. But Sunday would not be quiet with Murray in the final against Novak Djokovic.

She had tickets for No. 1 Court with her sister, but she said friends persuaded them that they had to be on Henman Hill.

"We can't move," she said. "I don't know about loo breaks."

She added: "I hope he wins after all of this. I want to make it worthwhile."

She would have to wait more than seven hours to find out.

It took only 15 minutes for the mound to be mostly full. By 11, a woman was being carted away by paramedics after slipping on the hill. The Union Jacks and Scottish flags were out; there were even a few brave souls waving Serbian flags.

By 12:30, security guards were turning people away from the hill, sending them to No. 2 and No. 3 Courts, which had more than 6,000 empty seats and four big screens between them. (Good news, tennis fans: the All England Club renovation plan calls for an expanded terrace.)

When the match started at 2 p.m., those who could not fit onto the hill had to get creative. Across St. Mary's Walk from the main hill is another elevated spot in the picnic area above Court 18. Some people tried to stand on the picnic tables, but were repeatedly told to get down. Four men were standing in the bushes near the club's outer fence. They said they had found the spot three weeks ago when they were working on the grounds installing cameras, like the one in the tree next to them.

A "You Can Do It, Andy" sign popped up among shrubs and trees nearby, along with the heads of the Donlon-Mansbridge family from Poole, England, who had arrived at 6 a.m. to get in line and were at the hill about 11 with no place to sit. From where the family stood now, they were about as far from Murray as they could be and still be in the club.

But it did not matter for the big Murray fans. They could see the big screen just fine, and there was an added bonus on a hot day.

"It was nice and shady," Philip Mansbridge said.

Elsewhere on the grounds, the walkways were mostly deserted. You could have had a table at the Rose Arbor to yourself. It was a great time to go to the main gift shop under the No. 1 Court; there was no line at checkout.

After Murray won the second set, the chanting and clapping on the hill grew more fervent, so did the wave. It was clear the crowd sensed history was near. People still tried to get on the hill, but were sternly turned away by a security guard bellowing, "If you don't go to Court 3, you'll have to wait another 70 years to see a British man win Wimbledon."

The No. 2 and No. 3 Courts were mostly full by the third set. A group of employees from the members' lounge overlooking the No. 3 Court stopped at the windows to watch. While the spectators in the courts had more comfortable seats, the atmosphere on the hill could not be matched.

Even the Donlon-Mansbridges, so comfortable in their shady trees, moved to the mound for the end of the match. "It was electric," Katie Donlon said.

After Murray broke Djokovic to go up by 5-4 in the third set, meaning he would serve for the championship, people started running again. Those who were not on the hill or in a stadium were running toward the hill, running toward a TV, running anywhere they could watch Murray end Britain's drought.

The final game seemed as agonizing for the crowd outside as Murray said it was inside his head. The thousands on their feet on the hill were a rolling tide of sound, so quiet during points it seemed as if they were all holding their breath, so loud every time Murray won one. Their hands were raised in unison in despair with each lost match point and in joy with each one gained.

Before the final championship point, the people of the hill were so tense they could not seem to agree on whether to chant "AN-DY, AN-DY!" or MUR-RAY! MUR-RAY! When Djokovic's last shot landed in the net, it did not matter what they were saying. They could be heard across the grounds.

Many left the hill to see Murray and his trophy at the Centre Court balcony. They chanted AN-DY! AN-DY (all in agreement this time), and he flexed a biceps for them. Many stayed on the hill to keep the celebration going.

No one was in a hurry to leave.

©2013 New York Times News Service

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