June 19, 2009 / 12:01 PM / 8 years ago

UK tennis fans court tradition for Nadal club match

3 Min Read

<p>Spain's Rafael Nadal reacts between games against Australia's Lleyton Hewitt during the Tennis Classic at Hurlingham tournament in west London June 18, 2009.Toby Melville</p>

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Smartly dressed spectators crowded around the main court at London's Hurlingham club, sipping champagne and eating cucumber sandwiches, to watch world no. 1 Rafael Nadal and other players warm up for Wimbledon.

Each year the century-old private club, which sits on acres of manicured lawns in west London, hosts grass court exhibition matches for top professional players and a tournament for former champions like Greg Rusedski and Pat Cash.

Several men watching Australian Lleyton Hewitt trounce current Wimbledon champion Nadal 6-4, 6-3 on Thursday wore flowers in their lapels, while some women donned oversized sunglasses and large-brimmed hats despite the intermittently cloudy weather.

"This is so old school Britain - everyone's with their Pimm's and they're having tea - it's quite quaint," said Sophie, 22, standing on a sidewalk edged with roses.

Nadal is scheduled to play another match on Friday, though his participation at Wimbledon next week remains unclear due to a knee injury.

"As much as I believed Nadal would win, Hewitt had the edge. It was an amazing match," said spectator Nadia Deadman, as she surveyed a group of women in floral dresses.

Waiters in uniforms balanced silver trays, and on a nearby sign, the club proposed a dinner menu of lobster and wild boar with apple sauce, followed by strawberries and cream.

Fun and Scary

Young tennis fans accompanied their parents in the stands, clamored for autographs, or helped out as ball-girls on court. As it has for the past decade or so, Hurlingham selected its 22 ball girls from London's St. Paul's school.

"It's fun but scary when they're serving straight at you," Victoria, 14, wearing the navy blue skirt and polo shirt uniform for ball girls at the tournament, told Reuters.

Nadal's serves routinely clock in at about 180 km (112 miles) per hour, while Marat Safin, who in Thursday's other match lost to Tomas Berdych 7-6, 6-4 blasts off aces faster than than 200 km.

But Kate Machemer, who supervises the ball girls, said that even though some of the girls had been hit by balls, the fear of getting whacked by an errant forehand was outweighed by the excitement of the event.

"This is all of their first tournament," she said. "It's been fantastic for them."

Later, young boys in tennis whites flocked around former Wimbled winner Cash in his trademark black chequered bandana, still breathless from his doubles match with Mansour Bahrami, eager for an autographed tennis ball.

"We're auctioning that on eBay," one boy's mother called out to her husband, seeing her son had gotten his hands on a signed ball.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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