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Tuesday, June 23, 1998 Published at 10:30 GMT 11:30 UK

Wimbledon's green and pleasant land

Wimbledon was as sweet as the strawberries and cream

Wimbledon's finely mixed cocktail of sun, sport and society draws attention from around the world. But as an American on her first visit to the tournament, BBC News online's Jane Black found the British taking it all in their stride.

In the past week, Britain has watched one extreme after another in television sports reports. Named-and-shamed football hooligans at the World Cup shared air-time with the cream of English society at Ascot. The tremendous flower-laden hats of the aristocracy were the only image to crowd out endless pictures of rioting English fans in the south of France.

Wimbledon, it seemed, had been all but forgotten.

For tennis fans: "This is heaven"
Even on Sunday - the day before the king of tennis tournaments began - Wimbledon remained invisible. The Sunday Times dedicated only the last two of its 12-page sports section to tennis. Many other newspapers' articles centred around the fact that Tim Henman - one of Britain's best hopes to win the Wimbledon trophy - would play his first match just as the England football team kicked off its World Cup match against Romania.

[ image: Fun in the sun: champagne at Wimbledon]
Fun in the sun: champagne at Wimbledon
What a pity. The first day of the Wimbledon tournament proved that the tournament strikes the perfect balance between athletics, fan enthusiasm and posh English society.

Arriving just after midday, we passed the die-hard fans who were already happily queuing for tickets for the next day. There was no tension, no shouting, no nationalism. Fans were there for the love of the sport and there seemed no limit to their patience.

"We're here from Australia so we know it's a once in a lifetime opportunity," said one fan outside the gates. "So we'll do what ever we have to do to get tickets."

And if it rained? "I have a tent," said Diane Tong, the founder of British tennis star Greg Rusedski's official fan club. "We may get damp, but not wet. We'll be fine."

[ image: Queuing for Court 13]
Queuing for Court 13
At the queues inside the All England Club, fans were equally satisfied.

"This is just heaven to me," said one American of his first trip to Wimbledon. "The whole feeling is wonderful, with the world's best tennis players, the pomp and the ceremony. Oh and the Pimms is great too."

After a brief tour of the outer courts and a peek at the big screen outside Centre Court where No 1 Pete Sampras was smashing his way to victory, we headed to lunch.

What could be better than strawberries and cream?
Awnings of Wimbledon purple and green fluttered over the food court. A jazz band played to the tables filled with well-dressed fans lazily sipping champagne in the hot sun.

We took a seat and took it all in. Seafood sandwiches and a glass of Pimms followed by a bowl of Wimbledon's famous strawberries and cream. I had been warned they would be outrageously expensive but 1.85 seemed reasonable. It was, after all, tradition.

[ image: The hats aren't as fancy as Ascot's....]
The hats aren't as fancy as Ascot's....
No wonder everyone loves Wimbledon. The atmosphere is enchanting. There is room for boisterous tennis addicts, whose zeal resembles their World Cup counterparts, and tennis debutantes, who like many at Ascot just go to take in the scene.

The Men's Singles champion Pete Sampras probably captured the feeling best. In an interview before his first match on Monday, he told reporters: "There's just something about Wimbledon - the history, the grass, an intensity that seems to bring out the best in me. It's kind of like coming back home."

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In this section

Anyone for tennis?

Great moments in love

Return to Henmania?

Wimbledon's green and pleasant land

Ladies win less at Wimbledon

In Wimbledon v World Cup the score is Love All

Women's fashion hits the courts

Racket science and the hard sell

Net calls from Wimbledon