Every fan for herself on People's Sunday

Jane Marlow stands and waits, then watches them serve on Court No 1
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The Independent Online
04.59: Historic occasions call for historic actions. I'm up before 5am and contemplating whether last night's chicken korma might provide a tasty mid-morning snack during the four hours of queuing that stretch out before me. The minicab driver buzzes me out of my trance. I grab an apple and head for SW19. People's Sunday seemed like an excellent idea... six hours ago.

05.48: Spot people sleeping in the street and realise that the All England Club is only a cough and a spit away. I take instructions from officials with incredulous yet kind smiles and follow the queue. The hard-core campers, identifiable by their absolute aversion to natural fibres, give way to the more haphazard variety who appear to have spent all night encased in little more than an old John Lewis bag.

On I plod across the field lined with people and past the party queuers who, judging from the snores and fortress of wine bottles that surround them, came here straight from the pub last night. Eventually I find myself caught between the end of the section of shiny, happy, morning types and the start of the hardy lads who have driven superhuman distances at superhuman speeds to get here. With only a couple of thousand people in front of me, and not a rain cloud in the sky, my outlook is: quietly confident.

06.02: The bubbly blokes from Basingstoke tip up.

06.08: The bubbly blokes from Basingstoke decide it would be a hoot to telephone everyone they've met since they were three to let them know they were queuing to see "That Crackerjack guy at Wimbledon - you know, the one who won it last year."

06.31: Inevitably the vendor of useless tat arrives. I agonise over whether one of his rather stylish orange wigs might enhance my appearance.

06.32: Conclude that curly nylon-haired redheads probably don't have more fun.

07.00: Saved by the men in red coats bearing gifts from Canary Wharf. I buy a newspaper and hurriedly sacrifice the "Money and Travel" section by screwing up the pages and stuffing them into a plastic bag, thus fashioning an effective cushion. Settle back against the fence to scan the order of play. The field now looks like market day in Harrogate. Anticipation mounts.

07.37: Have discovered that Centre Court is offering a couple of cute Russians - Yegeny Kafelnikov and Anna Kournikova - with a dash of naturalised American - Monica Seles - topped with a generous dollop of Henmania. Court No 1 opens with a touch of Pierce-like sophistication followed by Martina Hingis and "the Crackerjack guy", rounded off with an all-British showdown between Rusedski and Richardson. Which to choose? My dilemma continues. One hour and 23 minutes to decide.

08.09: The swapping of CVs and family histories with the Basingstoke lads is curtailed by a military type barking orders to stand by your beds and close ranks. Umbrellas at the ready, the queue surges forward. Those still asleep will be trampled under foot. It's every tennis fan for herself.

10.38: After hours of jostling I part company with my, by now intimate, friends and make the final lunge for the turnstile. The prospect of seeing Martina in action and La Pierce's newest outfit clinched it for Court No 1 and within minutes I secure a nose-to-baseline seat.

11.01: The new stadium dwarfs the early-bird crowd but the excitement Mary Pierce generates in the gaggle of pre-pubescent boys sitting next to me is huge. (White shorts and cropped T-shirt are the slightly disappointing sartorial mots du jour). Knowing that the vociferous crowd might be just as happy at Wimbledon FC as Wimbledon proper, Mary treats us to a display of her footballing skills. She's just dropped the second set, but the crowd cheer anyway because for us, it simply means more tennis.

11.36: The sun shone... briefly.

12.26: Gasping for a cup of tea, I go for a wander around the outside courts. The giddy atmosphere that was building in Court No 1 was obviously permeating the whole club. Helena Sukova is leading Conchita Martinez; Gigi Fernandez is rearranging the furniture on Court Four - she thought the line judge would get a far better view from the spectators' gangway - and kids are launching themselves and their autograph books at anyone wearing tennis shoes and a cap.

13.04: Back on Court No 1, Martina gobbles up her opponent as fast as the public gobble up the seats. The buzz from the outside is that people are still queuing to get in. I check my pocket for my ticket. Finding it safely in place I relax into my green plastic chair appreciatively; the sleepless night forgotten.

Discuss earnestly with my Antipodean neighbour how wonderful it is that real tennis fans have got a chance to see some live tennis. Apparently she's applied for tickets three years running and never been lucky. My sympathy is punctuated by rather self-conscious attempts at a Mexican wave.

14.38: Richard Krajicek and David Rikl stride on court. A shiver goes down my spine as, I swear, I hear a familiar voice booming "Watcha mate I'm on me mobile. You'll never guess where I am..."

16.17: While Greg Rusedski and Andrew Richardson are changing ends, the exuberant spectators look for other reasons to scream and shout. The scoreboard kindly provides two such opportunities. Not only is Henman fighting back on Centre Court but Karen Cross has taken the first set off Iva Majoli. Happy in the knowledge that Greg appears to have loosened his headband and got a grip of his temper, I leave our boys battling it out. Decide that every day during the Championship should be People's Day.

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