New scene for beauty queen: Keith Elliott visits the All England Club for the Save The Children Tennis Tournament

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The Independent Online
SUSAN DAVIES was nervous. She fidgeted with her wedding ring, patted back an unruly lock of hair. For the former top model to show such emotion was quite a surprise. After all, she had been voted the most beautiful woman in Britain in 1975, starred in that memorable TV series Mr and Mrs for eight years, and even appeared in a couple of series with Russell Harty. Yet here she was, unsure as a schoolgirl on her first date, performing for a crowd of no more than a dozen.

Even out of season, the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club has a very special atmosphere; it is, after all, the shrine of tennis. And to play at Wimbledon, even for someone as used to celebrity status as Davies, is a very special occasion.

For 64 men and women who have reached the finals of the Save the Children Tennis Tournament it didn't matter that the 42 acres in south-west London were like a ghost town. It didn't matter that there were no stars to spot, that most of the courts were just neat squares of grass (no nets, umpires chairs or bottles of Robinson's Barley Water). It didn't even matter that they were relegated to the hard courts, grass being reserved only for the exclusive club membership and that June fortnight. Just being at Wimbledon was enough.

'My daughters should really be here instead of me,' Davies, from Birmingham, said almost apologetically. 'They're both county players.' But this tournament is not for cold-eyed pros, though the standard in these last stages is surprisingly high. It's primarily a fund-raising exercise for Save the Children. Last year it brought in pounds 100,000 from 1,000 hopefuls with Centre Court aspirations.

Even for those who reached this weekend's finals, playing where Sampras and Graf, Navratilova and Agassi plied their trade earlier this year was only a dream. Davies and her partner, Andrea Shelley, a former Yorkshire champion, were allowed to enter the holy Centre Court and to walk through the players' entrance with 13,118 empty seats looking down on them. The only thing they were not allowed to do was step on the grass. Mown at least three times a week even in October, with the famous Virginia Creeper on the main building and water tower turning red, Wimbledon's grass is too important for mere mortals to tread upon. Even an ex-Miss Great Britain.

(Photograph omitted)

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