Emotions run high on Henman Hill as British No 1 falls short of summit

If you lacked a Centre Court ticket, there was only one place to be at the All-England Club
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The Independent Online

Not even in honour of the man wearing the peaked cap on the big screen were most denizens of Henman Hill prepared, in the late-afternoon sun yesterday, to countenance the renaming of the celebrated slope as Murray Mount.

"Maybe if he wins," said Mike Lehane from Anglesey, hopefully, but after capturing the first set it rapidly became clear that Andy Murray wouldn't, and that the Hill would stay a Hill.

Mr Lehane had arrived at Wimbledon with tickets for Court One but repaired to the Hill after getting "fed up watching Tracy Austin play doubles". It is a curiosity of the last few days of the Championships that the show courts are no longer the hottest ticket in town, indeed not even the atmosphere on Centre Court yesterday could compare with the excitement on Henman Hill, albeit fuelled by a great deal of booze, which also fired a brief but intense confrontation between a woman with a rose tattoo on her arm, and a man who had inadvertently stepped on her chocolate chip mini-muffins.

Such had been the consumption of alcohol on certain parts of the Hill in fact, that some punters contentedly snoozed throughout the second semi-final, and would quite possibly be there still had they not eventually been prodded awake by the security staff at the All-England Club, few of whom seem to be more than 21 years old, although they carry out their duties with the authority of veterans. "The Hill is full," boomed one of them, as more hopeful punters arrived to watch Murray serve for the first set, and he wasn't kidding. There was scarcely a blade of grass to be found.

At the summit of the Hill, however, there is a small grandstand, where June Cloutman and Ann Coutts from Bedfordshire were very happily ensconced, having also got fed up with the sideshow on Court One. "Also, it was getting cold in there," said Mrs Cloutman. "It's much better up here, although once you've found a seat you can't leave." She rejected the suggestion that watching from a grandstand is not quite embracing the spirit of the Hill, where the enjoinder to move along or sit down comes in many forms, from the polite to the downright abusive. "I'm too long in the tooth to sit on the grass," she said.

At the opposite end of the age spectrum were James Morris and Elise Allison, 10 and nine months old respectively. Their mothers, Paula Morris and Elin Allison, both from Wokingham, had been on the Hill since midday, creating a makeshift crèche in a shady spot behind the Pimm's tent. James and Elise, they felt sure, were future Wimbledon mixed-doubles finalists. Certainly, the youngsters joined in enthusiastically with the applause, even if they were looking in the wrong direction. On the other hand, there were times during Rafa Nadal's dismantling of Murray in the second, third and fourth sets, when looking in the wrong direction seemed like the smart play.

For those gazing at the big screen, the penny dropped fairly quickly after the first set that they wouldn't be having quite the party they'd hoped for. But it was still sunny, and there was still enough beer in enough coolbags to make the most of the occasion. Not that alcohol is by any means obligatory. There were plenty of genteel picnickers consuming nothing stronger than elderflower cordial.

It could be, in fact, that from the plastic flutes of elderflower cordial to the incident of mini-muffin rage, Henman Hill is Britain writ small. There was even a little flurry of republicanism yesterday, when a man wearing a baseball cap the wrong way round objected – not unreasonably, in the view of The Independent's Henman Hill correspondent – to the shot of Pippa Middleton clapping her hands in slow motion.

Whether or not he was right to question in quite such uncertain terms what Miss Middleton has done to deserve her own slow-mo, he had certainly selected his headgear wisely. With the sun still beating down, directly behind the Hill, there were more red necks than you'd find at an Alabama pig roast. It is another way in which Henman Hill encapsulates Britain: the folk applying the Factor 25 tend to be Australasians. Just as characteristically, the criticism of Murray increased as the match wore on, without any commensurate rise in the praise for Nadal. Some on the Hill seemed to take the Scotsman's admittedly abject loss of line and length as a personal affront.

On the whole, though, the mood was cheerful as, at around 8pm, the bulk of the crowd began to drift away. They hadn't seen a little bit of history being made, and it could still be that Britain's next men's Wimbledon champion is 10-month-old James Morris from Wokingham, but they'd had a jolly nice day.