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Stars of Wimbledon: Moments in Time

 Wednesday, 31st May, 2017

Club Artist Hugo Philpott shares his nail-biting moments capturing the Wimbledon greats.

What is your most memorable Wimbledon moment?

This brings me to 2008 the Men’s Wimbledon Final. The final was a repeat of the 2007 Wimbledon final which Federer had won in five sets. Both players couldn’t be more different in style or temperament; Federer’s balletic movement as though he could walk on air - no grunting, no sweat. The Swiss iceman who had made Wimbledon’s center court his own impenetrable kingdom. Nadal the grunting sweating bull who would stop at nothing to win a point normally at breakneck speed.

Federer had won the previous five finals and was going for the record six in a row, Nadal had just won the French Open and was going to stop at nothing to ruin the party. The final was to be a classic and as a photographer sitting in the pit just metres away from the action there was simply no better place to be.

Nadal flew out of the blocks breaking Federer fans' hearts by winning the opening two sets and looking omnipotent and favourite to win. The famous Wimbledon rain was then to have its say, bringing the game to a halt for forty five minutes and giving the players a well deserved rest. Play resumed and Federer won the third set in a tight tie break dragging Nadal back by his claws. By the end of the fourth set Nadal was 5-2 up with two serves to come and victory seemed inevitable, but then he choked. As the end of the match drew near you can feel your heart beating faster, wishing, praying you will capture the moment of victory better than anyone else. It was not to be, however, with Federer winning the fourth set 10-8,  taking the match into the fifth and final set.

Once again a rain delay and then the two gladiators were back on court. The final set was unlike any other, with the pendulum swinging from player to player. After four and a half hours the match was now being played in the dark and both players were locked at six games all. I wondered how long the match could continue for, with both players giving the umpire anxious glances and for me my cameras light meter had long given up. Normally a photographer would shoot tennis at 1/1000th of a second to freeze action and the ball, I was down to 1/320th of a second at F2.8 and still approximately two stops under exposed. I was absolutely disconsolate, the light had robbed me of the moment of victory and I put my camera down and just watched the match.

At 9.15pm in virtual darkness, Nadal was my end and serving for the match. I picked my camera up knowing it was too dark but what the hell, anything can happen right?! Nadal served for victory, all the camera motor drives whirred around center court, Federer hit a tired forehand into the net. Nadal had won Wimbledon. At the moment of victory Nadal fell on his back in a crucifix style pose, grinning from ear to ear, racket in the air. Everything seemed to go in slow motion and my finger pressed on the shutter button. Nadal was on his back for maybe two seconds and then he was off to console Federer. I started to flick through my photos on the back of the camera, too dark, too dark, too dark. I was starting to feel sick but then the epiphany happened. My camera had caught a flash from another photographer on the other side of the court side-lighting the moment of victory perfectly. Nadal’s eyes, teeth, everything glowed perfectly. I couldn’t believe it and neither could my fellow photographers sitting next to me. A moment where all the stars lined up, my most memorable Wimbledon moment.

What do you love most about your job ?

Specific to sports photography, the ability to witness the greatest sporting specimens humanity has made courageously battle with each other until the final conclusion. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to pinch myself when I’m at an event in the best seat imaginable - whether that’s the Olympics 100m Final, the last moments of a Ryder Cup or Andy Murray winning Wimbledon in 2013. I learn so much from these people and seeing their mental strength and determination is truly life affirming. Also the camaraderie of other photographers; the industry has never been more cutthroat but you can still have a laugh with your fellow photographer. You congratulate someone when they take a fantastic photo and help out when someone misses the moment which can happy frequently. Lastly you want to take the photo that will live on for decades to come. This more than anything keeps you coming back for more, looking for that one shot!

How do you pick which matches to see and where to be ?

At the beginning of a two week Wimbledon stretch you will attempt to cover as many matches as possible due to the huge amount of people who will be eliminated in the opening three days. You always have to be checking your phone for live updates or checking scoreboards in case of big upsets, which in recent years has been frequently. Wimbledon is large and to get around the whole complex carrying heavy camera equipment can at times be very stressful, especially when you're trying to get on court at the dying embers of a match. Sometimes you’re too late or the court is full up but that’s life! The one occasion in recent years where I couldn’t get on court was the longest match in Wimbledon history - June 22-24 2010 between France’s Nicolas Mahut and American John Isner. The match lasted 11 hours and five minutes with John Isner winning 70 games to 68 in the fifth set. The match was on court 18 which only has seating for approximately 12 photographers and only those who were there from the beginning were allowed to see it through to the end.

Are players aware of being photographed or do you feel their focus leaves them totally unself-conscious?

Tennis photography is probably one of the loudest sports with regards to camera motor drives. Generally a photographer would press the shutter for small periods, maybe taking three or four shots in one go rather than leaving one’s finger constantly on the shutter deafening everyone around them. Also, as one’s timing improves you can virtually guarantee getting ball on racket every time, normally with the first shot. Everyone is different, however, and I have sat next to people who will leave their finger on the shutter through every element of the serve and it bugs me enormously especially at fourteen frames a second.

Generally most players are completely immune no matter how loud the noise but last year two players, Nick Kyrgios the brash young Australian and France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, were constantly berating different sections of the photographic media and as a result the photographers made even more noise, worsening their pain and they both lost. Players know from an early age that camera noise will always be there so it is best to use it to your advantage as only Rafael Nadal or Serena Williams can do…