Many of the world’s top tennis players say Wimbledon is their favorite tournament, but ask them why they love the quaint, often-rainy All England Lawn Tennis Club so much, and the answer is rather vague: Atmosphere.
There are other grass tournaments, and other Grand Slams, but there’s definitely only one Wimbledon. And to understand what that’s all about… you sort of have to be there.
So one of the first things I did when I moved to London was join the mile-long queue for general admission tickets early one morning. After paying well over the odds for some strawberries and cream and watching a few doubles and junior matches, I then snagged a £5 resale ticket for Center Court, where (at the risk of giving away my age) I watched Tim Henman play, and win.
That’s why, when I put on my Google Cardboard to watch the #FeelWimbledon Virtual Reality experience, I immediately understand what Andy Murray means when he talks about the awesome pressure and palpable silence in Center Court.
The 4D cinematic experience lasts a couple of minutes and was created using 125 motion sensors. It begins by whizzing you through the eerily empty Wimbledon grounds and lingering around some rather nice cars (it is sponsored by Jaguar after all). You enjoy a God-like view as the place comes alive with people (over 14,000 characters were generated for this) and the roar of the virtual crowd starts to build up. Eventually, you find yourself in Center Court looking at an avatar of Murray suspended in the air mid-serve.
Murray knows the exquisite pressure of that environment more than most, being the first British player to win the Wimbledon title in over 70 years back in 2013. So he’s well used to carrying the weight of an entire country’s expectations on his shoulders, and that lends authenticity and genuine feeling to his narration.
Having been to the real place, I was also impressed by how well it was replicated in VR, culminating with the viewer being neatly placed in Andy Murray’s tennis shoes as he finally swings the racket, and the court explodes in a roaring cheer.
The best uses of VR tend to be ones that offer users the ability to experience something they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to do, so this certainly ticks that box. Even if you have been to Wimbledon, it’s unlikely that the officials would have allowed to traipse around Centre Court, much less experience it when it’s packed full of tense spectators. And for those who haven’t been there at all, the VR experience offers a bit of a taster of what that Wimbledon vibe” is all about.
Andy Murray is a VR enthusiast himself, recently investing in several start-ups through crowdfunding firm Seedrs, where he’s a stakeholder. One of these, Trillenium, builds 3D Virtual Reality shops, and he says the growth of virtual reality, and specially its use in sport, is something that fascinates him:
“I never thought I’d have my own VR experience,” said Murray. “There’s no greater feeling than walking out onto Center Court. It’s hosted so many incredible matches, the greatest champions ever, and the atmosphere is truly one of a kind. This special experience is reserved for very few players and supporters, so it’s amazing that Jaguar’s VR experience can bring people closer to the unique feeling of tennis’ most famous court.”
20,000 Google Cardboards were distributed to commuters and tennis fans to encourage them to try the experience, which can be download at the Feel Wimbledon Website (or if you’re on this side of the pond they have a rather impressive booth at Waterloo Station too).
At the time of writing the world number 2, Andy Murray, just won another match to reach his third Wimbledon final, so things are looking good for Andy, both in the virtual and the real world.
Alice Bonasio is a freelance writer with work appearing in well-known publications such as The Huffington Post, Newsweek, Playboy, and more. You can follow her on Twitter: @alicebonasio.