At 29 years old, I’m almost twice the tennis phenom’s age with, generously, one-gazillionth of her skill. That gap became abundantly clear when I tried my forehand at virtual-reality tennis at Wimbledon.
It was a not-so-grand slam.
The fun game, called Champion’s Rally, is located in the free American Express Fan Experience area and uses an Oculus-like headset that allows you to see 360 degrees of Centre Court, the most famous tennis venue in the world. Glancing around, from the Royal Box to the delicately mowed grass, the sky was the most refreshing bit — the calm before the storm.
Then comes the beatdown. You are greeted by a mustachioed Andy Murray, former world No. 1 and two-time Wimbledon champ, who guides you through the procedures and provides gentle encouragement even when you’re garbage.
That’s when the balls start flying. Rather than playing a typical match, it’s more like hitting against a rogue ball machine that sometimes shoots off three or four yellow projectiles at once — the goal being to run one of five targets.
I played a lot of tennis as a kid, but it’s been — gulp — many years since I’ve held a racket, even an electronic one. And it looked and felt less like I was playing tennis than high-intensity croquet. With the grace of a trout on a hook, I managed to score a measly 750, which got me a “wildcard.”
Still, if you don’t mind being embarrassed in front of children, Champion’s Rally is a good time. A similar attraction at the 2018 US Open was played against a screen, without a VR headset, and had Venus Williams as a guide. New York’s premier tennis event would be smart to change to the more immersive game.