Wimbledon-area shops compete to design tennis storefronts
LONDON (AP) Novak Dogovic and Andy Purray could end up among the winners in Wimbledon this year.
Caricatures of the two Grand Slam champions - or, at least, their half-human, half-animal counterparts - are hanging in the window at Pet Pavilion, a grooming salon in the village of Wimbledon within walking distance of the All England Club.
The presentation is one of several dozen on display throughout the village, which created a competition for businesses three years ago. From bakeries to beauty salons, and clothing stores to coffee shops, tennis balls, rackets and more can be seen in at least 63 storefronts by anyone taking a stroll along the neighborhood streets.
''They're showing the fans that they're supportive,'' said Elena Vesnina, a Russian tennis player. ''It doesn't matter if they support you or not - they're going to watch tennis.''
Planning for this year's display began in March at Pet Pavilion. The shop's owners, longtime tennis fans, won the competition two years ago with a display that featured plaster dogs playing a match.
This year, their idea was to commission portraits of a number of current and former Wimbledon greats. With the help of an employee, Sarune Kalininaite, who created the art, they hope Bjorn Bark, Jimmy Pawnnors and others make for a purr-fect display.
''We try to do things that will attract people to this great area - not just to our store, but to our village,'' said Alex Saville-Edells, the son of the store's founders. ''We want people to walk around and experience what the village has to offer.''
Ten judges score each window, giving points for theme and creativity. They have also been asked to consider how the display relates to each business into their decision.
A shop that sells Argentine empanadas, Chango, mixed photos of Guillermo Vilas and other greats from the South American country in among ham hocks, garlic cloves and bottles of malbec. The display at the Wimbledon Village Osteopath office includes a skeleton attempting a dive volley.
Sweaty Betty, a women's activewear shop, dumped roughly 200 balls in its front display, and Hemingway's, a cocktail bar, painted bunches of grapes on its glass - with the grapes themselves replaced by balls.
Some are more elaborate. Last year's winner, Thai Tho, wrapped the entire front of the restaurant - including a miniature elephant - in fake turf.
''My wife said, `Let's cover the entire restaurant in artificial grass,''' said owner Adrian Mills, a British television presenter and actor. ''I thought, `Oh, my God.'''
Kimberley Salmassian, who used to run a fashion boutique in the village, oversees the contest. Although shop owners occasionally dressed up their windows to appeal to tennis fans, she thought a united effort would be more attractive to visitors.
Slazenger and Babolat have donated equipment for use in the displays - Salmassian estimated she now has about 1,000 tennis balls for shops to use - but owners are free to spend at will in order to perfect their windows.
Two years ago, the contest received a boost when the All England Club said it had no problem with shop owners using the Wimbledon logo and colors as part of their displays. It also started donating two tickets to Centre Court for the women's semifinals, which have been given away as the competition's grand prize.
Anne Shelmerdine, who lives across the street from the club's croquet courts, has been a fan of Wimbledon since she was a child. Before the window competition began, she used to get excited when the council would put purple and green bags in the public garbage cans, knowing it meant the tournament was coming.
On Friday, she specifically walked her dogs, a pair of Tibetan spaniels, through the village just to admire the displays.
''People who don't even like tennis are like, `I like the buzz. It's so exciting,''' Shelmerdine said. ''This place comes alive.''
Players have taken note. Many of them rent houses in and around the village during the tournament and will venture into shops and restaurants throughout the two weeks of the tournament.
Bernardo Neville, who opened the empanada shop two years ago, has seen a few coaches and players check out his display of Argentine tennis history and stop in to eat.
One who has not: Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, two-time Olympic medalist and Argentina's top-ranked player.
''I would make sure he eats a lot of empanadas,'' Neville said. ''Hopefully, he will come.''
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