Wimbledon competitors fighting off swarms of flying ants

By Howard Fendrich - AP Tennis Writer | July 5th, 2017 5:13 pm

LONDON — They were buggin’ out at Wimbledon on Wednesday.

Hundreds of flying ants swarmed around various courts at the All England Club, distracting players during their matches, as the temperature warmed up considerably, from the low 70s (20s Celsius) to nearly 85 degrees (nearly 30 Celsius).

It left the racket-wielders swatting the bugs instead of tennis balls, at times.

Steve Johnson, an American seeded 26th, was startled when one of the critters buzzed its way into his right ear at the precise moment that he came up with a forehand winner during what would become a 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Radu Albot of Moldova.

Johnson did a little dance while he extracted the invader.

“Thankfully, I ended the point right there, because I wouldn’t have run for the next ball. It just got in there. Eventually it got out, but I didn’t want it to get any further than it did,” Johnson said.

“They were everywhere,” he said. “It was a mess out there. I’ve never seen that here before.”

Local media have reported about a wave of flying ants across Britain this week, a migration of sorts that is a result of just the right combination of heat, humidity and wind.

“Well,” Johnson said, “they migrated to Wimbledon.”

Especially during the early afternoon on Day 3 of the grass-court Grand Slam tournament.

Before Johnson headed out to Court 18, 24th-seeded American Sam Querrey played his match there, and dealt with the same type of issues created by the little winged things.

“If it got much worse,” Querrey said after beating Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, “I almost wanted to stop, because they were hitting you in the face when you were trying to hit balls.”

The rules would allow Querrey to ask the chair umpire to consider halting play, at which point a Grand Slam supervisor might head to the court to weigh in.

It never reached that point Wednesday, although things did get particularly bad for about a half-hour that included the end of the second set, the only one Querrey dropped.

“If I had won that set,” he said, “probably wouldn’t have bugged me as much.”

Johanna Konta, Britain’s best chance for its first female champion at Wimbledon in 40 years, fretted about swallowing some of the ants during her 7-6 (4), 4-6, 10-8 victory over Donna Vekic at Centre Court.

“I definitely have taken home a few — both in my belly and in my bags,” the No. 6-seeded Konta said.

A reporter asked her whether the insects were tasty.

“I didn’t think about it,” came the reply. “I’d rather not.”

Back where it belongs

The plaque is back at Wimbledon.

And the All England Club insists there is a simple explanation for why the marker posted on a brick wall outside Court 18 — pointing out that it was the site of John Isner’s record-breaking 70-68 fifth-set victory over Nicolas Mahut in 2010 — was missing for a bit.

A spokeswoman for the club said the plaque was temporarily taken down for “refurbishment,” because there was “a little wear and tear” on the green-and-purple tournament logo at the bottom. She said a new logo was affixed to it now, but otherwise it is the same sign that was there before.

Some have questioned whether it still is, indeed, the original plaque.

“Even Mahut said it looks a little different,” Isner said after winning his first-round match this week as the tournament’s 23rd-seeded man.

The 6-foot-10 American also wondered about the official explanation.

“Why would they refurbish it?” Isner asked. “Even if they refurbished it, that would take 20 minutes.”

The sign originally was put up in 2011, on a wall along a popular walking path that travels past several courts on the grounds. It later was switched to an adjacent wall.

Seven years ago, Isner and Mahut, a Frenchman who lost in the first round this week, played the longest match in tennis history, an 11-hour, 5-minute marathon at Court 18 that stretched over three days in the first round.

The plaque announces in white capital letters on a black background that “the longest match” was played at that court “22nd-24th June 2010.” It also includes the score — 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (9), 7-3 (3), 70-68 — and notes the “match duration.”

Steve Johnson grabs his ear to remove a flying ant during his match against Radu Albot on Wednesday. High temperatures were blamed for the swarm.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/web1_117411470-59e75e8f624a4985b9e63197177b0ede.jpgSteve Johnson grabs his ear to remove a flying ant during his match against Radu Albot on Wednesday. High temperatures were blamed for the swarm. Alastair Grant | AP photo

By Howard Fendrich

AP Tennis Writer