The image you see up here is the reward for nearly five decades of daily work. In it appears a Stefan Edberg only 22 years old reacting to the match point in the final of Wimbledon 1988. It was the first time that the Swede had trodden the last round in London and, despite having two Grand Slams in the suitcase, meeting Boris Becker that Sunday did not seem like the perfect date. Despite this, the Västervik achieved the goal in four rounds and celebrated by giving in to the gravity of the moment, leaving an unforgettable snapshot. A few meters from Stefan, Paul Zimmer he pulls the trigger and is in charge of stopping time with his camera, also fulfilling his objective.
This ritual is the one that Zimmer has maintained during his last 48 years, since he began this adventure in the 1972 Ski World Cup. Always be one step away from the main stage and look for the best portrait of the protagonist at every moment. It would not be until the following year when he would discover a new world, one dominated by his compatriots Boris Becker and Steffi Graf. The German photographer liked it so much that he decided to stay, and so to this day. Now the COVID-19 pandemic has completely blocked the advance of the circuit, a parenthesis to which none of us were used to.
“It is a sad moment for me, I have felt it a lot,” says the German in a report prepared by the ITF. “I told my wife that the only positive thing about this whole situation is that I have spent the summer at home, something that had not happened in the last 40 years. I haven’t spent June and July at home since 1977I was always in Paris or London. But even so, I miss Wimbledon, it is the highlight of all the work of the year ”, he assessed with some morriña.
“Wimbledon is a sacred place, one of the most iconic tournaments in world sport. For the players, the fact of winning there is to touch the sky, it is to pass to immortality. With other tournaments it is not the same, although it is great to win a Grand Slam, but Wimbledon is Wimbledon. This is seen even in the photos, the celebrations after winning Wimbledon are always very special, ”insists a man who has spent almost five decades watching the champion lift the title.
Wimbledon is a special place, but not only for the player. “For us it is also the most beautiful place to take photos. We have a beautiful light around, we always use the sunset at 18:00 to take photos with the sunrise. Just watching the staff mow the lawn is a wonderful scene, with those colors, that’s what makes the place unique. Paris is also very beautiful, but there are no other tournaments that can be compared. Even between these two, Wimbledon stands out, ”says Paul.
Within its long history, the stages are divided according to the degree of advancement of technology. Zimmer fondly highlights the 2008 men’s final, where Federer and Nadal almost have to finish their match playing with a flashlight. “I remember that in the end there was almost no light. The game went on and on, he did not know if it would end, much less who would win. It got so dark that the cameras weren’t good enough to deal with that situation. As a result, you can see few images that were really good. Today it would be much easier, the technology has advanced a lot. That was the real challenge, although many caught the flashes of the viewers and took excellent pictures. But the whole final, in general, was an overwhelming challenge ”, explains the traveling veteran.
But if there was a moment, a tournament and an image that marked Paul’s career, that was without a doubt Wimbledon 1988. Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker played the final and he, like so many other Sundays, looked for the best place to shoot. “Normally, of the 30 photographic positions there are, the first 15 are delivered to the British press, we foreigners have to sit a little further. However, that day the chief cinematographer came up to me and said, ‘Your friend Boris is playing the final, and you have never complained, so I want to give you a good spot, even if I can’t move the British.’ They elevated me above all the photographers and I had a complete view of both sides ”, recalls the German, who was a few hours away from capturing his best image.
“After the end point, when Stefan Edberg celebrated the title, I took a photo. It must be remembered that our cameras in those days did not yet have motor units, so every time you took a photo you had to roll the film to take another. There was no autofocus, it was all manual. And, of course, then you do not see the image, so you can only hope that everything goes well. I rolled up the film, got back on track and saw that it was falling backwards. I waited a fraction of a second and took a second photo. Of the 100 photographers there were, only three people captured that moment in which Edberg was almost on the ground with his head slightly above the grass, like a dancer in limbo. “
Zimmer’s image appeared in 180 newspapers around the world, earning him the prestigious Award for Best Sports Photography from the International Sports Press Association and the Prize for the Best Sports Photography in Germany in 1989. He even sent Stefan a copy to celebrate their victory. A happy ending that, however, was about to have a dramatic outcome.
“After the final, I had to hand the film over to my editor, who went to Munich to develop it. Once the image was printed and entered the prize competitions, they discovered that the original slide had been lost, so the only solution was to make large prints of the scanned image. I gave one to Stefan, then my editor participated in the contests, but I never got to see the real image of the negative. With digital images it is almost impossible to lose a photo, but then if you lost the original, you lost it forever. Duplicates, unfortunately, are never as good in quality as the original. Ten years later, I heard that he could have fallen down an elevator shaft, ”says the German.
Almost three decades after that success, Zimmer will continue to walk his path in search of the perfect photo, a document so perfect that it needs no explanation. Of course, he knows better than anyone that what happened in 1988 will never happen again. “Now that same image would be much easier to take, almost all photographers would have it.So I wouldn’t have been as proud as I was before. At that time it was a real challenge. “