Given that Fred Perry was the last British man to win a Wimbledon singles event (1936) and Virginia Wade the last British woman (1977), the British public’s enthusiasm for this rather quaint championship is surprising. Then again, nothing fuels their enthusiasm as much as cheering on the underdog, and goodness knows, there are underdogs aplenty for them at Wimbledon.
Every now and then, a British competitor with a sniffing chance at victory will come along and be vigorously rooted for. Alas, no amount of national pride will change the inevitable outcome of (Andy Murray excepted) the Brit’s hangdog expression as he packs away his racquet and towel after losing 6-0 6-0 6-0 on an outside court to an American or Rumanian.
As Clive James, the Australian writer and broadcaster, pointed out:
“A traditional fixture at Wimbledon is the way the BBC TV commentary box fills up with British players eliminated in the early rounds.”
Perhaps different countries are wired for different sports? Czech-born Martina Navratilova, nine times winner of Wimbledon Ladies’ Singles, thinks not:
“I’m an American. You can’t go on where you were born. If you do, then John McEnroe would be a German.”
John McEnroe (born to American parents in West Germany) caused controversy at Wimbledon in 1981, when he loudly criticized a line call and called umpire Ted James “the pits of the world.”
Despite being named by Sports Illustrated as one of the Top 10 Men’s Tennis Players of All Time, McEnroe fears the reputation of his temperament will outlast that of his talent:
“I want to be remembered as a great player, but I guess it will be as a player who got angry on a tennis court.”
For those who say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, McEnroe disagrees:
“Princess Diana, she used to come watch the tennis [at Wimbledon]. And even though she had it 1,000 times worse than I ever did, she pulled me aside a few times and said, ‘I really feel for you.'”
Meeting the Royal Family is something that doesn’t happen too often at, say, the U.S. Open. Perhaps it would be better if it did. Serena Williams, who has her own reputation for putting her verbal equipment in gear ahead of time, describes a Wimbledon meeting with Queen Elizabeth:
“I was supposed to say, ‘Your Majesty.’ I totally choked. I was like, ‘Hey, nice to meet you’, total American style. And then she started talking. Then I was like ‘Your Majesty’ while she was talking… Maybe she’ll remember me.”
Undoubtedly. Serena should have heeded Jimmy Connors’ rueful comment nearly 30 years ago:
“New Yorkers love it when you spill your guts out there. Spill your guts at Wimbledon and they make you stop and clean it up.”
Some international tennis players remain unimpressed by the oldest, and to some the most prestigious, tennis tournament in the world. Russian player Nikolay Davydenko says:
“Wimbledon is the world’s most boring tournament. There’s hardly anything to do apart from tennis. You constantly find yourself yawning – there’s no entertainment here.”
Is he referring to the arduous 30-minute train ride into the bright lights of central London, or is it simply a severe case of sour grapes at never progressing beyond the fourth round at Wimbledon? Whatever the reason, he isn’t alone.
“A lot of people think that everything revolves around Wimbledon but it is just one week of the year for us. If nothing happens at Wimbledon, it’s not the end of the world.”
— this from Elena Baltacha, the Ukraine-born British player, after losing at Wimbledon 2009 and sadly proving Martina right in her earlier statement about birthplace versus nationality. Oh, and Elena — Wimbledon is a two-week tournament. Perhaps that’s where you’re going wrong.
But maybe she’s right not to take it so seriously. My all-time favorite saying by a tennis player is that of Boris Becker, youngest ever winner of Wimbledon’s Men’s Singles, when he lost in the 1987 final to Pete Doohan:
“Nobody died. I only lost a tennis match, nothing more.”
So, let us have your views! Do you see Wimbledon as an anachronism in today’s sporting world, or are its slightly eccentric traditions to be cherished? The strict dress code of white for competitors; the strawberries and champagne; and above all, the venue of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. (How Alice is that!)
And on the subject of Alice, our last words come from Venus Williams, on her tennis outfit at this year’s Australian Open:
“The outfit is inspired by Alice in Wonderland. It’s kind of about a surprise, because when Alice goes down the rabbit hole, she finds all these things that are so surprising. This outfit is about having a surprise in a tennis dress, and showing some skin and then just having a print. Prints don’t happen that often in tennis. So it’s called the Wonderland dress.”
Call me old-fashioned, but I’m with the Wimbledon dress code on this one.
STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, Part 3 of Sebastian Doggart’s thrilling chase after James Bond creator Ian Fleming’s Jamaican haunts.
As part of my continuing Alice obsession, I discovered the other day that a blogger named John Januzzi, who works for Lucky Magazine, had restyled Alice for the 21st century. Plenty of lace, but no prints there… What was Venus thinking? And a proper Victorian child like Alice wouldn’t be caught dead in open criss-cross bodice. Perish the thought!
Besides, clothes were the least of the poor girl’s worries when she was commanded by the Queen of Hearts to join in a game of croquet.
By contrast, I did like the white dress the newly minted Duchess of Cambridge was wearing yesterday for her first appearance in Wimbledon’s Royal Box. As one tweeter put it, it looked like a kicky little tennis outfit. But I think it was also demure enough to be something Alice might have changed into for croquet — had she had the time, had she not been under orders from the White Rabbit to do the Queen’s bidding… (I wonder if the Duchess of C knows how lucky she is that Queen Elizabeth II isn’t the type to mutter, “Off with her head!” — luckier than the Duchess in Lewis Carroll’s story…)
On the bigger point, of whether Wimbledon is an anachronism, heck, it’s about as quirky and Alice-like a sporting event as you’re ever likely to find on the planet. I mean, you would think tennis would be the same everywhere (it’s just hitting a ball back and forth over a net) — but not in the hermetically sealed British Isles, where they make you play on grass (which makes the ball bounce funny), in front of royalty, wearing tennis whites, and where spectators feast on a version of the Mad Hatter’s tea party (only these days the strawberries and cream are served in plastic punnets that cost the earth, which is really maddening). And then everyone grumbles under their breath when it rains (inevitably!) and the grass gets wet and the whites get dirty…
If anything, I’ve been disappointed by the international tennis stars and their slowness in latching onto how anachronistic a scene Wimbledon is. They are far too reverential for my tastes, worrying about things like whether they’re curtsying properly.
Returning to my earlier sartorial point, I always thought that Roger Federer had the right idea in donning that white cream blazor for his walk onto Centre Court, rather than the usual warm-up track suit. Now, that’s the spirit! Only if I were Roger, I would have added a further embellishment by carrying in a flamingo in place of my racquet — and demanding some hedgehog balls, or off with the ball-boys’ heads!
Now that I’m watching the Wimbledon men’s final — John McEnroe is one of the commentators — I’m recalling with some fondness how McEnroe used to throw down his racquet and say, “You CANNOT be serious!” (Go to sound clips.)
You’ve mentioned his fear that he’ll be remembered as the player who got angy on the Wimbledon courts. In my view, he shouldn’t worry about it. Most Brits loved him for behaving that way — ie, like a rather petulant, eccentric Alice character, whose anger wasn’t entirely far fetched (at that stage, the Wimbledon umpires were a bit amateurish).
Yet more evidence for my theory that there’s nothing with being an eccentric on the Wimbledon/Wonderland stage!
You’re right, we did love it. Or at least I think the younger generation did. I remember my dad being outraged at such ungentlemanly behaviour at Wimbledon.
It spawned this classic sketch from Not The Nine O’Clock News:
Novak Djokovic, having just won Wimbledon for the first time, told interviewer Sue Barker he wonders if he’s dreaming and is about to wake up… That, too, is the wonderland-like quality of Wimbledon, for the lucky few who get to be champions!