Saturday, 4 April 2015

129 Wimbledon

First  watched : 1973

My  mum  and  gran  were  always  huge  Wimbledon  fans  so  it's  almost  certain  that  I  saw  something  of  earlier  tournaments  but  I'm  putting  Wimbledon  coverage  here  because  the  first  thing  I  definitely  recall  is  the  teen  hysteria  surrounding  a  17-year  old  Swede  with  his  flowing  blonde  locks  who  made  it  to  the  quarter-finals. Bjorn  Borg  even  got  a  feature  in  It's  Here  And  Now  which  was a bit  strange  considering  he  hadn't  released  a  record. Perhaps  he  practised  in  his  bedroom  with  a  guitar. He was  put  out  by  Roger  Taylor, the  last  British  male  to  make  the  semis  for  nearly  30  years  ( though  in  truth  he  probably  only  got  there  because  a  lot  of  the  big  guns  were  boycotting  Wimbledon  that  year ).

Borg  became  my  first  favourite  and  I  was  pleased  he   went  on  to  win  it  five  times  in  a  row  after  growing  a  scruffy  beard  to  scare  away  the  teenyboppers. After  he  lost  to  McEnroe  in  the  1981 Final  - a tournament  I  followed  almost  entirely  through  the papers  as  I  was  on  a  long  walking  holiday  in  the  Lakes  for  most  of  that  fortnight -  he  never  played  there  again, a  boycott  of  the  1982  tournament  for  some  reason  or other  became  a  complete  retirement  the  following  year. He  had  his  ups  and  downs   out  of   the  game  with  divorce, a  suicide  attempt, mixed  fortunes  as  a  businessman  and  a  bonkers  attempt  at  a  comeback  in  the  nineties  when  he  tried to  turn  back  the  clock  by  using  his  old  wooden  rackets. He  later  joined  the  Champions  tour  and  seemed  more  content  although  in  2006  he  put  his  trophies  up  for  auction  until  John  McEnroe  and  other  champs  talked  him  out  of  it.

Mum  and  Gran  didn't  mind  Borg  but  they  had  their  pet  hates. Mum's  was  Billie  Jean  King  whose  career  choice  to  have  an  abortion  made  her  absolutely  beyond  the  pale  and  Chris  Evert  became  a  huge  favourite, despite  her  crushingly  boring  playing  style, just  because  she  could  beat  King. Gran's  target  was  Jimmy  Connors  whose  brash , pugilistic  manner  and  graceless  demeanour  on  court  lowered  the  tone  at  SW19. Arthur  Ashe's  famous  triumph  against  him  in  1975  was  hugely  applauded.

The  first  tournament  where  I  recall  several  events  was  unsurprisingly  1977  with  Virginia  Wade's  triumph  in  Jubilee  year. Sue  Barker  reached  her  career  high  as  a  losing  semi-finalist  and  the  obscure  British  player  John  Lloyd  secured  a  victory  he  still  dines  out  on  against  the  cannonball-serving  Roscoe  Tanner  in  an  earlier  round. That  brings  me  to  a  perennial  bugbear  about  the  coverage; the  assumption  that  we're  more  interested  in  how  mediocre  British  journeymen  are  doing  than  anything  else  and  automatically  want  them  to  beat  the  great  players  when  they  come  up  against  them. This  was  at  its  worst   in  1993  when  some  guy  called  Andrew  Foster  had  a  competitive  third  set  against  Pete  Sampras  and  the  commentators  went  along  with  the  crowd's  ugly  delusion  that  he  could  turn  the  match  around. Fortunately  the  mikes  didn't  pick  up  Sampras's    "Hasta  la  vista  motherfuckers"  to  the  crowd  when  he  came  through  the  tiebreak. on  his  way  to  the  first  of  seven  titles.

For  the  women  it  was  even  worse,  a  situation  accurately  summed  up  by  a  Spitting  Image  sketch  which  ran  "Passer-by  bt  Jo Durie,  Parking  cone  beat  Anne  Hobbs"  and  so  on. Pity  poor  Laura  Robson  trying  to  overturn  nearly  40  years  of  non-achievement  in  the  women's  game.

1977  also  saw  the  emergence  of  the  young  John  McEnroe  the  teenage  qualifier  who  fought  his  way  to  the  semi-final  against  Connors. I  feared  that  might  be  his  one  shot  at  glory  but  of  course  he  went  on  to  three  titles , gaining  his  revenge  on  Connors  with  an  utter  annihilation  in  the  1984  final,   and  oodles  of  controversy  for  his  on-court  tantrums. He  introduced  a  new  insult  to  the  UK  when  he called  an  umpire  "the  pits  of  the  world" in  1981. Like  his  friend  Borg, McEnroe  faded  rather  early  , distracted  by  family  life  but  is  now  the  star  of  the  BBC  commentary  team.

That  is  actually  much  improved  from  my  early  days   with   toffs  like  the  crusty  Dan  Maskell  "Oh  that  angle  didn't  exist"   and  the  tedious  Anne  Jones  a  former  champion  who  looked  like  the  back  end  of  a  bus,  Unfortunately  we  still  have  to  put  up  with  "Our  Ginny"  whose talent  for  stating  the  obvious  is  only  leavened  by  her  curious  habit  of  putting  the  emphasis  on  THE  wrong  word.   The  best  in  those  days  was  probably  Gerald  Williams. I  remember  being  shocked  in  the  early  eighties  when  he  came  out  from  behind  the  mike  to  co-present  the  highlights  programme  with  Des  Lynam :  never  has  the  phrase  "a  face  for  radio"  seemed  more  apt. He  broke  up  the  partnership  when  he  moved  over  to  Sky  and  since  then  we've  had  to  put  up  with  the  slouching  slug  John  Inverdale  whose  high  reputation  baffles  me. I've  hated  him  since  his  boring  Drivetime  show  replaced  the  excellent  Five-A-Side   in  1993 ; it  seems  like  I'm  the  only  person  who  still  holds  a  candle  for  the  original  Radio  5. I  was  rather  hoping  his  comments  about  Marion  Bartoli's  looks  would  sink  him  but  no  such  luck.

Besides  being  no  oil  painting  himself  Inverdale's  comments  were  misplaced  because  on  the   looks  spectrum  of  female  tennis  players  Bartoli   is  actually  somewhere  in  the  middle. What  on  earth  would  he  find  to  say  about  the  overweight  Lindsay  Davenport, hairy  Arantcha  Sanchez-Vicario, jut-jawed  Justine  Henin  or  the  sasquatch , Pam  Shriver ?  Yes  of  course  it's  a  bit  sexist  to  be  discussing  female  tennis  players'  looks  but  how  else  could  you  stay  interested  in  the  women's  game  when  for  such  long  periods  it's  been  so  uncompetitive ?
Martina  Navratilova  actually  seemed  like  a  bit  of  a  flake  as  a  young  Czech  in  the  seventies  when  she  rarely  justified  her  seeding  but  once  she'd  defected, gone  blond  and  muscled  up  she  dominated  the  eighties  and  it  was  a  welcome  relief  when  Steffi  Graff  arrived  to  put  a  stop  to  that. Since  her  hey-day  we've  had  to  put  up  with  the  repellent  Williams  sisters  and  their  supremely  annoying  father  and  I  look  forward  to  their  retirement. I've  tended  to  back  under-achieving  lookers - anyone  remember  Andrea  Temesvari  or  Bettina  Bunge ? - and  I'm  hoping  current  fave  Sabine  Lisicki  can  break  the  duck.

Talking  of  seedings  why  do  Wimbledon  slavishly  follow  the  world  rankings  when  they  know that  the  grass  courts  render  many  players'  past  records  redundant ? Hence  you  had  the  annual embarrassment  of  Guillermo  Vilas  , continually  seeded  three  or  four  but  always  going  out  in  the  first   round   because  he  couldn't  play  on  the  surface. Mats  Wilander  was  another  top  player  who  was  absolutely  wretched  at  Wimbledon.

There's  no  doubt  which  was  my  least  favourite  tournament - 1985. I  absolutely  loathed  Boris  Becker  the  boorish  brute  from  Germany. There  was  an  air  of  inevitability  about  his  progress  to  the  title  despite  injuries  and  match  points  against  him . In  the  fourth  round  he  twisted  an  ankle  against  Tim  Mayotte, a  man  who  seemed  to  put  being  the  anithesis  to  McEnroe  on  court  above  actually  winning  anything. Becker  was  trailing  and  ready  to  quit  but  Mayotte  was  reluctant  to  accept  his  concession  and  lost  the  match  when  Becker  resumed  after  lengthy  treatment. He  then  beat  Kevin  Curren  who'd  removed  the  heavyweights,  Connors  and  McEnroe, for  him,  in  the  Final.  As  sadly  predicted  Curren  never  made   the  final  again. I'm  grateful  to  Edberg  and  Stich  for  restricting  Becker  to  three  titles.

For  all  my  gripes  I'll  still  be  watching  avidly  this  June.


No comments:

Post a Comment