I’m one of those people real tennis fans probably despise. For fifty weeks of the year I take little interest in the game then become glued to the television for Wimbledon. It’s not just the tennis, is it? It’s the arena, the drama, the tradition of it. I’m old enough to remember the days when Australians dominated tennis: Rod Laver, Margaret Smith, Newcombe and Roche; they seemed to win everything. This Wimbledon enthusiasm started as soon as we got a televison, when I was eleven (heh, can you believe it?), the same year I started senior school and was given a wooden Slazenger Junior. I well remember the Ladies’ Final of 1961 when Christine Truman played Angela Mortimer on a miserable, wet afternoon. I so much wanted Chris to win that I actually cried when she didn’t.
In those days, women players wore pretty dresses, probably designed by Teddy Tinling, which they covered up with little white nylon cardis. The American player Nancy Richey always stood out because she wore shorts and an eyeshade. Maria Bueno and her frilly knickers. Françoise Durr and her strange, old-fashioned patball serve which didn’t stop her winning plenty of matches. Nowadays, I find it hard to tell one tall, blonde East European player from another. My favourite modern woman player is Justine Henin and I wish we could still see her: though she be but little, she is fierce. I always prefer to watch players storming about the court Steffi Graf-style rather than slogging it out from the baseline.
It’s curious how it’s not always the most successful players one most enjoys watching. Take Pete Sampras. Undoubtedly a great champion but I used to say that I wouldn’t bother going down the rec. to see him play. Boring. Mats Wilander was a great favourite of mine and John Lloyd had really nice legs …
I don’t know if it’s still true, but way back you could go to Wimbledon after work, get in cheaply and wander round spotting famous faces in the crowd or watch former champions like Yvonne Goolagong playing on outside courts. Then nice people would come off Court One or Two, say, ‘Would you like our tickets?’ and we’d get to see maybe Newcombe and Roche, now playing as veterans but as entertaining as ever. One of the nice things about Wimbledon is the way former competitors keep coming back to watch. Who doesn’t get a little thrill seeing Björn Borg sitting in the crowd wearing a suit and tie instead of those little short shorts they wore in his day?
I’ve never been at all interested in whether or not British players will do well; no ‘Come on Tim!’ or ‘Can Murray win Wimbledon?’ from me. I couldn’t care less whether Murray wins or not. It’s not as if they’re playing for their country; they play for glory and a great deal of money so I get fed up seeing crowds of nutters waving flags and making a nationalistic thing of it.
So, it’s here again, it starts this afternoon if we’re lucky with the weather. Men’s championships: feline Nadal for me. Women’s: don’t care. Favourite commentators: John McEnroe and Boris Becker. Can’t wait!