The best tournament in the world

Henman Hill, June 2012

Henman Hill, June 2012


To celebrate Rafael Nadal becoming the first ever eight-time winner of a single major, I thought I’d give you eight reasons why the tournament starting on Monday is the best tournament in the world. I may be biased, but I’m also right.

1) The dress-code
I had an awful dream last week that Wimbledon had abolished the ‘predominantly white’ dress code. I think short of dreams in which monarchs die I have never had a scarier dream in my entire life. Of course, it will never happen. Wimbledon is a traditional place, but it’s smart too. Its whiteness is part of its brand, its image, its marketing appeal. There is no finer sight on a tennis court than pristine white on the lush green grass at 11.30am on the first day.

2) The queue
Some consider it a major inconvenience but Wimbledon prides itself on being one of the very few major sporting events (the only one?) where you can rock up on the day and get top-class tickets. Granted, the popularity of Centre Court and Court 1 means you now need to bring a tent to ensure you get one of those golden 1,000 every day but turn up early morning and you’re guaranteed ground pass tickets. If the weather is good, get yourself a paper, take a coffee and bacon butty from the burger vans and sit in the Wimbledon Park morning sunshine whilst waiting for the grounds to open. In the company of 7,000 other tennis fans. Bliss really!

3) Defending champions
Whilst there is nothing wrong with the current incumbents, it is not the identities of Roger Federer and Serena Williams that I refer to. Instead, it’s another nod to tradition. 1pm on the first day of the tournament, Centre Court play is opened by the defending Gentlemen’s Singles Champion, and the following day by the defending Ladies’ Champion. This should be the case at all majors; they deserve that honour for their endeavours the previous year. But for now, this sets Wimbledon apart.

4) The ‘Graveyard of Champions’
McEnroe, Connors, Cash, Stich, Agassi, Krajicek, Martinez, Venus, Serena, Hingis. All of them lost on the old Court 2, now the ‘new’ Court 3. All in matches they were expected to win easily. There’s a certain trepidation that hangs around that part of the famous old grounds, no seed really wants to be put out to play there. It even did for the first man to lift this title seven times, Pete Sampras. His Wimbledon career was ended out on Court 2 by Swiss journeyman George Bastl in 2002. I’m not sure Pistol Pete has fully forgiven Wimbledon for putting him out to grass on that court. But with only three matches per day on each of Centre and Court 1, some big names have to walk the plank on the Graveyard of Champions. Which brings me nicely onto…

Pete Sampras exits Wimbledon stage right

Pete Sampras exits Wimbledon stage right

5) Scheduling
Yes, they may only have three matches a day on Centre and Court 1, but do you know what? Barring ridiculous rain, they get the job done. No need for 15 days here, in fact the All England Club laughs in the face of 14 days and instead opts for a day off in the middle of it all. And the second the draw is made, the players know what days they will be playing throughout the fortnight – none of this ridiculous business of playing the first round over three days. And if the weather is atrocious during the first week, there’s always the prospect of catching up with a People’s Sunday, when all 35,000 tickets are put on sale to the general public. It’s only happened on three occasions, but Tim Henman will tell you it’s a whole lot of fun when it does happen.

6) The weather
Now, it’s true that there is the odd occasion when Wimbledon gets the occasional drop of the wet stuff. Oh okay, it happens a fair bit. That’s all part of the fun. The centre Court roof spoils it a bit to be honest; I miss the re-runs of the 1980 Borg-McEnroe tie-break during rain delays!

7) The 4-week season
It really hit home how different grass is to clay when I switched Queen’s on the day after Nadal won in Paris. It was like watching a completely different sport. For the very best players to have to fine-tune their games within the space of just 28 days is an incredible, unenviable task, but one which they are up to. With the rapid turnaround from Paris to London, one wouldn’t be surprised if you got fluke results here. But you don’t. It’s credit to the players at the very top of tennis that they are able to adapt completely to this surface. In many ways, it is the ultimate test of a player’s character and game. It’s why grass will always have its place on the Slam circuit. How best to prepare? It’s oh-so-tough to go from a gruelling 15 day work-out in Paris and to triumph a fortnight later in London – the only men to have done it being Borg, Federer and Nadal. Neither Nadal nor Djokovic has chosen to play a warm-up event, whilst defending champion Federer looked a little shaky as he acclimatised to the surface in Halle, his warm-up tournament of choice….

8) The quest for a British champion
But it is maybe Andy Murray who comes into this as favourite. He sensibly skipped the French Open to rest his back and had a jump-start on his leading competitors with grass-court practice. He won solidly last week at Queen’s and arrives in SW19 as fresh as any player in the draw. It seems like for every one of the last 15 years, the British crowd has thought that this will be the year we end our now-36-year wait for a winner in either of the single’s events here, a hope and an expectation that has brought an almost-constant buzz to this tournament. During that time, the hopeful cries of “Come on Tim!” died down just in time to be replaced by the more expectant “Come on Andy” chants. And each year it has ended in disappoint, at various stages and in various circumstances. But now that Andy Murray is an Open winner, now that he has picked up an Olympic Gold medal on that Centre Court, now this time more than any other time, we really do think this is our year…..

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