Posts Tagged ‘All England Club’

There is one sound that evokes for me quintessential mid-summer in England; echoes of long hot days, the smell of mown grass; the sipping through straws of long cool drinks. It takes me back to childhood memories of eating salad for a fortnight. The sound is, if you haven’t guessed already, the BBC’s theme tune that heralds the start of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships.

We would arrive home from school to find Mum watching events unfold in SW19 on our black and white TV: an avid tennis fan, she would watch until well into the evening until Dad arrived home, often with strawberries from the local farm. We’d eat these after various cold cuts, served with vanilla ice-cream, cut from a slab encased in cardboard which had been transported home from the village store wrapped in newspaper.

Mum had a soft spot for Ken Rosewall, who always carried a large white hanky on court because he had terrible hay fever and as a fellow sufferer, she was sympathetic.

Ken Rosewall

Ken Rosewall

Sadly, he never won on the grass at Wimbledon. Other players of the day were Rod Laver, John Newcombe, Margaret Court and Billie Jean King. I never remember rain stopping play in those days: summer was summer then. I didn’t really become interested in tennis until the mid seventies. For one thing, we had colour television by then, and for another, in the shallow eyes of a teenage girl, the players started to look more interesting.  I joined Mum on the sofa with salads on our laps and she patiently explained the finer points of the game. I was hooked.

A new guard was emerging – less gentlemen, more brat pack – just what was needed to shift the game’s profile into the next generation. I’m talking  Jimmy Connors – he of the awful haircut and on-court grunting (was he the first, I wonder?); Bjorn Borg, who played the game like metronomic Swedish Pac-Man, getting everything back, 15-0; back and forward, 30-0; along the baseline, 40-0; in his striped shirt; game Mr Bor….zzzz.  However, I’ll forgive him that because he was good-looking and did have impeccable manners.

My favourite player (of all time, actually), is of course, Johnny Mac.

Johnny Mac

Johnny Mac

The enfant terrible and complete antithesis to Borg, with his red hair band, his left-handed shots and wooden racket, not to mention his out-bursts of frustration, all served to make him the most watchable player on the tour as far as I was concerned, especially as Mum wasn’t in the least bit enamoured. Such raw passion and a determination to win was regarded as rather less than genteel on the hallowed lawns of the All England Club. A bit of a shake-up was what was needed at the time, and a bit of a shake-up is what Johnny Mac provided. Tennis had been perceived as the sport of the elite until this era of new players arrived, and they gave inspiration to kids thrashing about on hard public courts up and down the country.

John McEnroe is now a popular member of the BBC’s Wimbledon commentary team. He is amusing, still sometimes controversial and committed to the game, having been a major player in his country’s Davis Cup team. He’s part of the establishment. Mum likes him now. Game, set and match, McEnroe.

Wimbledon is but a couple of weeks away now.  Summer will finally arrive. I’ll be putting the TV on as early as I can – not to watch wall to wall tennis, necessarily, but the reassuring thwack, thwack of balls across the net is a signal to get out lashings of ginger beer,  served with ice cream floats and force the family to eat salad for a fortnight. Tradition – it’s what Wimbledon is all about.


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