Anyone for Tennis? - Wimbledon
Summertime and strawberries
I simply love this time of year. There seems so much to look forward to in terms of events, festivals, concerts and of course that quintessential English tournament which is Wimbledon. If you're a tennis fan, then there are two whole weeks of it to enjoy during the month of June/July and If you're fortunate to be there even better!
I was lucky enough to get a ticket for the men's final on Centre Court between Boris Becker and Kevin Curren in 1985.The the whole world watched as Becker, unseeded and the youngest ever winner of Wimbledon, overpowered Curren on that scorching day to win three sets to one. Becker was also the very first German to win Wimbledon, a fantastic achievement for the young Boris who was at that time only 17yrs old. I was in fact only a few months older and so could really appreciate the enormity of that moment for him. It was a tremendous victory enjoyed by everyone, as we celebrated and indulged in strawberries and champagne.
My early memories
Since an early age sport has always played a big part in my life. In my teens I played badminton for the county, I belonged to a running club and ran distance for my county. I also played alot of netball under the instruction of our netball coach who belonged to the England team and as you can imagine, expectations were always high. Apart from my younger brother we weren't particularly a sporting family more musical. We would all practise on our varying instruments at the probable disdain of our neighbours. My brother would be on his violin, squeeling out his newest notes, I strung my guitar day and night and my sisters practised on their recorders. Then one day, the newest edition to our orchestra arrived. It was a beautiful rosewood piano a gift from my uncle.He had acquired it from the Theatre Royal, Newcastle, where he worked for a number of years as the stage manager. We did try to keep this a secret from our neighbours, but soon realized this was an impossible task. It took a crane and five men to actually get it over our garden fence. I sheepishly explained to a neighbour that I'd just started taking piano lessons. I will not repeat her words, only to say that I concluded she wasn't particularly a music lover!
Although Wimbledon lasts for two weeks, the British press begins pounding the drums months in advance and why not. After all it is something we do very well. There is not another tournament in the world who describes itself as simply 'The Championships'. The Championships is the premier tennis tournament in the world because it is played at the club with its history,its royal connections and its traditions and protocols and it is also played on grass.
Merchandising started in the late seventies, as sponsorship had become a no go area at Wimbledon. Merchandising started in Japan. It all started there because of their huge interest in golf and the interest in that market had grown over the years. Also, if it all went wrong then people in the Uk would know nothing about it and it would not matter too much.The first merchandising in Japan was not just tennis items but also fashion. It was thought that tennis kit would have been too limiting and would have had very tough competition from the likes of Nike. It became a huge success and is now a solid revenue base.
The Tennis year
The tennis year, which also follows the calendar year starts with the Australian open. All the key people who run tennis tend to congregate at the Grand slams. The Australian Open is the youngest having started in 1905 and always has good attendance figures. After the Australian, the French Open follows. The French Open started in 1891 and up until 1924 it was called The French National Championships and was restricted to French players only. In 1925 it became the French Open. Two weeks after the French open Wimbledon finally begins.
All England Club
People tend to judge Wimbledon by the matches and the weather. They have little thought for the club as a whole and are obviously not privy to behind the scenes and the massive amount of organization it takes to put on such a worldwide interest event. The All England Club is very much a committee-driven organization. It has a club committee of twelve who all make the decisions relating purely to the Club. Then there are a number of Club sub-committees dealing with issues such as staff,fixtures,rules and courts.
Ticket price differentials on Centre Court were introduced in 1979. Similar to the theatre, the best seats were closest to the court. This has now been abolished and today dealing with ticket touts is a big issue.
The week before Wimbledon is the qualifying tournament which is when the seeding is done.Its method has changed over the years. The seeding used to be decided by the order of play sub-committee.It is now decided by how well the players do at Wimbledon the previous two years and at any other grass court event.
Tradition and innovation
There is a huge contrast at Wimbledon between maintaining tradition and leading on innovation in the landscaping and infrastructure of The All England Lawn Tennis Club. Maintaining status as the premier tennis tournament in the world has meant that each year there has been some form of alteration or improvement. Fifteen years ago for example, it would have been right to be weary of the appropriateness of a roof on Centre Court but that step forward has helped retain Wimbledon as the premier tournament in the world, and still on grass!
Proud to be British
What we surely need now is a British player good enough to go all the way and win Wimbledon, instead of waking up to headlines such as '..What is wrong with British tennis?..' . We have not had a female champion at Wimbledon since Virginia Wade in 1977 or a male since Fred Perry in in 1936!
Who knows maybe soon our chance to shine will come, we have been so close in recent years with the likes of Tim Henman and Andy Murray. In the meantime, we can be proud of hosting The tournament of the year with all its magic and tradition and still take pride in the fact that we attract worldwide interest in those two weeks we affectionately know as Wimbledon.