Why we Brits love Wimbledon so much
It's time to indulge in underdog victories, manicured lawns and non-stop coverage
The 2016 Wimbledon Championships are in full swing down in SW19 which means one thing is certain – we Brits are hoping for the best from Andy Murray.
The Scot was in imperious form at the French Open as he reached his first ever Roland Garros final. Alas, for all the confidence bred by his eye-catching semi-final victory over Stan Wawrinka, the 29-year-old was again beaten into submission by Novak Djokovic.
Will Murray add a second Wimbledon title to his 2013 triumph this year? Only time will tell.
What is clear is that we Brits have a deep love affair with the world’s oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament, no matter what happens.
We take a look at why…
That home fans happily queue for days and hours before paying exorbitant amounts for a couple of strawberries with a dash of cream ensures that stereotypical British eccentricity has maintained its worldwide reputation. Wimbledon fortnight beautifully highlights the last vestiges of upper-class snobbery with traditionalists heard muttering under their breath about the outlandish screams of encouragement from their lower class peers and the drunken revellers making the most of the hospitality tents.
Of course, the atmosphere never gets too raucous, it is Wimbledon after all. That being said, who can forget the streakers who steal their fifteen minutes of fame on the manicured lawns? Almost annually some adventurous soul evades the rather lax security to the jocular howls of ‘new balls please.’
For most of the year the Beeb lives off the sporting scraps left by its gluttonous commercial rivals, leaving the discerning licence payer with a choice between regional hand ball play-offs or, if you’re lucky enough to have the red button, East European synchronised swimming. All this changes though in June when Sue Barker is plucked from the hands of Harley Street’s chief Botox injectors and forced to mercilessly flirt on screen with anything that gets within three feet of her comfy chair in the glass-backed studio.
Yes, Wimbledon just wouldn’t be the same without the BBC and its obligatory channel swapping halfway through important rallies, tetchy background arguments between McEnroe and Becker, Pat Cash’s too-cool-for-school attitude and the ever so English inflection of Andrew Castle pretending he’s had himself a successful sporting career. The days of the understated elegance of John Barrett and Barry Davies seem to have been confined to the annals of history, while Virginia Wade clings to the annual hope that her contract won’t be ripped up.
Tennis coverage is moving with the times; the theme tune ‘Light and Tuneful’ may stay the same but now its accompanied by big, bold graphics, hawk-eye replays, snazzy montages and rolling coverage that makes you feel like you’re watching a sporting version of Big Brother. All this and still the Bafta nominations keep coming!
The underdog victory
The FA Cup may be renowned for its giant killing, but it is at Wimbledon that the underdogs have repeatedly upset the favourites and gone on to win the trophy. In 1985, an unseeded, seventeen year old West German walked through the wrought-iron gates of SW19 an unknown. Two weeks later the name Boris Becker reverberated around the world. His record as youngest ever Champion still stands strong and his penchant for diving around the court set the tone for an entire generation of players.
While Becker’s triumph signified the start of a terrific career Goran Ivanisevic’s success marked the archetypal fairy-tale ending. After three defeats in the final courtesy of Agassi (1992, 1994) and Sampras (1998), the big Croat gained a wildcard entry for the 2001 tournament. What followed next can only be described as damn-right swashbuckling! Despite wrecking hopes of a British success by defeating both Rusedski and Henman, Ivanisevic captured a nation’s heart with his nerve-racking success in the five set, thriller final against Pat Rafter.
It was a victory that emphasised all that is great about The Championships and proof to all nearly-men that perseverance pays. If further evidence were needed that early Wimbledon success seals reputations, then one need look no further than two of the biggest names in the game. In 2001 Roger Federer stunned defending Champion Pete Sampras on his way to a creditable quarter-final, while in 2004 Maria Sharapova, then 17, found a maturity on court that clashed distinctly with her tender age as she stormed to victory against the established Serena Williams. Granted, she’s now serving a ban for using illegal substances…woops.
Wimbledon’s beautifully manicured grass courts are the quintessential element of the historic tennis tournament. Where other Grand Slams have given into modernity and settled for man-made surfaces, the All England Club stands firm choosing to stubbornly defend its maintenance of nature’s carpet. Perfecting the courts 8mm blade length is a year round undertaking, requiring a tonne of seed, six million pints of water and 14 groundsmen.
It is a terrifically expensive and time-consuming process and not one without controversy. It was a well known fact that grass had a profound influence on playing style, with those who found success easy to come by on the slower, clay courts traditionally struggling with the pace at Wimbledon. For years the classic quick-fire, serve-volley tactic utilised by the likes of Sampras and Navratilova reigned supreme.
However, since a shift in the grass-growing recipe in 2001 the courts have slowed and firmed up, heralding a new era of baseline rallying. Initially brought about to increase the durability of the courts over the course of the fortnight, the new surface with its greater bounce has somewhat homogenised the style needed for success. The picturesque greenery looks set to stay and with it longer, more dramatic points.