Federer is one for all the Wimbledon ages
SIDELINE CUT:Wimbledon seems to exist in a time warp, the ball boys still wear that deep purple garb, the big score boards look the same and the players still wear the all whites, writes KEITH DUGGAN
IVAN LENDL at Wimbledon and The Stone Roses touring the land: it’s like 1989 all over again. The annual tennis bash at Wimbledon is nothing if not a barometer of national nostalgia and more than one casual observer over the past fortnight has observed that the place is not as sunny as it used to be.
In the mind’s eye, the Wimbledon eras of Navratilova and McEnroe are always glazed in golden English sunshine and the eternal end to end games between Becker and Lendl or Graf and Seles were also played out on brilliantly dry July afternoons. At least that is how it is remembered. Even for people who never watch Wimbledon, in this sodden part of the world, the steady thwack of tennis balls at Wimbledon has become one of the last reliable sounds of summer.
Wimbledon seems to exist in a time warp. Nothing changes. The umpires still sound as if they just found something unspeakable crawling in their salad. The ball boys still wear that deep purple garb and behave immaculately. Those big scoreboards look the same, the players still wear the all whites and best of all, the BBC still manage to make an Arthurian quest of the summer obsession with finding a British champion to bridge the indecently long gap since Fred Perry bestrode the Wimbledon tournament during the salad days of 1934, ’35 and ’36.
What a curious place Perry holds in English sporting culture: for years, his name was little more than a clothing label favoured by the bovver boys who stalked the terraces of football grounds. But he was also one of the most fascinating athletes the country ever produced and even though they unveiled a bust in his memory at Wimbledon in the 1980s, it is rarely mentioned that he took up American citizenship shortly after his successes, fought for the US airforce in the second World War and romanced several of Hollywood’s leading ladies, including Marlene Dietrich. He was the Beckham of his day – except better fun. But Perry always had a complicated relationship with his homeland: even his friend Dan Maskell – the voice of Wimbledon – admitted Perry was “not typically British.”
That is no matter: nowadays he has become the embodiment of everything that England has lost in terms of tennis. The idea that England – or indeed Great Britain, with its half-baked climate and the fact tennis is the sport of the privileged rather than the masses – should be producing Wimbledon champions is a wilful delusion the Englanders who flock to SW19 wilfully indulge.
True, tennis remains a fringe sport in the United States as well – it is no coincidence that McEnroe and Andre Agassi all grew up playing in the gentrified tennis clubs of John Cheever country. But through population alone, the Americans are always going to have a chance to dominate. And if not an American, then an Australian or a bewilderingly complete player like Novak Djokovic will emerge from the tennis academies of the old East to enjoy a period of domination.
The emergence of Tim Henman and Andy Murray as credible challengers for major titles has been a happy miracle in recent years and the pressure on both men to claim a big tournament win has followed them like a black dog.