TV View: Federer sucking diesel but Venus running on empty

Mary Hannigan: Old age was the theme for much of the weekend in the Wimbledon finals

US player Venus Williams  reacts as Spain’s Garbine Muguruza  as she celebrates winning the women’s singles final at Wimbledon. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

US player Venus Williams reacts as Spain’s Garbine Muguruza as she celebrates winning the women’s singles final at Wimbledon. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

 

Saturday at Wimbledon and Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King dropped in to say hello to Sue Barker before settling down for the first of the weekend’s finals, Sue informing them that the combined age of the more mature players in the men’s and women’s singles deciders was 72, which left both her visitors contemplating comebacks.

Old age, then, was the theme for much of the weekend, Venus Williams admirably stoic when the gist of the pre-final questions put to her were along the lines of “how can you even walk at 37, never mind reach a Wimbledon final?” “I don’t really think about my age,” she said, for possibly the 136th time over the fortnight.

Sue and Billie Jean, meanwhile, indulged in a little reminiscing to mark the 90th anniversary of the BBC broadcasting Wimbledon, both quick to stress that neither actually played in 1927, lest Venus’s interrogator ask.

“I wore an Afro in 1975,” said Billie Jean, explaining that it was the year of ‘black is beautiful’, so it was a statement about inclusion. “I just thought you had a bad hairdresser,” said an uncharacteristically rude Sue. Martina snorted with mirth.

There was more chuckling when John McEnroe turned up for duty, him surrounded by Sue, Billie Jean, Martina, Chris Evert, Tracy Austin, Annabel Croft, Sam(antha) Smith and Clare Balding, not a lad in sight. He opted not to speculate about what ranked boy player Venus or Garbine Muguruza would be capable of beating, which was probably wise.

Tribute

A zinger of a first set, a calamity of a second, Andrew Cotter left wondering if “age has caught up with Venus”. If she was feeling it, Muguruza’s tribute to her when she chatted with Sue after the match might not have helped. “I grew up watching her play . . . [pause] . . . sorry!”

“It was like her battery ran out,” Clare concluded, but come Sunday the other Golden Oldie, Roger Federer, appeared to have his fully charged. Maintaining the automotive theme, Boris Becker told us that “cars have five gears, Federer has 10”.

But Marin Cilic appeared to have none at all. “He’s falling apart a bit,” said Andrew Castle, who at least tried to be sympathetic when Cilic’s tears began to flow and the doctor was called out. Boris just opted to remind the poor fella how many people he’d let down if he retired. “Everybody in Croatia is on their feet! He needs to make all them all proud! And he SHOULD!”

When Andrew noted that “you want the ground to open up and swallow you at moments like this” you half feared Boris would ask “how the flip would you know?”, reminding Andrew that the farthest he’d got at Wimbledon was the second round in 1987.

Mind you, Andrew probably wouldn’t even have heard him, having taken a break from celeb-spotting in the Royal Box he was now focused on Cilic’s left foot which the doctor was tending to. “Tennis players’ feet are among the most horrible things on earth,” he informed us. “David Attenborough would be fascinated by them.” He wouldn’t Andrew, he wouldn’t.

Damp squib

A bit of a damp squib of a final, then, although watching the greatest tennis player of all time win a bewildering eighth Wimbledon title without dropping a set after taking six months off kind of made up for it. The most golden of oldies.

But the weekend’s best match was probably the men’s wheelchair doubles final, British pair Gordon Reid and Alfie Hewett beating Stephane Houdet and Nicolas Peifer of France to retain their title. Reid probably produced the best Wimbledon quote too when he told his partner that “the only thing bigger than your ego is my backhand”.

Some of the rallies were simply phenomenal, as veteran player Peter Norfolk explained, “It’s like a game of chess, you’re always having to think two or three moves ahead”. Steve Brown, who made his name playing wheelchair rugby but is a dab hand at tennis too, welcomed the profile given to the event by the BBC this year, reckoning it helps “all round with attitudes towards disability”.

“I do everything you do,” he said, “I just can’t walk. I play tennis too. I just do it sitting down.”

Simple as that.

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