A service to all Wimbledon withdrawal sufferers

`I heard someone commit a few double faults; it sounded like obscenities being bleeped out'
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The Independent Culture
I AM doing a public service today by talking about tennis. After Wimbledon everyone goes tennis mad - the tennis courts of this land are jam packed by people inspired by the sight of so much quality on TV - and yet the odd thing is that tennis coverage in the media drops to zero at the very time people have become most tennis-conscious.

I speak as someone who has only been to Wimbledon once, and that was three weeks before the tournament started. This did give me the chance to see Wimbledon as it is most of the year round - completely empty except for the odd man on a lawnmower chugging up and down in the distance like a lone yacht in the Solent.

That remains my image of the real Wimbledon, so I always get a slight shock when I turn on the television at Wimbledon time and see all these people there, these day trippers. I imagine the men with the lawnmowers feel much the same, seeing these horrible big tennis players come along and muck up their nice new grass. I don't suppose any of the Wimbledon turf maintenance staff ever turn up for the tennis. It would be too painful for them, especially watching that spot just behind the base line where people serve, getting worn down to the bare earth.

It was very clever of the tennis people to make players serve from behind the line, because the worn patch is thus outside the field of play and cannot be blamed for bad bounces. This is not true in cricket, where bowlers and umpires are constantly inspecting the marks of the run-through on to the pitch, like old men at the Chelsea Flower Show. If someone were inventing cricket now, they would never have bowlers bowling from the same place the batsman stands. Just a thought.

But even if I have never paid to enter, I am an idle TV viewer of Wimbledon. And this year, as I idly viewed, I noticed a couple of things I had never noticed before. One is the noise of the machine which registers a service fault. Have you noticed this? There's a high, loud bleep when the ball does something it's not meant to do. And - this is the important thing - it's very like the bleep that nervous broadcasters use to replace rude words. I turned on Wimbledon and heard someone committing a few double faults - it sounded like a row of obscenities being bleeped out.

I wonder, by the way, if anyone has ever perfected an imitation of this bleep and incorporated it into their own conversation, to use instead of swear words? I remember Peter Ustinov revealing that he had learnt how to imitate the sound of the metal detector arch through which we pass in security-conscious airports. He would pass through, make the noise, and get searched. Then he would be made to go through again, and would make the noise again, as many times as was necessary to baffle the body- searchers. Ustinov, of all people, could try adopting the obscenity bleep. Just a thought.

The other thing I noticed was that on days when it rains they sometimes show classic matches from the past, and on one such occasion, with Anne Jones playing Billy Jean King, I realised that they did something that no top tennis player ever does any more. Namely, they took both balls before serving, held both in the left hand, tossed up one to serve with and - if the first serve was in - held the other in the left hand during the subsequent rally. Nobody does that any more. Why not? Because, I guess, you can hardly play a two-fisted backhand when you've got a ball in one hand.

But this was also the first year in which the TV coverage decided to give us copious shots of the screen that gives a read-out of the speed of the last service. Over the years, the TV coverage of all sports has become tediously and grindingly fond of statistics. Territorial possession: Wales 55 per cent, England 45 per cent, we read. Shots atgoal, 3. Double faults: Sampras 1, Agassi 0. (I actually read that footling announcement this year). Greg Rusedski, 109.8 mph. I mean, who cares?

Well, I do actually. I want one of those speed-measuring machines. I want it badly. We live in one of those villages where people come through at tremendous speed, and the police don't do anything about it because nobody's been killed yet, so if anyone out there knows how to get hold of any speed-measuring device, or has an old police gadget they don't want, then PLEASE...

A reader writes: Dear Mr Kington, This article isn't about tennis at all, is it? It's just a blatant excuse for you to use your position to acquire a speed-measuring device somehow, isn't it?

Miles Kington writes: It certainly is. Let's hope it pays off.

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