Television / Land of hope and glory

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The Independent Culture
WIMBLEDON '93, Day 2, and we're off to a great start at midday with a punchy little profile of the American, Jennifer Capriati - lots of pumped-up pop music and glamorous slowed-down images of her disembarking from a private jet, pushing through an airport with flashbulbs bouncing around her. 'Right,' said Des Lynam when it finished. 'Let's go over to Court No 2 where Capriati faces Britain's Shirli-Ann Siddall.'

Just like that. No footage of Ms Siddall's childhood in Bournemouth, no slow-motion pictures of her arriving at the ground that morning on the bus, or whatever. No big introduction - just over to the court. These really are dog days for British tennis. Even the BBC's Wimbledon coverage - the last bastion of optimism, the final home of absurd faith in the frankly risible, the one remaining Church of Jeremy Bates - has grown sceptical about it.

You weren't surprised to see Capriati looking untroubled when Siddall took the first set. (Presumably she realised she could carry her warm-up routine deep into the match, before turning the screw.) The fact that it didn't for a minute fool Anne Jones in the commentary box was a sure sign that things are in a parlous state.

In the past, if a British player took so much as a point (let alone a set) off a seeded big-wig, we'd immediately get slow-motion replays from all available angles, a statistical breakdown and mathematical analysis establishing the likelihood of this ever happening again (almost nil), and then a cut-away to the news room where the story would be re-told in a minute-long bulletin from Moira Stewart. Now we get Jones bleakly remarking - even before the inevitable score- reversal - 'She's nothing to lose. She might as well go for it.' 'British hopeful' is not a phrase you hear around tennis any more. We've given up hopefuls.

Siddall went out, Bates went out, Jo Durie went out. Only Des Lynam stayed in. Luckily for us, he's in the studio 'hot seat' this year, though that's entirely the wrong word in his case. Lynam enters an eight-hour stint of live television like someone who's spent the last few hours before broadcast relaxing in a fridge. When we went out to Court 14, our commentators Barry Davies and Mark Cox were still making their way through the crowds or stuck in the strawberry tent or somewhere, so Lynam had a dead minute to fill, and with nothing to describe except a shot of Jeremy Bates digging around in his kitbag for a racket. 'Let's have a look at the Centre Court schedule,' he said, barely drawing breath. 'Personally, I'm looking forward to Becker against Goellner . . .' The seconds melted away.

The manner in which the coverage is distributed across the two channels is, as ever, nearly faultless. However, for three extraordinary minutes yesterday, with some 16 courts to choose from, both channels were screening Jeremy Bates. Meanwhile, Pete Sampras was on Court 1, but there was nothing you could do about it. It was like being at Disney World and only being able to play on a roundabout in the car-park.