Wimbledon's No 1 seat
Andrew Castle, the BBC's tennis commentator, is in the midst of his sixth year courtside at the Wimbledon championships. Castle, a former British number one player himself, has covered four men's singles finals. He tells Ian Burrell the secrets of his favourite commentary box
Monday 02 July 2007
I don't need the score, I've got that already on the computer screen to my right. But the scoreboard does tell you the match time and the time of day. I will note that at around 3:45pm my kids are coming home from school and the house goes into mayhem, and around the country everyone is tuning in and it's time to give an update. Then at 5.30pm-6pm, people are coming back from work. I keep in mind what will be going on in people's homes because we are just a box in the corner of the room, there for entertainment.
That's The 2007 Official Guide to Professional Tennis and it has everything in it to do with tennis; full details of everybody, their records in grand slams, the history of the events and the prize-money. It's a bible for all commentators. Every sport has a media guide. It's the first thing in the briefcase in the morning and if you forget that then you need to steal one.
I use what I call a "Madonna mic". It leaves you with two free hands. The downside is that unlike the lip mic, which you can take away from your face if you are not going to say anything, or bring it up to your mouth if you are going to speak, the Madonna mic is always there and generally it's always on. So you have to use hand signals and eye contact in the commentary box, where I'm generally working with John McEnroe and John Lloyd. Once you've worked a few times with people you develop a chemistry.
I sit at my computer in the morning and gather my notes. I put down as many details on as many subjects as I think may be necessary. Everything from age, ranking, ranking history, strengths and weaknesses as I see them, a record on every surface, and biographical information. Even details of the player's racket string tension. Also personal notes: anecdotes, family, schooling. Most of it won't get used but it's there. Linus in the cartoon strip Peanuts has a blanket, I have my notes.
THE COMMENTARY BOX
I can't stress enough how lovely it is as a workplace. It's gorgeous. You will not find a better-positioned or better-equipped commentary box anywhere in the world. We are pretty much at court level, which is ideal. You are with the play, you are feeling the spin, you're feeling the pace. You're feeling when somebody is tired and when somebody is emotional. One or two serves come right at us, wide on the right court. At court level you feel it more than when you are looking down. At the US Open you are up with God himself and you end up, half the time, doing it off a monitor.
We have 18 cameras on centre court. It's a lot, isn't it? Sometimes I will ask for things, for instance, the way we followed Rafael Nadal the other day. One of the things that marks him out as one of the most amazing players I have ever seen is that his footwork is second to none. So we got the baseline camera to just focus on his feet.
THE CONTROL BOX
This is perhaps the most important thing of all, apart from the view of the court. It allows me to hear from my director, Paul Davies, the BBC's executive producer of tennis and golf. He is the best sports director I've ever worked with. He comes through to me with directions as to where we might be going next. If I want to do a cut-away to something I've seen in the crowd or outside to Henman Hill, then he will get one of the cameramen to offer it. I've got a green button on that box where I go directly to him and the commentary can't be heard. Of course I can hear him at all times in my cans. There is another button, the Hawkeye, which connects to people downstairs who have equipment that can tell whether a ball was in or out, the height of the bounce, how long it took for the serve to reach the receiver and even, in animated form, the trajectory that the ball took. It's a remarkable tool.
If you look down onto this glass-topped table, there are two monitors underneath that show the transmission, the pictures that are going out. As lead commentator, when I look across to speak to the two Johns [McEnroe and Lloyd], there is another monitor behind them showing the play, which is useful, because I can simultaneously make eye contact with them and see what is happening on court.
Tim Henman on centre court, in fact on every court in Britain, tends to produce a carnival atmosphere. He is the darling of middle Britain, and has earned that over the years with some great performances. He is a four times semi-finalist here, a semi-finalist at the French Open and the Australian Open, and an Olympic silver medallist – you are watching a world class player. It has been very interesting to observe him this year, at 32 years of age, bring his creative ability on the court against people who are stronger and younger. His 10th set in four days proved a little too much. It's a shame he went out. I was deflated by it. But you must maintain impartiality to a degree, and Feliciano Lopez deserved to win.
THE ROYAL BOX
This is a place I need to keep an eye on. Today we had Sir Craig Reedie of the British Olympic Association up there. He was instrumental in bringing the Olympic Games to Britain. The Duke of Kent was also up there. Tim Phillips, the chairman of the All England Club, is there every day in the front row. All this information is good if you want to have a little drift from the tennis temporarily. We know who is going to be in the royal box: it is passed on to the BBC office in the morning.
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