Captain Agassi is dressed to thrill

Tim Glover says Royals may not be amused by Centre Court's rear view
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The Independent Online
When Queen Mary sat in the heart of the Royal Box, a blanket draped over her lap, she reminded the All England Club that while she was on the throne she did not expect to see any lady player on court without stockings. Etiquette may have changed in the past 60 years but goodness only knows what she would have made of Andre Agassi.

Yesterday on the Centre Court the American looked a picture. It is not simply that he walks a bit like Jemima Puddleduck but he insists on dressing like an extra from the Pirates of Penzance. The beard and the earring add the final touches.

The Royal Box, of course, affords a close view of the action but sometimes you wonder if it is strategically placed. Yesterday, for example, there was the uneasy feeling that when Agassi was receiving serve he presented a sight to the great and the good that was distinctly reminiscent of an orang-utang. Indeed, the point that Agassi appears to wear transparent shorts was put to him earlier in the week and he responded by implying that it was the questioner who could be seen through.

After he had defeated Jacco Eltingh in straight sets in the quarter-finals, Agassi said he read an article which described him as "short, fat, bald and ugly". Somebody pointed out that last year in a survey he was the "most fanciable player" but this year he was not in the top four. "Maybe that article is right, huh?" Agassi said.

He may look unorthodox but his tennis is dynamic and there is another reason why he is popular with the crowd. Unlike some previous champions from across the water he actually reveres Wimbledon. "This is the greatest," he said. "If you can win only one this is it. It has the most history, the most tradition."

Agassi is quite right, of course, and the focus of most of the attention is the Centre Court. One of the great arenas in sport, it is tennis's answer to the Old Bailey as a court of suspense, drama and retribution although it looks more like the Globe Theatre. Bombs hit the Centre Court during World War Two but it never closed. Members of the armed forces played tennis and guttering and scrap from the court was used to build sties for pigs at the All England Club.

Barely a year passes without some refinement but the most dramatic conversion took place in 1922 when Stanley Peach designed a court to take 10,000 spectators seated and another 3,600 standing. A disc of white paper the size of a farthing was placed on the grass and it could be seen from every seat. The court was situated so that no shadow could appear until 7pm. The turf came from Cumberland and that ivy on the walls? An amphilopsis creeper.

In 1990, following the Hillsborough disaster, the Club was reluctantly forced to abandon the standing room so beloved of the young, the noisy and the eccentric. These were the same people who bombarded the court with cushions and anything else after a doubles match was halted at 9.35 because of bad light. Two years ago the club unveiled its 20-year "master plan" for "tennis in an English garden". The first stage, the construction of a new Court One, is under way and when they get round to the Centre it will have an extra 800 seats. The cranes currently hovering over the grounds are, of course, painted white.

Queen Mary and her party used to sit in green whicker chairs and in that respect tradition has been maintained. Now, though, if the Duchess of Kent misses a point she can watch the replay on a television built into the front of the Royal Box.

If anyone plans to invade Britain, Wimbledon fortnight would be a good time to do it. It seems that most of the armed services are on duty including some of the largest Wrens in existence. Not only does this sometimes give the impression to the spectator of being in a court martial but it enables members of the services to get a good view.

Security, in fact, is still intense and it is understood that for two weeks the Met Police take over the top floors of flats in two tower blocks that overlook the grounds. The theory is that they could offer a sniper a clear view of the Royal Box.

Not everybody, of course, appreciates the attention of so many uniforms. The touts, certainly, and also one Walt Landers. A member of team Agassi, he vacated his seat on the Centre yesterday and they would not allow him back in. Walt, who was dressed identically to Agassi, even down to the earring, could not understand it. "It's like talking to the wall," he said. Even the walls around the Centre Court have ears.