Double fault as Beeb take semi-detached view

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The Independent Online
The enforced closure of the long-running Tim 'n' Greg Show on Black Thursday was a crushing blow for British fans, but an almighty relief to the BBC's schedulers. In years gone by the coincidence of a Test match and the latter stages of Wimbledon has not caused a problem: no Brits to be seen in the second week of the tennis, off we go to the cricket. But a Henman v Rusedski semi-final on Friday, with the cricket already dominating BBC2, would have meant curtains for the kids' stuff on BBC1. Not that the kids would have minded.

As things turned out Our Boys were unemployed on Friday and the Beeb unhesitatingly played the parochial card and stuck with the cricket all afternoon, reckoning that it was not worth inviting the wrath of the willow- wielders in order to show the Britless semis. Why show one Aussie (Woodbridge) being rolled over when you can show another (Warne) rolling over an entire team?

Coverage returned to SW19 with highlights of the Sampras v Woodbridge encounter, which was enlivened with whoops of joy from the commentators every time Woody played a decent shot. At first one assumed that these came from the summariser, Pat Cash, but on reflection they are more likely to have been produced by Barry Davies, whose utterly British affection for the underdog knows no bounds.

Once Woody had been chopped we expected to move straight on to live coverage of Michael Stich v Cedric Pioline, but first there was another little scheduling hiccup to be overcome. "Over now to Clive Anderson," Desmond Lynam announced, with a barely inclined eyebrow that indicated the unusual nature of the interruption.

"Welcome to A Weekend on Mars," the dome-headed former advocate said, as tennis fans all over the country choked on their Robinson's Barley Water. "Pathfinder has landed and we can now go live to Mission Control," where assorted geeks in headphones were embracing each other.

It was all most confusing. having juggled with the ticklish prioritising of cricket and tennis, the schedulers now had a giant leap forward in space exploration to factor into their calculations. Clearly, this was only fairly important, for in a moment or two Anderson was signing off with the phrase "now back to Planet Wimbledon", swiftly topped by Lynam's "and back down to earth".

And back to the live tennis, which would now run uninterrupted until the second semi-final was concluded, unless night fell or a group of Martians, returning the compliment, landed on Centre Court - where they would blend in perfectly with the surroundings if, as traditional accounts suggest, they were green.

There had already been one green-clad stellar visitor to the championships, when Chris Evert joined Sue Barker on Today At Wimbledon (BBC1) wearing a fetching lime-green number. Barker herself had chosen a pastel shade of orange for her ensemble that evening, and the pair of them looked like the last two sweets in a packet of sherbet Refreshers.

Inevitably, there was something of the girls' school reunion about this encounter, and Barker was inclined to giggle and gush, a tendency she has so far resisted this year after a crash course at the Lynam School of Cool. Evert gushed back: "Isn't this amazing - I remember you on court and now I come over here and you're the biggest star on television..." Luckily, before the girls could whip out the family photo albums, there was some tennis to discuss, and the small matter of Boris Becker's retirement from Grand Slams.

The key problem here, clearly, is that Boom-Boom is going Boing- Boing. "Every day I wake up and something else hurts," he said, and you had to sympathise. Becker has been a wonderful performer at Wimbledon and he deserves better than to wake up one morning and find that his arm has fallen off.

Evert recalled that in her case retirement was prompted by fatigue of the mind rather than the body: "Physically I could have gone on, but mentally I was out of steam." Her muscular resilience may have been something to do with her refuelling habits at Wimbledon: what with all the waiting around and the rain delays, she recalled, she would often put on a lot of weight over the course of the tournament, a case of piling up the points and piling on the pounds.

Barker was not averse to scoring points off Evert herself, something one suspects she finds easier in a television studio than she ever did on court. "What about the Americans this year?" she asked, with the closest to a smirk that her innocent features can manage. Evert was taken aback. "Let me see that face again," she responded, and Barker told her "It's the same face that you used to see at the other end of the court." Revenge, like Barker's habitual demeanour, is sweet.