Going potty over the Centre Court pirate

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The Independent Online
No sooner had a wild-eyed woman burst into her husband's press conference to confess that she had just given an umpire a severe handbagging, than it was on to Centre Court for further evidence that a combination of Wimbledon, and week-long temperatures which would have made a lizard think twice about venturing outdoors without a hat, has sent everyone mildly deranged.

A shortish man, bearing such a striking resemblance to a Barbary Coast pirate that it was a touch surprising to see him toting a tennis racket rather than a cutlass, walked on to a lawn wearing a pair of shorts apparently hewn from a sponsored marquee, and what appeared to be a pair of ladies' knickers on his head. At which point, 13,000 people leapt to their feet and went absolutely potty.

It was as hard to fathom why this should be, as it was to glance across at his actress girlfriend, Brooke Shields, and imagine what the reaction might have been had Andre Agassi been similiarly attired when she first took him home to meet mother.

The only mental picture that came to mind was of Brooke attending to the horizontal Mrs Shields with a bottle of smelling salts, and whispering: "There, there, mom, he's actually quite sweet. He's got a few bob as well."

In tennis prize-money alone Agassi has won getting on for $10m, and it's probably safe to speculate that the matching rings he and Miss Shields have been wearing this week were not plucked from Ratners' economy range.

Neither did Brooke feel inclined to approach the umpire and use hers as a knuckleduster on Saturday after Andre left the court a four-set winner over his American compatriot, David Wheaton.

When Wheaton lost the opening set, he paused for reflection in his chair, whipped off his white cap, and replaced it with a Stars and Stripes bandana. Wheaton was probably thinking: If the patriotic headgear can work for Greg Rusedksi, why not me? He promptly won the second set.

Agassi, on the other hand, has become the world's most popular tennis player with a game and a charisma which transcends nationalistic boundaries. He has, he says, been "getting a kick" out of Rusedski's rapid conversion from Canadian to true Brit with the Union Jack headband. "He's using words like "brilliant" and "lovely" Agassi observed earlier in the week.

Most of us, Agassi included most probably, are now wondering whether Greg's next appearance on Centre Court today will include making his entrance in a Noel Coward smoking jacket, and ordering pots of tea and cucumber sandwiches during change-overs. Maybe he'll change his name. Gregory St John Rusedski-Smythe has a nice ring to it.

Agassi, of Armenian descent, has already thought of that one, and while Agassian to Agassi is not the most comprehensive change of name in United States' history (Marian Morrison to John Wayne takes a bit of beating) the objective was to make him sound more "American''.

The objective behind the headgear is that something on top apparently makes him feel more businesslike (in which case Greg might try a bowler hat this afternoon) and also prevents sunburn. The latter is not hard to believe, as he has now taken the razor to his scalp as well as his chest, although the charlady's cloth idea may just conceivably have been conceived at a marketing meeting as opposed to reading the weather forecast.

Currently, there is no one more marketable in tennis than Agassi and, having learned how to adapt on a surface hardly suited to his baseline game, he has also learned how to hit crosscourt winners when facing the big servers in the media room.

"Are there wedding bells in the air?" Smile. "I think we are getting a bit carried away here". Love 15. " Brooke said she would like to get married when she's 30. She's 30." Smile. "She said that to you? She's never said that to me." Love 30. "Do you remember your first kiss?" Smile again. "Throw out the bait and hope I bite, huh?" Love 40.

On court, game set and match to Agassi, along with Rusedski making it through to the second week, is a godsend for Wimbledon, in that the professional game is held to be dangerously short of interesting characters.

However, the women's tour is overflowing with them, as a glance at the current player newsletter will instantly confirm. Try if you can to contain your excitement at the following list of riveting information.

Marianne Werdel Witmeyer has a sister, Hilary, who is an art student in Pasadena, and last week took her mother-in-law to see Sunset Boulevard. Among the bookworms are Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, currently reading La Ciudad de la Alegria, Mrs Witmeyer has her nose into The Bastard and Pam Shriver's literary preference is listed as "newspapers".

Yayuk Basuki is "eating out at Dino's every night", Gabriela Sabatini has made her "first ever visit to Piccadilly Circus", and it's been so hot that "Debbie Graham has had to go shopping to buy some shorts." Interesting? Steve Davis isn't in the frame.

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