Tennis: Old and new combine to lay on a feast: Wimbledon is having a vintage year. Ian Tasker looks at the unique atmosphere of the world's greatest tennis tournament

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The Independent Online
WHO needs champagne and Pimms? Mix a slice of Olhovskiy, a dash of Bates, throw in some zest of Ivanisevic (serve not shaken), add a stream of classic McEnroe magic and vitriol, fizz it all up with some, sshh. . . you know what, from Seles and enjoy with a shot of Becker on the rocks. Whatever the outcome of this weekend's finals, and despite a bit of late watering down, Wimbledon '92 has been a vintage year.

Burnished on the vine by a benevolent sun - that bade farewell to SW19 at just about the same time as Jeremy Bates - the Championships have celebrated some old friends and created some new heroes, their names now forever intertwined in the Virginia Creeper that wraps the Centre Court in warm nostalgia.

Andrei Olhovskiy, the unseeded qualifier who defeated the world No 1, Jim Courier, and Bates, the British No 1 who kept the union flag flying longer than perhaps even he thought possible, have earned their induction into the Wimbledon hall of fame while John McEnroe, Pat Cash and Martina Navratilova offered a glimpse of all that was good from the past.

The Centre Court has also risen in standing ovation to some even older heroes, the pairings of John Newcombe and Tony Roche and Bob Hewitt and Frew McMillan almost bringing the house down during a hugely entertaining Over-45 Gentlemen's Doubles. Perhaps the likes of Bates and Olhovskiy can still be milking their acclaim in 25 years' time.

The attraction of these old, historic courts, still predominantly green, is that while they continue to reverberate to the promise of the future they also echo with the deeds of the past. It is this mixture of tradition and the business of modern sport that makes the Championships such a unique event.

Even the colourful Las Vegan, Andre Agassi, has come under its spell. 'Being in the semi-final here is like making the final anywhere else,' he said. 'I can't find the words to describe it.'

John Newcombe, of course, has seen it all before. 'Newc', the last amateur champion in 1967 and the second professional in 1970 and 1971, is also under the spell of the Centre Court.

'I can still enjoy just sitting on Centre Court even when it's empty,' Newcombe said. 'I can close my eyes. . .'

And remember. His first time on Centre Court in 1961 in a doubles match with Alan Mills, now Wimbledon referee, one of those on the other side of the net; his first Wimbledon title - a doubles crown with Tony Roche in 1965 and his first singles title in 1967.

'It was against the German, Wilhelm Bungert,' Newcombe said. 'Everybody said I'd be really nervous but I got on court and hit up, no problem. Then when the umpire said 'ready, play' I put my hands out to serve and they were shaking like a leaf. . . I lost my first service game as a result.'

He did not lose too many others, though, romping thought the final in 71 minutes, wrapping up his first title 6-3, 6-1, 6-1.

'The atmosphere on Centre Court is amazing,' Newcombe said. 'Because it's completely enclosed, the noise and electricity comes down on to the court so you have the roar and it goes inside your body, to the pit of your stomach. This can be used in a positive way or it can be negative. I had different experiences there over the years. Sometimes you can have a period when everything goes wrong and you don't realise you're getting caught.

'When I beat Ken (Rosewall) in my second final in 1970, in the fourth set, I was like a big steamroller, pushing him down, and I was suddenly aware that the crowd wanted him to win. They picked him up off the floor and I lost five games in a row and found myself in a fifth set.

'I thought 'why do they hate me' and I let it upset me. So then I asked myself 'how badly do I want to win this' and I steadied myself and played an unbelievable fifth set to win 6-1, and I managed totally to block the crowd from my mind. It was just a player and a tennis ball.'

Newcombe picked up just pounds 3,000 for that victory, tomorrow's winner will bank pounds 265,000, but the ever-popular Australian, now 46, believes that despite all that has changed in his sport, Wimbledon itself has not.

'It's still the same,' he said. 'The outside might have changed but the inside is the same. In my first days in the early 1960s people were still sleeping outside, maybe not so much as now, but the atmosphere is still the same.'

There are still great matches and great Wimbledons too. This one for instance. 'It's helped that both the women's and the men's have had many possibilites of who's going to win,' Newcombe said.

'The Cash-McEnroe match was a highlight this year and so was Courier losing - I thought he was going to do better than that. Stich losing so easily, that was also a big surprise.

'The men have been so dominated for the last seven years by Becker and Edberg, but now I think the ones underneath them are for real. Before we thought they might, now we know they can.'

The best Wimbledon of recent years? Maybe, but Newcombe prefers 1985 - Becker's first year. 'That was absolutely stunning,' he said 'A 17-year-old and the way he did it. The thrill of the combat. It would be nice to see him back enjoying himself like he did then.'

The moustachioed old timer (he only once shaved off his trademark 'in 1973, in Teheran, at 4am, and don't ask me why') has only one regret - the decline of the doubles.

'Hewitt and McMillan were a great pair,' Newcombe said, 'but they were only judged to be great because they had Roche and Newcombe, and Laver and Emerson, and Stolle and Rosewall to play against. Everyone could see they were just as good as all of us great singles players. Look at Leach and Pugh. Nobody knows how good they were because they never played top singles players.'

'I think it's great that McEnroe and Stich are playing doubles this year. Can you imagine if they were playing against Edberg and Becker. Nobody would leave.'

Just about everybody would be happy to drink to that.

(Photograph omitted)

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