Tennis: Queen's - a right royal event

ASK SOME Scotch whisky enthusiasts to name their favourite malt and they won't pick Glenfiddich or Glenmorangie, because that's what everybody says. They will refer you to a peaty Hebridean malt, usually called something like Old Sheep Dropping. Well, the Stella Artois tournament at Queen's Club is in some ways the Old Sheep Dropping of tennis.

Not that it's the slightest bit obscure. But if someone tells you that they prefer Queen's to Wimbledon - that the grass courts there are harder and truer, the spectators less effusive but more knowing, the event not so tainted by commercialism - then you can be sure you are talking to a real cognoscento.

For the rest of us the Stella Artois owes its significance principally to its place in the calendar. The top players use it to hone their grass- court game for Wimbledon, for which it serves as a useful form guide. A successful run at Queen's often prefaces a good Wimbledon, never more so than in 1985 when the unknown 17-year-old Boris Becker beat Johann Kriek in the final. Kriek said afterwards that Becker might go on to greater glory in SW19. The wiseacres scoffed. Queen's was one thing, Wimbledon quite another. But three weeks later they were served up their words with knobs on, to go with the strawberries and cream.

I was at Queen's on Friday watching Greg Rusedski lose his quarter-final to Sargis Sargsian, the world No 74 from Armenia. Sargsian, the press were informed, is capable of solving the Rubik's Cube in three minutes - suggesting, if nothing else, that Armenia is the only place on earth where people still have Rubik's Cubes. More significantly, he played tennis like an angel, making a mockery of his world ranking. Even though he was well-beaten by Tim Henman in yesterday's rain-delayed semi-final he might be worth an each-way punt for Wimbledon.

There is some ambiguous documentation, incidentally, to suggest that in 1895 the Queen's Club was offered the chance to buy the All-England Club at Wimbledon for pounds 30,000. Even now venerable All-England Club types dismiss this as tommyrot verging on poppycock, as if the very notion somehow diminishes the sanctity of the place. Nevertheless, it is a fact that Queen's was thriving at the turn of the century whereas Wimbledon was in decline. I know this because, to my wife's bewilderment, I took the trouble over the weekend to read much of a 300-page official club history, and very fascinating it was, too.

Queen's was built on the former estate of the Palliser family, who made their fortune, according to the book, from the manufacture of "armour- piercing projectiles to be used against the navies of Her Majesty's enemies". They'd have liked Rusedski. "Oooh I say, that armour-piercing projectile went like an absolute bullet," as 19th century military commentators used to say.

Which brings me to the late Dan Maskell. For although Queen Victoria, in whose honour the club was named, was not noted for her backhand slice, my colleague John Roberts tells me that Maskell coached Victoria's great- great-great-grand-daughter, Princess Anne, and often remarked that if she hadn't been so horsey she would have made a first-rate tennis player.

Anyway, one of the founding fathers of Queen's was W H Grenfell, later Lord Besborough, who left Balliol College, Oxford, with a first, and was also a classy cricketer and athlete. Moreover, he twice swam Niagara, caught giant tarpon off Florida, rowed a skiff across the Channel, climbed the Matterhorn and, adds the book, "was once chased by a mad elephant and then by dervishes in the Sudan". He also won punting and fencing titles, and was president of both the LTA and the MCC. To think that we used to call Ian Botham an all-rounder.

Besborough died in the mid-1950s, some years short of his beloved club's finest hour. In 1984, John McEnroe won at Queen's and returned a week or so later to practice for Wimbledon, which he subsequently won. Unfortunately the imperious wife of the then-chairman had booked the same court. "I'm frightfully sorry, young man, but this court is taken," said the chairman's wife, or words to that effect. "Sod off," said McEnroe - or words to that effect.

He was banned from Queen's forthwith, but a few years later there was a reconciliation and after his first match back, McEnroe consented to be interviewed. The interview room was one of the club's squash courts. "There were 125 journalists, seven TV crews and two rows of photographers in that squash court, the atmosphere was absolutely electric," recalls the tournament"s media director, Jolyon Armstrong. But then along came the chairman's wife again. "So sorry everyone, I'm afraid this court is booked," she said. Actually, I'm making that last bit up. But it would have been frightfully apt. Frightfully Queen's.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk