Tennis: Sing-a-long Cliff steps out of the shadows

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The Independent Online
They came to see a triumphant display at Wimbledon yesterday from the man whose youthful features disguise his age. There was to be no disappointment.

While Tim Henman was drumming his fingers in the locker rooms during a long break for rain, the Centre Court was reverberating to a different rhythm as Sir Cliff Richard kept the troops amused with a selection of his hits from the stands. It was the finest British performance on Wimbledon quarter-finals day since the teeny-boppers saw their beloved Bjorn Borg succumb to Roger Taylor in 1973.

Sir Cliff, born almost 56 years ago as the rather plainer Harry Roger Webb, was booked at short notice by Chris Gorringe, the secretary of the All England Club, when a squall sent Pete Sampras and Richard Krajicek from the Centre Court. The singer knighted for his service to music had been pressed into a tennis service. "I never thought I would play Centre Court," he said.

The last time Sir Cliff had appeared at a major sporting event was at the Rugby League Challenge Cup final when he remarked, rather strangely: "Rugby League is the new rock and roll." On this occasion the Shadows were nowhere to be seen and our entertainer had to settle for a new backing group, including the former champions Virginia Wade, Conchita Martinez and Martina Navratilova. The tunes may not all have been to Martina's taste, as her preferred music is provided by Hothouse Flowers and Arrested Development.

Sir Cliff is a tennis fan of long standing, and founded the Cliff Richard Tennis Trail to unearth young British players. While the nation's brightest new talent never got out of his changing area, Henman will have heard the medley outside.