Tennis: Wimbledon '93: Allure of the weird and wonderful world that is 'Wimpleton': Bud Collins gives an American view of the mystique that has grown up around the All England Club lawns

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The Independent Online
WHY can't Americans say this word: Wimbledon?

This has puzzled linguistics experts for generations, and might even have flapped the unflappable Professor Higgins. During the fortnight, ask any of us at SW19 where we are, and the answer invariably will be: 'Wimpleton'. Only an American can find a non-existent P and T to insert, but I assure you this isn't a calculated slight or a neologistic act of lese-majeste.

Certainly not, because we colonials adore, uh, Wimple . . . I mean Wimbledon . . . and it may be that we're so awed by the Big W that we become tongue-twirled just uttering the name.

It doesn't happen with any of your other institutions. We don't refer to the Bard as Sharksperm, the Clock of Clocks as Big Bun, or the Circus as Picallilly. But Wimpleton or Wimbledon - the mystique throws us. Approaching this Vatican of the volley on Church Road, the Shangri- la of shot-making, the Camelot of crossed rackets, Americans seem to know what Chris Evert means. 'My most precious titles are the US Opens, because it's my country. But the most important, the most special, are my Wimbledons.'

California's Jack Kramer, champion in 1947, says: 'This Wimbledon allure for Americans is fairly recent. It didn't exist in my day when not many of us came over. But jets made the tournament accessible, and a must to play, and the live TV (from 1979) enhanced it.' Now, as the US anticipates a 15th edition of TV coverage, these are the most asked questions about Wimpleton/Wimbledon by Americans:

Q: Why is it played on grass, a surface as sympathetic to most players as the polls to Mr Major?

A: A provision in the Magna Carta requires it. Prince John, who despised the grass at Runnymede because it agitated his hay fever, objected, predicting accurately: 'Some day the damn stuff will be obsolete.' He was shouted down.

Q: Why is the 'predominantly white' clothing rule enforced?

A: It dates back to England's first prominent athlete, a jockey, Lady Godiva. As all could see, she was perfectly white, head to toe. In 1985 Anne White affected the same look in a body-stocking, and the couturier, Ted Tinling, declared this was a vision of championships yet to come. The unvisionary committee said, not yet, ruling it was too much White-in-white. They ordered the costume drawn and quartered at the Tower.

Q: Are the Duke and Duchess of Kent mothballed and left in the Royal Box from year to year? They look so timeless, so unchanged.

A: While the Palace refuses comment, it is known that Mr and Mrs Kent do have a personal trainer, a Mr Dorian Gray.

Q: Why does it always rain?

A: In the days before TV weathermen, nobody realised that the village of Wimbledon was located in the only tropical rainforest outside the tropics. However, tennis had been played for centuries at such roofed places as King Henry VIII's Hampton Court without atmospheric problems. If only the All England Clubbies had maintained the tournament indoors, heeding the sage observation of Henry himself: 'Never let the great games of the bedchamber and tennis chamber be hostage to cloudburstus interruptus.

Q: Although a statue honours the last known English male player, Fred Perry, why is there none citing his female counterpart, Virginia Wade? Is it sexist?

A: The Clubbies are aware of the discrepancy and characteristically are rushing plans to canonise Our Ginny in 2027. Fred had to wait 50 years, didn't he? Sexism at the AEC? Heavens, no. They also plan to offer equal prize-money in 2027 as a dual salute to Wade.

Q: Since playing on the middle Sunday in 1991 was such a roaring success, why hasn't it been repeated?

A: The Clubbies are somewhat suspicious of spontaneous, unplanned success, particularly when it accommodates the general public. But progressives within the AEC hint that it could happen again in 2027.

Q: Will a person of English birth ever win?

A: Yes. This will be part of the 2027 Gala.

Q: Is English football going the way of English tennis?

A: Don't be so bloody rude, Yanks. Just concentrate on trying to pronounce the shrine properly: Wimbledon. Not Wimpleton.

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