Tennis: Wimbledon '94 / Familiar names playing in slow motion: Age has withered them a little bit. Martin Johnson on the world of the fortysomethings

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The Independent Online
EVEN without Monica Seles, Wimbledon's lawns have not entirely been a grunt- free zone, although the noises coming from Court 14 yesterday had less to do with the aaaggh behind a teenage forehand, as the urrrgh from competitors who have reached an age when even walking the dog around the block is liable to promote a bodily protest.

This was the over-45 invitation doubles, an event for men who can remember the days when it was traditional for winners to jump over the net, but who would now require the assistance of a pair of stepladders, or in some cases a forklift truck. While Becker reserves his physiotherapy sessions for toilet breaks, these guys could do with them between points.

Roger Taylor, who reached the men's singles semi-final (beating the teenage Bjorn Borg en route) in 1973, is now 52, and the combined age of the four competitors - 203 - was 176 years older than the female umpire assigned to take charge of the match.

Unknown, perhaps, to 27-year- old Fiona Edwards, she was in turn being watched over by an older man - an umpiring assessor. According to his sheet, the type of quality he was looking for included 'peripheral awareness', 'image' and 'presence', although the first note on his pad was a trifle curious.

'Pleasant voice (woman),' he had scribbled, as though a) no one with a grating Brummie accent will ever make Centre Court or b) that the recipient of his report might otherwise have been unaware of the gender of someone called Fiona.

The pencilled notes also congratulated her on passing the Wimbledon umpires' eyesight test, which is far less concerned with spotting whether the balls are in or out, than whether players are wearing illegal shirts.

On Monday, a 14-year-old schoolgirl and a men's over-35 competitor both had their collars felt for infringing the 'predominantly white' rule, and yesterday's game was delayed for 10 minutes after one of Taylor's sponsorship logos had sneakily moved from his sleeve (legal) to his shoulder blade area (not legal).

After removing the offending garment, Taylor threatened to throw it, Agassi-style, into the crowd. In his day, Taylor was as big a heart-throb as Agassi, but yesterday he played it purely for laughs. He was eventually brought a shirt that was so white, you half expected Edwards to hold it up in the manner of a delighted housewife, and announce that she would not swap one pack of her normal washing powder for two of Brand X.

All in all, top marks for Edwards from the assessor, although given that he left before the end of the first set, for all he knew she could have wandered off to the Pimm's tent and left them to it. In any event, if they want to find out if she's really got what it takes, they should give her Nastase in the next round.

Nastase is partnering Tom Okker, the Dutchman who has presumably shed the 'Flying' prefix to his former soubriquet, and other veteran pairings include Newcombe and Roche, Kodes and Metreveli (it was Kodes who beat Taylor in the 1973 semi) and Hewitt and McMillan.

There is also an event for comparative teenagers, the 35's and over, which yesterday featured a match on Court 13 involving Tim and Tom Gullikson.

It was Tom Gullikson who was on court and, as an American, able to interpret when John McEnroe puzzled Wimbledon officials with his 'pits of the world' observation in 1981. McEnroe is here working for NBC television, and caused general mirth on Monday by demanding that Becker be kicked out for his (water) closet physiotherapy. This is a bit like Ronald Biggs complaining to British Rail over the late arrival of his train.

The No 1 seeds in the over-45's are the Americans, Marty Riessen and Sherwood Stewart, although Taylor's match (he partnered Allan Stone of Australia against Cliff Drysdale and Owen Davidson) suggested that in this competition there are seeds, and those who have gone to seed.

It was one of those rare matches in which the knock-up was more energetic than the real thing. Despite the occasional deft touches, and a notable effort from all concerned for getting through three sets in blistering heat, speed around the court was not the central feature. In fact, all four players were so immobile, it was a wonder no one reported them to security as unattended packages.

(Photograph omitted)

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