Tennis: Wimbledon Diary: Forgot to remember Forget

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The Independent Online
WHAT with Cornishmen, nay Great Britons, re-enacting the Battle of Trafalgar with French fishermen off the Scilly Isles, there was never much hope of Guy Forget capturing the sympathy vote when he met the local hero Jeremy Bates in the last 16 of the men's singles.

Even if he had worn a black hat (Wimbledon conditions of entry and participation, Rule 8: competitors must be dressed predominantly in white) the Frenchman could not have been painted more convincingly into the role of the villain. The match was punctuated with cries of encouragement from the spectators for Bates and not once was the air filled with 'Allez Forget' or even 'Come on Guy'.

Still, Forget had the consolation of a five-set victory and the knowledge that his experience was a long way short of Wimbledon's ultimate good versus bad, the final of 1879.

The blessed was easy to spot in the shape of Rev J T Hartley, who had to travel between tennis services to lead Sunday worship in his Yorkshire parish; the damned in his opponent, V St Leger Goold, less so because he had several years to go before being sentenced to Devil's Island by the French, becoming the only Wimbledon finalist - to date - to be convicted of murder.

Those who believe good will always conquer evil will not be surprised to learn Hartley won 6-2, 6-4, 6-2. Still in the full flush of divine providence he went on to win the final the following year as well. .

Rubber soul mate

ON ANOTHER historical note, who said this? 'As a rule ladies are too lazy at tennis. They should learn to run.'

Obviously not Richard Krajicek, whose 'fat pigs' remarks suggest the word lady is not part of his vocabulary, but none other than Lottie Dodd, the youngest ever winner at Wimbledon at 15 years 10 months in 1887.

Which suggests the Monica Seles of her day was a soul mate of the Dutchman even if she had a more subtle turn of phrase. However she was talking from a lectern of achievement that included five Wimbledon titles. Krajicek (no Grand Slam finals, never mind titles) please note.

Dessert storm

STAN SMITH could watch the rain from the royal box this week and reflect on 20 years ago when the elements put back his final with Ilie Nastase from Saturday to Sunday - the first time a Wimbledon match was played on the Sabbath. The 1972 champion did not miss out on the traditional dance with the women's winner at the Wimbledon Ball, however. Having hired a dinner suit, the American turned up on the Saturday night anyway and cut in on Billie Jean King who was celebrating her fourth singles title.

'I wasn't going to waste the suit,' he said, 'but I think the British frowned on me dancing with Billie Jean because I hadn't won the Championship.' After a 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 victory he could claim he was merely getting his desserts 24 hours early.

Two legs bad

BORIS BECKER is certainly feeling his popularity if not, at 24, his age. Bemoaning the fact he twice had to finish off matches the following day, he said: 'They put me on court second or third because more people want to see me. The crowd is bigger at two, three or four o'clock than at twelve so they put me on later.' Did it contribute to his defeat against Andre Agassi? 'It was one day too much,' he agreed. 'I'm pretty strong but I'm not inhuman, you know. I only have two legs not three.' When he was winning Wimbledon at 17 and 18 his opponents weren't so sure.

On the ball

IT pays to be superstitious, even when you've got the biggest service in the game. When Goran Ivanisevic, the Croat with the 130mph service, was serving for the match against Stefan Edberg he found himself 15-40 down.

Cue the first ace. He then asked a ball boy to retrieve the lucky ball which Edberg had been unable to lay a racket on. Cue another dynamite delivery which Edberg again found impossible to return. Deuce, and again Ivanisevic asked for his ball back. A good story is spoiled because his next service was a let and the ball went adrift, but Ivanisevic survived the wobble to hold serve and win the match.

Phoney war

MORE bizarre telephone inquiries to the Wimbledon ticket office: 'Does a ground ticket mean I have to sit on the floor?' Followed by: 'I'm going out on Sunday, can you tell me what time will the men's final end?' And in the past one has wondered why they sometimes sound weary at the All England Club.

Train in vain

MONICA SELES is still consistently shouting the odds in time to her forehand with a grunt likened to the noise of a diesel train. During the Championships her serve has been clocked as one of the fastest among the women at 107mph, a hastiness which is not drawing any comparisons with British Rail at all.

But perhaps a reason for tennis's most objectionable racket is emerging. A functionary from the All England Club began a press conference this week with the statement: 'Miss Seles will not answer questions on her private life, the political situation in Yugoslavia or Richard Krajicek's comments.' With so little to talk about, no wonder she grunts.

Fowl play

MARTINA NAVRATILOVA'S nine titles are chicken feed in at least one part of SW19. The real Wimbledon champion was not seen expending his energy on the nouveau game of tennis this week but was waiting for the lawns to be evacuated so he could get down to a proper sport. Professor Bernard Neal is to the art of going through hoops what Navratilova is to serve and volley, only three times so. The professor has been croquet champion at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club 28 times since 1963, failing only in 1964 and 1974 when he was unable to compete.

Neal, 70, admits the competition is not as strong as it could be - 'only 14 to 16 people play' - and that the All England court is not even full size. 'Croquet is a backwater at Wimbledon and I'm afraid a revival of the sport here is impossible because the dimensions of the tennis courts are wrong and they can't even join two together because they are separated by walkways.'

But the club has not totally abandoned the higher levels of the game. 'The All England Club donated the trophy for the world championships,' Neal said, 'which means they are playing for the Wimbledon Cup. It's nice to see the name is at the top of the sport again.'

Same old racket

JOHN McENROE, obsessed with the so-called power game among the leading players, is putting his racket where his mouth is by using a 10-year-old model - the Dunlop MAX 200g - for today's semi-final against Andre Agassi. McEnroe, unseeded this year, is appearing in the semi-final 15 years after he reached the last four as a qualifier in 1977.

THE sight of six Centre Court spectators bearing a letter on their chests to spell AGASSI when placed in order set the little grey cells racing about the anagrams they could form if they were not careful on the bus home. The cruellest, for a man who allegedly has a stamina problem, was AS I SAG.