Paul Newman: John Inverdale lucky to stay on air after foot-in-mouth outbreak over new partner Marion Bartoli

He did not do himself any favours with an interview this week
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The Independent Online

If you were among those who welcomed the news that the BBC had sacked John Inverdale from Radio 5 Live's Wimbledon coverage for his sexist comments last year about Marion Bartoli, then ponder this.

Not only will Inverdale still be working for the Beeb at the All England Club this summer – he will front BBC 2's nightly Today at Wimbledon highlights programme – but he will also be back on television screens from this Sunday presenting coverage of the French Open. One of his co-broadcasters, moreover, will be Bartoli herself.

Inverdale, who has worked for the BBC since the 1980s, and Bartoli, who retired within two months of winning Wimbledon last summer, are members of the ITV commentary team who will be working at Roland Garros over the next fortnight.

In commenting on Inverdale's replacement by Clare Balding as presenter of its Radio 5 Live coverage at Wimbledon, the BBC clearly had no intention of putting a knife in his back. "John is very much a part of [our team] again this year," a spokesman insisted.

Nevertheless the continuing involvement of Inverdale in the BBC's tennis coverage – and perhaps even ITV's – will come as a surprise to many, given his comments about Bartoli, which he made shortly before the Frenchwoman went on court to face Sabine Lisicki in the final.

Inverdale said: "I just wonder if her dad – because he has obviously been the most influential person in her life – did say to her when she was 12, 13, 14 maybe: 'Listen, you are never going to be, you know, a looker. You are never going to be somebody like a Sharapova, you're never going to be 5ft 11, you're never going to be somebody with long legs, so you have to compensate for that. You are going to have to be the most dogged, determined fighter that anyone has ever seen on the tennis court if you are going to make it.' And she kind of is."

After more than 700 listeners complained, Inverdale said on air the following day that he was sorry "if any offence was caused" by what he described as his "ham-fisted comments". He also wrote a personal apology to Bartoli, who brushed aside the furore. "It doesn't matter, honestly," the Wimbledon champion said.

Inverdale did not do himself many favours with a joint interview he gave with Bartoli to this week's Radio Times. Although he insisted that he was not making excuses, he suggested that his mind had not been wholly on his job.

"I was feeling so ill that day," he said. "I had terrible hay fever and all I could think of was that I wanted to go home to bed. I had Andy Murray in the final the next day. I knew I had to be on form. Your mind is going all over the place. We're on air from 12 noon till 7pm with not a single word written and you've got to fill the time."

The one person who emerges with plenty of credit is Bartoli, who said she had not been upset by the comments, although she had been surprised by them. "I'd known John a long time and I knew what he was trying to say," she told Radio Times. "At the end of the day I am a tennis player. I know I'm not 6ft tall, I'm not the same long, lean shape as Maria Sharapova, but the beauty of tennis is that anyone can win, tall or short. Something the press took to be negative to me was a positive."

Brits aim for main draw: Ward and Konta win

Four Britons can still qualify for the main draw of the French Open, which begins on Sunday. James Ward beat Ryan Harrison of the US 7-6, 7-6 and will contest the final round along with Johanna Konta, who defeated Poland's Paula Kania 6-4, 2-6, 6-3. Dan Cox and Heather Watson have two more matches to play before reaching the main draw.

Paul Newman