Shelagh Fogarty: Oh, I say! Commentary box stars have all the chat to leave a Wimbledon newbie speechless

One minute it’s point-by-point machine-gun fire, the next it’s urbane

Click to follow
The Independent Online

I think they call it "a great gig". Every now and then an outside broadcast makes me stop, put down my pen, and really take in what's around me. Presenting BBC Radio 5 Live's daily coverage at Wimbledon this past fortnight has been one such gig.

The first thing that hits you is the colour. HD reality. As you walk through the gates of the All England Club it's as though someone just went over the world with a bumper pack of felt-tips. Green and purple the first ones to run out! The grass courts look like velvet. Purple and white flowers hang overhead, like low clouds, or underfoot to soften any hard edges.

The day before the first ball is hit, Jonathan Overend, the BBC tennis correspondent, greets the whole team in the room where countless players will give their post-match interviews. Commentators, summarisers, Wimbledon champions, current players, producers and presenters gearing up for one of the world's finest sporting tournaments. The message is "enjoy it".

What all good commentators understand is that they set the tone and in radio that matters all the more because there are no pictures to run parallel with their words. If it's exciting, listeners should feel excited. If something funny happens on court, they should feel like smiling.

From the BBC commentary box, I've watched and listened in awe as Jonathan, Clare Balding, Ian Carter, Alastair Eykyn, David Law and others have kept pace with the high-speed on-court action. I like to think I'm half decent at an on-air gear change but the BBC tennis commentators are in a league of their own. One minute it's point-by-point commentary – machine-gun fire – the next it's urbane chat with champions past, all based on an in-depth knowledge of the world of tennis and its characters. With them, variously, are Pat Cash, Mark Woodforde, Goran Ivanisevic and Jana Novotna.

Independent columnist Nick Bollettieri joined us on air for the first week.There's a man who loves life, but you get the feeling he loves tennis even more. His reading of the players is fascinating to witness. Britain's Heather Watson spoke adoringly of him and told how with just one piece of advice from him she ironed out a persistent problem in her game.

The only time I heard him get it wrong, so did everybody else. It was when Lukas Rosol popped on to Centre Court way before his match with Rafa Nadal. Getting a feel for the big arena, we mused, breathing in the atmosphere before his big test to come. Nick laughed as he said: "Well he'd better enjoy it while he can 'cos he won't be there for long!" We all know what happened later that night. What a match. I made the foolish decision to leave the commentary box after two sets. Bad call. Too late to challenge!

Current player Bethanie Mattek-Sands' on-air reflections have been wonderful for any tennis fan too. Not only does she explain the nuts and bolts of tennis technique brilliantly, she's able to transport us right into the locker room with all its human tales of victory, defeat, rivalry and friendship. Gold dust!

So take a bow, ladies and gentlemen. This nervous new girl has ended her first Wimbledon fortnight on air admiring not just the tennis but the specialists who make an art of talking about it.

Shelagh Fogarty presents the weekday lunchtime show on BBC Radio 5 Live