Wimbledon Babylon: Sex and shenanigans in SW19

From the top talent – not just the top seeds, you understand – to the game's darker side, Susie Mesure offers a snapshot of what's really going on behind the scenes
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The Independent Online

Courtside chic

What works on the catwalks of Milan and Paris also works on, er, the grassy courts of SW19. That's the message from Roger Federer et al, anyway, judging by their take on courtside chic this year. As with the fashion capitals, Wimbledon '09 is milking the military look. From Federer's Navy-inspired ensemble, and Serena Williams's short, white trench coat to Maria Sharapova's military-belted jacket, the get-ups left no one in any doubt that it's a war out there.

Raising the roof

With no rain breaks thus far, some might question the point of spending £80m on a retractable roof, left. Not those lucky enough to sit in the Royal Box, however, who can vouch for its use as, of all unlikely things, a sun shade. When you think the mercury hit 41C on Thursday, maybe it was money well spent. For the lucky few, like Bruce Forsyth at any rate.

What a din!

When male tennis players exhale loudly it's manly, but for women it's a titillating form of cheating that could face a formal crackdown. Apparently. The trigger for the latest assault on grunting is the Portuguese Michelle Larcher De Brito, whose ear-splitting shrieks are barely quieter than a pneumatic drill. Dismiss it as sexist guff, if you will, but for anyone without a mute button – like the grunter's opponent – no one can deny it's pretty irritating.

Mac the knife

Forget Roger Federer or even Andy Murray: the real star of Wimbledon fortnight isn't to be found on one of its grassy courts – especially now his commentating commitments mean he's too busy for the seniors' tournament. These days we love SuperMac, with his dry New York sense of humour, for serving up tasty titbits rather than topspin aces. Hands up who knew that no one liked Novak Djokovic? But his top gem must be this on Murray versus Robert Kendrick: "It felt like he pulled his pants down there."

The big gamble

All big bets are off this week after the game's dark underbelly was exposed during a first-round match between Austria's Jürgen Melzer and the American Wayne Odesnik. Pundits piled on more than £1m in wagers on the outcome, prompting allegations it had been fixed, leading to a major investigation. Hardly the stuff of the Game of Kings.

Hot gossip

Never mind the temperatures on the court; what fans really want is a glimpse of how hot things get outside the tramlines. It's an incestuous life on the tour: take, for example, the case of Gisela Dulko, who recently switched her affections from Fernando Verdasco to Chile's Fernando Gonzalez. Meanwhile, Verdasco's other notches include Ana Ivanovic and he's said to be mighty friendly with Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki.


For male fans, it was a sort of visual poetic justice. Maria Sharapova's defeat saw her victor, Gisela Dulko, crowned the new queen of the volley-dollies. Sadly, her reign was fleeting. Lucky, then, that Serbia's Ana Ivanovic and Russia's Elena Dementieva are still in the draw. Cringe if you will but top tennis totty is big business: just ask Russia's Maria Kirilenko, who is the face of Adidas.

The hotties (male)

With Rafael Nadal injured and out, female fans who find Roger Federer just a little too clean-cut for their tastes have switched their affections to another Spaniard, Fernando Verdasco. Let's hope he makes it past Croatia's Ivo Karlovic into the quarter finals. Too bad neither of the other top male hotties, the Argentine Juan Martin del Potro and his stablemate Agustin Calleri, gets to play again this week.

The art of gamesmanship

There's gamesmanship and then there's faking an injury to fox your opponent. Don't anyone accuse Andy Murray on either score. Ernests Gulbis, the lackadaisical Latvian, did just that and look what happened to him. The Scot's quickly dispatched second-round opponent claimed Murray had purposely taken a medical time out at their last encounter at Queen's Club in 2008 just to throw him. Not so, insisted Murray. "That's a form of cheating [gamesmanship]. I'm one of the guys who don't do it." Calling for a medical time out is every player's right, but some seem to need them more than others. Novak Djokovic, we're watching.

The British are going...

Ironic, huh, that the first year we have a real stab at a home-grown winner, the rest of the Brits have an absolute shocker. Dan Evans, who lost in the first round, had the right idea: "I might not be a tennis player soon – I might be stacking shelves. Tesco are advertising." Others were less contrite, with Elena Baltacha and Anne Keothavong lashing out at critics, including the Sports minister, Gerry Sutcliffe, who had said getting two players out of 11 into the second round was "not acceptable". Really, though, Keothavong, blaming an unsupportive crowd is just not on. Murraymania, anyone? No 2, Alex Bogdanovic, will struggle to shake his new nickname – A-Bog – after crashing out in the first round for the eighth straight year.