The golden oldies find Fort Knox

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As is the custom, many people peered at the Fred Perry statue inside Wimbledon's acres yesterday. Elsewhere, spectators stared at other champions to see if they could detect any signs of movement.

If the 45 and over gentlemen's doubles represents the golden oldies of the game then the Fort Knox repository of veterans was on Court Two, where Ilie Nastase and Tom Okker took on the Australians who go together like Botany and Bay, John Newcombe and Tony Roche. It looked like hard work.

This encounter had the cadence of four chaps having an evening knock up after a day at the office, a touch of theatre closer to the texture of a Harlem Globetrotters exhibition than a competitive match.

The shirts get wetter quicker in greybeards' tennis. Yesterday Newcombe was dripping just after the umpire said "two minutes, gentlemen". By snug coincidence, the last time three unseeded men reached the semi-finals at the championships was in 1967, the year Newcs won the first of his three Wimbledons.

As the features rumple around his facial hair, Newcombe has started to take on the appearance of Terry-Thomas. The lush moustache is a part of Australian sporting culture (witness Lillee, Merv and Boony), but Newcs nurtured the original. His moustache was much older than most of the viewers on Court Two yesterday.

Newcs and Rochey won the men's doubles here four times and it remains a devil of a job to force them asunder. They are currently captain and coach respectively of the Australian Davis Cup team, and while Roche's career revolves mainly around coaching, Newcombe also has broadcasting and business interests.

Roche, the man from Wagga Wagga, was the only man on court who did not appear as though he had aged, but then that was because he has always looked 51.

Over the net was another 52-year-old, Tom Okker. He remains a zippy character around the court and still has those two pieces of cotton hanging from his shorts that you later realise are his legs. Okker was known in his pomp as "the Flying Dutchman", but was rechristened by Nastase yesterday after an unforced error. "You're not him any more," the Romanian said. "You're the Dying Dutchman.''

Nastase was the life and soul of the party. It was hard to remember him as the man who used to leave umpires shivering in their high chairs, like kittens stranded in a tree waiting for the fire brigade to arrive. But then Ilie is a different man these days.

Mr Nasty will be 50 this year and has recently tried to scale the greasy pole, running for the post of Mayor of Bucharest, his birthplace. It does not appear as though he has missed a single campaign lunch.

Nastase arrived on court with a bandana almost totally obscured by the least shampooed hair in the history of tennis. Ilie still sweeps the oleaginous locks straight back over his forehead, but these days it as much for camouflage of the tonsure that has appeared since the time Stan Smith leapt over the net to console him.

Pace and power have disappeared from Nastase's game but then he was never reliant on either. He continues to play the sweetest touch shots, but then he was the supreme gossamer player in the obsolete days of wooden rackets and rallies.

These skills, in tandem with Okker's solidity, took the pairing to a 7-6, 4-6, 6-3 victory over the defending champions and No 1 seeds. Unexpected for the committee and Nastase too. "We'll have to stay now, Nick," he told his nine-year-old son. "I thought we'd be going home."

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