When past and future glories meet

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The Independent Online
During the second week, the competitions for the juniors get under- way. So do the competitions for the seniors. Accordingly if you tour the outside courts for an hour or two both your past and your future flash before you eyes and the effect is dizzying.

"Look!" a spectator said yesterday, with the breathless awe normally heard coming from children in Steven Spielberg movies. "There's Virginia Wade!"

Indeed there she was on Court Four freed briefly from other other professional duties (BBC commentator, woman hanging out washing in powder commercial) and in the company of Wendy Turnbull pounding the hell out of the Australian pair, Gourlay and Reid, in the ladies' 35-and-over doubles.

Soon to be 50 and slightly frosted of hair Wade is still an example to us all. A middle-aged man in a corduroy cap and minding an impressively stuffed carrier bag, told the woman he was with, "See how she gets the racket back early? That's what I tell you to do."

The passages around Wade's court were wedged tight, unlike the passages on the adjacent Court Five where Francoise Durr from France - another blast from the past or as she would say "un explosion du passe" - was displaying all the tight caution and slow restraint which made her such a Wimbledon firework in the Seventies.

If you picked your way carefully through the order of play yesterday you could plan a journey for which you would ordinarily require the services of a time machine with the dials set somewhere around 1976. Here was John Newcombe partnering Tony Roche. Here was Brian Gottfried partnering Raul Ramirez. Here was Buster Mottram. There was Rosie Casals. A woman wondered aloud about the former Evonne Goolagong. "What did she become?" "Evonne Croydon wasn't it?" No, it was Evonne Cawley and she was here too. And all of them stiffer and slower but visually barely changed.

At one point in the passage behind Court Eight I passed a tracksuited figure who was a dead ringer for Ilie Nastase. It was Ilie Nastase.

On Court 14, Stan Smith and Nikki Pilic trounced Cooper and Fraser, 6- 3, 6-2. You could hear the crowd's laughter from four courts away. Since when has Smith been a master of mirth?

If you grew up in the Seventies he was the enemy, the straight-backed American army man. The one your mum liked. The bloke who beat Nastase in the final here in 1972.

Now he's the casual entertainer, the nice guy with cycling pants under his shorts and a baseball cap over hair which is by no means regulation army length.

The 35-and-over gentleman's invitation doubles sounds like a dance, and on occasions it looks like one too. Errors are greeted with smiles.

There's a lot of racket kissing, following fluked shots off the frame and much cross-court banter.You could be watching a sophisticated public- court game, albeit one with a scoreboard and an umpire and new balls after every seven games.

Beside Court Five a man tried to calculate the age of Ken Rosewall. It was quite a calculation. "Well,he beat Connors in the final in '74 and he had to be at least 38 then so what's that? 58 now? 59?"

"My wife's 57," said an American next to him helpfully, "and she plays regularly."

Between the games featuring those whose legs have begun to tire came the games featuring those who haven't even finished growing theirs yet.

The juniors' games are an alarming sight. Fluent and nerveless tennis played by children who should really be in school. Or even in bed.

On Court Two, Martin Lee, 17, whom one trembles to call a British hope, mashed an absurdly tall French boy in the second round of the junior singles. Lee had a mean left-handed serve and a manner of springing to the net which suggested he might be related to Bruce.

And on Court Eight another British boy, Jamie Delgado, lost to a Croatian, Zeljko Krajan (reversed Nike baseball cap, pony tail, terrifying backhand). His countrymen Goran Ivanisevic and Pilic stood in the crowd - three generations of tennis within 20 feet of each other. An emblem for the day.

Outside Court 14 a security guard stopped Neil Fraser to get the autograph of the man his parents had named him after.

Lucky for him they weren't Evonne Goolagong fans.

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