WIMBLEDON '95: Wimbledon 1995

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The Independent Online
Arthur Ashe was not alone in regarding Wimbledon as "the most prestigious tennis event in the world". The millions who never get closer to the All England Club than admiring the cut of Desmond Lynam's jacket would share his view. But Ashe understood that much of its character lay in "the understated austerity of the place", where "the amenities would not be exceptional at a mid-price US tennis club".

On the 20th anniversary of Ashe's victory in the men's singles, Wimbledon is becoming a place that he would not have recognised. Just over two years ago, the club announced a development programme "to take Wimbledon into the 21st century" (some said it should worry about the 20th century first), but until now there has been little outward evidence of change.

This year, however, Goran Ivanisevic will not be the only pile-driver on view. Building work on a new No1 Court on the site of Aorangi Park, two new outside courts, an underground television centre, and a road tunnel linking two of the thoroughfares that border the All England Club began soon after last year's championships ended. In time, the Centre Court will be expanded, new buildings put up, other new courts created. The entire project is expected to take 10 years to complete - with a break each year for the fortnight of the Championships.

Improved facilities for spectators are long overdue. By comparison, the French Open tennis championships, where the crowds are less oppressive and the tented village more discreetly sited, offer the visitor a much more pleasant experience. Roland Garros too has led the way in court construction, its magnificent new Court A being unveiled last year.

With the opening of the Channel Tunnel, the number of English people able to enjoy both tournaments will increase considerably in the coming years. While Wimbledon hardly need fear for its popularity, it never does to be seen to be lagging behind, even if, as Ashe felt, there is always a place for quaintness.

One can reasonably assume that the ambience of Wimbledon will not be impaired by the changes. Indeed, the club aims to enhance it. But with the grass courts it already has a quality no other Grand Slam tournament can match, and one it intends never to relinquish. It is ironic, then, that what makes Wimbledon so special is also what can reduce the tennis played there to a tedious succession of aces and abbreviated rallies, and the signs are that not even the use of balls with reduced pressure will make a great deal of difference.

The worst of this trend means that a player can be capable of both power and subtlety - Pete Sampras, for example - but rarely need call on the latter. Misplaced accusations of being boring then result. That strategy rather than strength can still count was shown by Andre Agassi only three years ago. But the best example is that of Ashe. Two decades on from his defeat of the young Jimmy Connors - one of the greatest tactical triumphs in Wimbledon history - let us hope somebody else can follow his example.

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