For the heaving majority of sports buffs tennis is two weeks in south- west London at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. An event, a tradition. People who normally don't give the game a second glance and wouldn't know one champion from another adjust their schedules accordingly.
While holding nothing against tennis I have for many years stoutly resisted the notion that Wimbledon is a "must" assignment for sportswriters. There have been some changes made but none to suggest improvements in attitude.
So much comment, so much speculation, so many high hopes and low fears are stirred during the Wimbledon fortnight that I ought to explain as plainly as possible the rationale on which my prejudice was founded. It goes back to a day when Bobby Moore sought access to the Centre Court as the accredited correspondent of a sports weekly. For all his fame, probably because of it, Moore was treated disdainfully by the Wimbledon press authorities. Moore's response to the slight of being sent to watch from a cramped, lofty perch was typically phlegmatic. "No point in making a fuss," I remember him saying.
Something like that can turn you against an event, make it difficult to allow for problems, but there is more to the negative view of Wimbledon that is shared, but rarely admitted to, by others in this trade.
Going back to when Dan Maskell brought a venerable tone to bear on Wimbledon's proceedings it was amusing to hear the concern he expressed over tumbles no worse than children experience frequently in the playground.
Doubtless based on the time spent on court, Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski are reported to have said tennis is more demanding than football. In fact we're talking about a game where you have a breather between points, a picnic between games and are unlikely to require immediate treatment for anything that cannot be repaired with Elastoplast.
Not since Pancho Gonzales muttered disdainfully in Las Vegas when using just thumb and forefinger to unscrew my stubborn pop bottle have I taken seriously the musings of tennis players.
Tennis was once described as a game in which love counts for nothing, deuces are wild and with a scoring system devised by Lewis Carroll. In common with practically every game it has moved on but in a scientific survey conducted 25 years ago fitness for tennis was put on a par with that required by plasterers of ceilings. Interestingly, the results of a more recent survey published in an American magazine saw both tennis and football way below the fitness levels called for in judo and rowing.
Different sports, different fitness, but the idea that tennis calls for a level of physical condition superior to that of most other sports is nothing more than convenient propaganda.
A pretty safe bet is that over the next two weeks commentators will repeatedly dwell on what they believe to terrific examples of human endeavour and fortitude. This may well be so but tennis, like golf, is a game that parents should encourage as an alternative to more potentially harmful sporting activity. You don't need shin pads, a helmet or a cut man. You are unlikely to need leg splints or the skills of a neuro-surgeon.
Whenever something comes up to embarrass tennis it has been the habit for its administration to look the other way and point with pride to some other aspect of policy that is doing rather well. This year, for example, the All England Club has announced a further increase in prize-money.
In spite of many rumours nothing, as usual, will be done to seriously curb outbreaks of petulance. As for the pretension it remains pathetically central to an experience I have long since declined.Reuse content