Value for money, and a dropping off in spectator appeal, is currently pre-occupying the professional tennis tour, although it is certainly not a worry here at Wimbledon. The championships are such an event that people would still queue 10 times round the block just to watch the groundsman cut the grass, and the place is soaked in tradition. Yesterday, though, a more appropriate word than soaked was wet.
Where else could a player - as happened to Kenneth Carlsen on Court 13 yesterday - crawl off to be sick in an adjoining privet and receive an official warning for holding up play? Carlsen, being a Dane, is presumably unaware that certain things in an English summer calendar are simply not done, old boy - such as attempting to enter the Lord's pavilion without a jacket (or even worse, as a woman) and vomiting during a Wimbledon singles beyond the allocated time on the umpire's instruction sheet.
Plans are afoot to make the game in general more attractive to the punters, including allowing less time between points. Next year, competitors may have so little leeway for being ill that they may have to go on to court clutching airline sickbags.
Another idea under consideration is to make spectators feel more important by letting them wander in and out of seating areas when the mood takes them. Currently, they have it even tougher than the players, as they are only allowed to move around, or be ill, during changeovers.
Most of the current complaints about tennis are that it is too slow and boring on clay, and too fast and boring on grass. The Grand Slam tournaments can withstand this better than the less prestigious events, which are already being invested with gimmicks such as fast serve competitions.
Perhaps, in the end, it will be marketed in much the same way as Australian cricket, which is now unshakeable in its belief that spectators cannot survive an interval without the arrival of more parachutists than were dropped on Arnhem, and dogs charging around the outfield trying to catch frisbees.
The concern about Wimbledon, and a possible decline of interest, appears to be mostly centred around the men's biff-bang, serve-dominated game, although it seems there is probably nothing wrong that a few more 'characters' (a euphemism for bolshie players) would not put right. Since the passing of Nastase and McEnroe, line- calls are politely queried rather than precipitating full scale equipment demolition, and there has scarcely been one decent tantrum in the whole of the first week.
Wimbledon is far more compulsive viewing when a dodgy call brings on an apparent attack of rabies, and to make it even more interesting, players should be spot- fined on the court rather than have their wages docked afterwards. Each competitor would start out with a bundle of used tenners, and the first to go bankrupt - as in Monopoly - loses the match.
It was a big day for doubles yesterday, but nothing could have livened up the match on Court Two between Clare Wood and Valda Lake of Britain, and the No 2 seeds Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Jana Novotna. The players do a lot of talking to each other in doubles, mostly tactics, but this was so ridiculously one-sided that the winners were probably chatting about hair appointments, or late night shopping.
Over on Court Seven, however, were the Jensen brothers from America, a couple of flamboyant characters whose appeal is based as much around showbiz as ability. Luke, the elder, sports a pony tail, and plays both left and right handed, occasionally during the same point.
In contrast to the women, this was an entertaining game, and it certainly excited the pubescent girls around the courtside. 'Give us a J, give us an E . . .' they squealed, which is something you don't hear too often for the likes of Yevgeny Kafelnikov.Reuse content