Tales Of Wimbledon: How to stitch up the tennis stars

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The news that tax inspectors are "mingling with the crowds" to find those miscreants who have rented out their Wimbledon homes for up to £3,000 a week without informing the Inland Revenue conjures up a delicious image of furtive men with earpieces and bulges in their inside pockets formed not by Smith & Wesson handguns but by Casio calculators.

At least my sister-in-law Jackie and brother-in-law Tony can sleep easy in their beds. They live but a 20-minute walk from the All-England Club, but have chosen not to go down the rental route, which is good news for me, as they are kindly providing me with complimentary bed and board. Talking to my lovely 13-year-old niece Rachel about her games lessons also helps to reacquaint me with the realities of life, after long, hot days watching single-minded girl prodigies only a few years older than her propelling tennis balls like missiles.

Others in their social orbit, however, have rented out their homes. Jackie put me in touch with her friend Jenny, who is a veteran of the rental game. One year they rented to executives from Coca-Cola, who left a year's supply of Coke (I think she meant the soft drink, rather than the hard drug), and another year to a Russian television crew, who left what looked like a brontosaurus bone in a casserole dish. But the most exciting year was when they rented out to the American brothers Luke and Murphy Jensen.

During the tournament, if you recall, one of the brothers had a hissy fit and disappeared off the face of the earth. The first Jenny and her family knew of this was when they switched on the TV during their two-week holiday in Mull to see their house besieged by paparazzi. "It was very exciting," Jenny said. "Things like that don't often happen in Vineyard Hill."

This year, Jenny is staying at home. But like many of Wimbledon's middle-class, middle-aged mums, she has landed herself a voluntary job at the championships. Quite an important one, too; Jenny is the tournament seamstress, and is called upon for all sorts of tasks, from shortening dresses ("it's rather sweet," she reports, "the girls often ask for their dresses to made shorter") to sewing up umpires' split trousers, upon the crotch of which a five-set match sometimes exerts an intolerable strain.

But the most frequent job required of her is to sew sponsorship logos on to dresses, shirts, shorts, hats and anything else with good earning potential, although not yet jockstraps. I'm not being flippant; I recently read that an American baseball player has had his jockstrap sponsored, which seems like a deal of dubious commercial value, but maybe he's a bit of an exhibitionist.

Jenny is also sometimes called upon to cover things up. On Tuesday, seconds before Britain's Elena Baltacha was due on court, she borrowed a visor which sported the logo of - horreur! - a sponsor other than her own. She very politely (not all tennis players are polite) asked Jenny to do the business, but Jenny had to improvise, which is why Miss Baltacha played three sets against the No 11 seed Jelena Dokic with a patch attached to her visor carefully fashioned from somebody else's shorts. "It was quite obvious close up, but I watched the match on television and you couldn't really tell from afar," said Jenny.

The sounds of the Underground

For those unfortunates who plan to travel to the championships on the London Underground's blighted District Line, here's a tip. Although tennis fans are told to alight at Southfields, the canny ones stay on to the next stop, Wimbledon Park. That way, although they are denied the uplifting sight of a vast Tim Henman advertising a washing powder by wearing a whiter-than-white dressing gown, they do not end up shuffling along the platform at three metres per hour, squeezed between a camera-bedecked Japanese family and a rugged Australian with sweaty armpits. I write from painful personal experience.

Instead, the platform at Wimbledon Park is blissfully empty, and the walk to the All-England Club is not only no longer than from Southfields, but also infinitely more pleasant, across a serene golf course rather than along a packed pavement.

However, for those who enjoy freebies, Southfields is the place to get off. Outside the Tube, you have to work hard not to get accosted by people dishing out sweets, bananas, orange juice, and, for some peculiar reason, Listerine. There are also some classy eavesdropping opportunities. On Monday I walked alongside an elderly American who looked at the genteel matrons around him, and muttered to his companion: "I wonder what the poor people are doing today?"

Hogging the limelight

Richard Williams, irrepressible father of the sisters who have so dominated women's tennis these past few years, unwittingly evokes Monty Python's "Four Yorkshiremen" sketch when he talks about their childhood. There is no denying that Venus and Serena's journey from the wrong side of the tracks is a modern fairy tale, but every time he describes their early upbringing, it seems to become more deprived.

By contrast, the No 7 seed Chanda Rubin - a hugely engaging woman from Louisiana, who has established her own foundation promoting tennis in blighted urban areas - makes no bones about her middle-class background. Her father is a judge, her mother a retired teacher. But dig a little deeper, as my colleague John Roberts has done, and you find another story. Apparently, Rubin's maternal grandfather was a poor smallholder who, to finance his daughter - Rubin's mother - during her first few months in college, had to sell a prize hog. Not even Richard Williams can compete with that one.

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