Your questions served up - now the ball's in his court

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The Independent Online
TODAY - all your Wimbledon problems and queries answered by an expert]

Why are all the commentators at Wimbledon unable to pronounce Michael Stich's name correctly?

The commentators at Wimbledon are not chosen for their skill in pronouncing clusters of German consonants.

For what skill, then, are commentators at Wimbledon chosen?

For knowing that a five-set match can be quite tiring, and that it is harder to play with an injured shoulder than without.

Why does the television camera always switch to the player who has just won the point, never to the one who has just lost it?

So that deaf viewers will know which one has won the point.

How come the camera always settles on Barbra Streisand in the crowd just when you want to see some tennis?

It isn't Barbra Streisand. It's just someone who looks like her. Statistics show that in every gathering of more than 400 people the odds are heavily in favour of there being a Barbra Streisand lookalike present. Also two Meryl Streeps, six Jeremy Ironses and 43 Graham Gooches.

Why do players in a tense game stare closely at their rackets after a point, as if they were counting the holes?

Oddly, enough, that is exactly what they are doing. You are liable to summary dismissal from a game if you have more or less than the mandatory maximum or minimum of holes formed by the strings on your racket, and the more nervous players count and recount the holes obsessively during a match. They also check the strings to make sure nothing is stuck in them.

Like what?

Well, like any small object that might get stuck in the kind of hole you get on a tennis racket.

Like what?

Like a kumquat.

What chance is there of a kumquat getting stuck in a tennis racket at Wimbledon, for heaven's sake?

None at all. You just asked me for an example of an object that was small enough to get stuck in a tennis racket. I obliged.

That was all baloney about counting the holes, wasn't it?

Yes.

There's some other reason for them staring so intently at their rackets, isn't there?

Yes.

What is it?

Well, this is strictly confidential, you understand, but nowadays the modern player is in touch with his coach the whole time, and although you are not meant to communicate directly during a match, most of them do. And the easiest way in which a coach can show a player what he's doing wrong is in slow- motion video playback.

How can a player see a playback?

On his tennis racket. Most of these modern metal wonder rackets can also receive a fairly good picture, and that is what the player is studying so thoughtfully as he strolls back.

But what if the coach wants to talk to the player?

He does it through earphones.

The players don't wear earphones]

Not obviously so, no, but, you may have noticed the phenomenal recent increase in the wearing of big caps on court. Agassi, Courier, all these guys. They've got tiny receivers in their caps. Actually, Agassi's is in his pony-tail, but same thing, same difference.

How do the tennis players communicate back? Do they have mikes?

No, not yet. But there are various codes a player can use to convey messages. Bouncing balls before a serve is one - the apparently random number of bounces means different things to a coach. Also, the way they blow on their hands - two blows left hand, one blow right hand, means 'What's wrong with my backhand?', whereas three blows on the right hand might mean 'Where shall I serve this one to?'

Why do tennis players so often delicately lift their shirts off their shoulders as if it pains them intensely, and then drop them back on again?

It's contractual. It draws attention to their logos. Their sponsors oblige them to do this so many times a set, otherwise they lose.

The set?

The sponsorship.

Sometimes you hear the commentator say, 'Well, they've been on court for two hours now . . .'. Out of that two hours, how much is actual tennis? I mean, not counting one guy serving and the other guy putting it in the net?

You mean, how much is real tennis, rallies and all that?

Yes.

About three minutes per hour.

Thank you.

Not at all.

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