TIM FANNING MY VIEW
Game, set and match to a tournament that refuses to change with the times…
You’d think that Wimbledon, with its archaic traditions and customs, would be something of a goldmine for comedians. But maybe because there is already so much silliness in that part of southwest London at this time of year, it remains beyond parody. From the ludicrous rain delays to the weird colour of John McEnroe’s hair, there’s always something a little offbeat about this tournament that draws non-tennis fans, as well as nonsports fans, to tune in each year.
Despite some changes in recent times – the installation of a retractable roof on Centre Court, the doing away with the Mrs or Miss before the female players’ names – there’s something reassuring about Wimbledon, as if, no matter how mad the rest of the sporting world becomes, the old duffers in their blazers will still be tucking into the strawberries and cream and tut-tutting when a player decides to deconstruct his or her racket in rage.
The commentary on the BBC contributes to this idea of Wimbledon being an oasis of Old England in a sterile desert of brash modernity. Watching Wimbledon on TG4 just feels wrong. For some reason, the cadences of the first official language seem to fit when the cyclists are rolling into gorgeous medieval towns during the Tour de France. Yet there’s something incongruous about listening to a commentator describing the genius of Maria Sharapova or Novak Djokovic as Gaeilge.
Part of the fun of watching the British Open is hearing Peter Alliss’s sardonic comments about the golfers’ sartorial elegance (or lack of it). In Wimbledon, it’s watching how little banalities can make the commentators split their sides laughing. On one occasion during the last fortnight, one of the commentators found the sight of a ball girl struggling to right an inside- out umbrella hilarious. Which proves that tennis is quite a boring game.
But that’s beside the point, because the real attraction of Wimbledon is that it remains a relic of tradition in a schedule clogged with anodyne and overly commercial events. That’s not to say that there’s no money to be made in Wimbledon – the players manage to get their logos onto the screen, despite the injunctions of the All England Club. Rather that, like other sporting events around the world which are perennially accused of clinging onto their hidebound customs and refusing to change with the times, Wimbledon continues to be a draw because it doesn’t resemble every other event on tour. After all, sometimes we like to be reminded of the past.