‘I don’t want drug cheats in ten­nis’

Wim­ble­don com­men­ta­tor and for­mer Bri­tish num­ber one An­drew Cas­tle re­veals why he hasn’t al­ways loved ten­nis

The Daily Telegraph - - Health & Features - THE VIC­TO­RIA LAM­BERT IN­TER­VIEW

He has an adored halfSwedish wife, Sophia, two gor­geous daugh­ters, Clau­dia, 21, and Georgie, 23, who is about to star in Mamma Mia! in the West End, and a ca­reer that has en­com­passed both Olympic-level sport and a top slot in day­time tele­vi­sion. There is a talkra­dio show on LBC and a front-row seat in the Cen­tre Court com­men­tary box at Wim­ble­don ev­ery year. He even has good hair.

So you might for­give An­drew Cas­tle for be­ing a bit pleased with how life has turned out. Per­haps a bit pleased with him­self.

But the for­mer Bri­tish num­ber one is de­light­fully down to earth. In­deed, the day we meet the heav­ens have opened in full apoca­lyp­tic fash­ion – Cas­tle, now 52, gal­lantly rides his mo­tor­bike through the down­pour to the res­cue, when I am un­able to get through south Lon­don to Wim­ble­don where the ten­nis tour­na­ment opens to­day, for our in­ter­view.

More­over, Cas­tle – from the word go (and there are a lot of words – he’s a proper chat­ter­box) – is warm, self­dep­re­cat­ing and full of in­tegrity.

‘‘I wouldn’t have sur­vived so long on tele­vi­sion if I hadn’t just been my­self,’’ he says. ‘‘Cer­tainly, if you knew my fam­ily, you’d know that’s how we all are. We are very pas­sion­ate and de­bate a lot. We’re very hon­est.’’

No won­der, then, that he has no time for drugs in ten­nis. ‘‘If we can’t trust what we are watch­ing – then there’s no point watch­ing. That’s it.’’

He is re­fer­ring, of course, to Maria Shara­pova, cur­rently ap­peal­ing against a two-year ban by the In­ter­na­tional Ten­nis Fed­er­a­tion for tak­ing mel­do­nium. ‘‘She has plenty of fans, but I’m a com­men­ta­tor and I love my sport. I don’t want drugs cheats in it.

‘‘If her ban is re­duced and she comes back, I can just about live with it. But we should be think­ing about all the peo­ple beaten by those who had gained an un­fair ad­van­tage – not the ones who have let them­selves down.’’

Cas­tle will al­ways be on the side of the un­der­dogs, I sus­pect. His own suc­cess in ten­nis – he reached world num­ber 80 in sin­gles, num­ber 40 in dou­bles – was achieved de­spite his back­ground, not be­cause of it.

Grow­ing up in Taun­ton, Som­er­set, to work­ing-class par­ents, Frank, a master fish­mon­ger, and Lyn, who to­gether ran a fish and chip shop, with four older sib­lings, Cas­tle says he is frus­trated that peo­ple as­sume his suc­cess in ten­nis means he comes from a priv­i­leged back­ground. ‘‘I’m not overly proud in gen­eral, but it is im­por­tant that peo­ple know I didn’t come from a priv­i­leged back­ground. Things were not laid out on a plate for me.’’

Cas­tle first found a taste for ten­nis when he was nine, when a friend took him to play at a nearby court. He re­calls play­ing for eight hours, drink­ing orange squash and get­ting sun­burnt. But he was hooked im­me­di­ately and be­gan lessons.

At 11, he won the UK un­der-12 na­tional ten­nis championships, and as a re­sult landed a full schol­ar­ship to Mill­field School. His par­ents were hugely sup­port­ive but the fam­ily didn’t have any­where near the in­come needed for Cas­tle to es­tab­lish him­self in the UK. His father went bank­rupt and both par­ents ended up work­ing at a mini­cab firm.

‘‘Peo­ple don’t un­der­stand when you have to plan to put petrol in the car. That where there’s a will there’s not al­ways a way.’’

At 17, Cas­tle moved to the US, first to Florida, and then win­ning a col­lege schol­ar­ship to Kansas State Univer­sity, Witchita where he made a life. Of sorts.

‘‘I lived in this big 1895 house, which was squalid in­side. I paid my rent for this dump by go­ing to the plasma cen­tre twice a week and hav­ing nee­dles stuck in me for $10 a time.’’

His house­mates kept bowls of bul­lets around the house, and a dog called Kaiser, which was half-mad, af­ter be­ing bit­ten by a black widow spi­der. ‘‘Let’s just say my life was not ex­actly shel­tered at the time.’’

Af­ter four and a half years, per­pet­u­ally home­sick, Cas­tle came back with a de­gree and ready to play pro­fes­sional ten­nis. He made his Davis Cup de­but within six months.

‘‘It sim­ply couldn’t have hap­pened for me in the UK,’’ he says. So he’s clearly pleased the UK ten­nis tal­ent pipe­line has im­proved in the past 30 years. And amused. The young hope­ful Katie Swann – who has won a wild card into Wim­ble­don this year – is now also study­ing at Kansas State un­der his old coach. ‘‘She can play,’’ he says. ‘‘She hits the ball hard; I can vouch for that.’’

The cov­er­age of women play­ers at Wim­ble­don is of­ten crit­i­cised. Is there any truth to the sug­ges­tion that they get less air time? ‘‘Ut­ter non­sense,’’ he says. ‘‘I’m in those edi­to­rial meet­ings at the BBC; I know they are fair. Per­haps it seems that way be­cause men’s matches are sim­ply longer.’’

So should women play five sets or men three, as has also been mooted? ‘‘I don’t think there is any ap­petite for change,’’ he says firmly.

What about the other cries of sex­ism? What does he make of John In­verdale’s com­ments about Mar­ion Bar­toli not be­ing ‘‘a looker’’ – es­pe­cially as both will be com­men­tat­ing for the BBC this year?

‘‘Look, when you’ve been on air for up to 14 hours a day for two weeks, not ev­ery­thing that comes out of your mouth is per­fect. Per­haps you lose con­cen­tra­tion. I think peo­ple should be al­lowed to say sorry and move on. They have worked to­gether sub­se­quently and are fine. John is a proper pro; he just made a mis­take.’’

It’s not an er­ror you’d be­lieve Cas­tle would ever make, though. His pro­fes­sional ex­per­tise has been honed through 10 years of live broad­cast­ing ev­ery day on the GMTV sofa. On his first day, co­me­dian Jack Dee sent a bot­tle of cham­pagne and a card, say­ing ‘‘Thank God it’s not live or you’d be s––––––– your­self.’’ Luck­ily, Cas­tle says he only saw the note once he’d got through his first pro­gramme.

His mother, Lyn, who died in 2004, was a guid­ing light for him through­out, al­though she left his father when Cas­tle was 15 for a man called Colin, who drove a lorry. Was he af­fected by it?

‘‘Well, it was comedic look­ing back. At one point, they were all work­ing for a taxi com­pany in Taun­ton, which is how my mother met Colin. I re­call Dad grab­bing a hand­ful of Mars bars from a petrol sta­tion and throw­ing them at him.’’ He adds: ‘‘I didn’t have a sense of un­hap­pi­ness, which is a credit to ev­ery­one. But there is no such thing as a good di­vorce. There was a deep hurt.’’

Later, he ad­mits that while in the US, he ‘‘cried a lot. My tough­en­ing up was over there. I was lonely. And once I was on the ten­nis tour, I kept my own coun­sel.’’ Even af­ter he

An­drew Cas­tle with his wife Sophia, in 2013

In the Cen­tre Court com­men­tary box with Tim Hen­man and John McEn­roe, left; in his play­ing days at Wim­ble­don, be­low

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