Pampered? Oprah Winfrey’s five dogs, who have are ported $30 million trust fund for them, never had it this good.
If you enjoy people-watching and tennis in equal measure, there’s no greater place to be on Earth. Utopia, set in an English Garden. The weekend before Wimbledon starts, a small patch of turf above the media centre – within the hallowed grounds of a tennis club squashed between real estate seeping with upper-class decadence – is alive. Anyone who is anyone in this sport walks on by, stops for a chat, maybe a seat in the sun for a while. If you are sittng here with a player’s pass on, you’ve made it. Likewise if you are sitting here with a player’s guest pass. No sport does an entourage quite like tennis.
Many a tennis hissy fit has been thrown here after access has been denied, such as last year, when a hanger-on berated a security guard who was merely implementing that sacred rule – thy must wear only white when thy steps onto the court. For the competitors, it’s all laid out, the players’ garden central to the utopian surrounds. The free gym is downstairs. The practice court office too, to organise a hit. Upstairs, there's the buffet. Through the glass doors, your free ride to wherever you need to go in London. The garden itself is fenced by small offices. The ATP Tour and WTA Tour are there. A travel agent, too. Plus, the most important enclave on site – the prize money-office.
Pampered? Oprah Winfrey’s five dogs, who have a reported $30 million trust fund for them, never had it this good.
For an outsider, this scene at SW19 – of which the media is allowed a glimpse during interviews the weekend before the world’s most famous tournament starts – is surreal. For the players it is no more than what is expected.
They exist in a bubble. And why not, given all the TV cash flying around, hyper-inflating revenue at the big events like never before? Right place, right time. There is no such place as utopia, even though Charlie Sheen thought he found it a couple of years back. The downside to it all for the players is missing out on what many normal citizens take for granted: being able to be normal. As teenagers they show promise of one day being part of the garden scene at Wimbledon. They are feted by agents, sponsors, tournament directors, and yes, friends and relatives. They become their industry, and the entourage are actually employees. Behavioural accountability? That must come from within – as a teenager.
Only the strong maintain a clear connection to the real world they once inhabited. Some fail miserably to adjust, like a former women’s world no.1 who gave a tournament driver such a bake for missing a wrong turn on the way to the courts, it made the stomach of her coach turn. The more worldly coach advised her to calm down. Not long after, the more worldly coach was looking for another job ...
And even before they get a sniff of the big time, there is what got them there – a childhood. A lost childhood. And for some, therein lies the problem. Life skills become secondary to getting more kick on a second serve. Without knowing family histories, you get a sense of what their childhood was like, and what their parents imposed on them, as the years go by.
Andre Agassi admitted he hated the sport thanks to the antics of his father, who made fun redundant in his younger years. Martina Hingis was 22 when she first retired. Injuries were blamed, as was her quest to taste the life of a normal 22-year-old ...
Others, like Roger Federer, are so comfortable in the stratosphere in which they exist, they treat all comers – from the door attendant to the man who owns the stadium – equally. When Federer shot to superstardom, sightings of his parents were as likely as Donald Trump touring Mecca in 2017.
Mr Normal himself, Pat Rafter, celebrated his first US Open victory with a party of those close to him in New York. A cake came out to celebrate the achievement. One of his older brothers promptly got a piece and smashed it into the new superstar’s face. You know, ’cos that’s what big brothers do.
We’ve seen less and less of Novak Djokovic’s parents, as the Serbian has become king. He’s also become his own man, and is the CEO of his own corporation – its sole mission to get the man himself physically and mentally prepared as well as anyone in the history of the sport.
It’s a good place to be, the tennis world, because the real world is as unforgiving a place as there is. It is not real, and it takes time getting used to. This is not about to change either, unless the money tap gets turned off. So bring on this year’s version of utopia, set in an English garden.