‘We wanted to hon­our Andy’s feats here – but not re­tire him too early’

Philip Brook re­calls his high­lights as chair­man of the All Eng­land Club with Si­mon Briggs

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Wimbledon -

At a farewell brief­ing in the All Eng­land Club’s board­room yes­ter­day, out­go­ing chair­man Philip Brook could be found dis­cussing a new statue on the grounds of Wim­ble­don – al­though not in hon­our of him­self.

The man who will re­ceive the spe­cial treat­ment – hith­erto only of­fered to Fred Perry – is the two-time cham­pion Andy Mur­ray. Which might seem ap­pro­pri­ate, given that Brook of­fered Mur­ray’s his­toric 2013 sin­gles vic­tory – the first by a Bri­tish male for 77 years, lest we for­get – as the un­doubted high­light of his nine-year term.

“Just to be part of the oc­ca­sion and the pre­sen­ta­tion party on that day was very spe­cial,” said Brook, a 63-year-old for­mer ac­tu­ary from Wake­field in York­shire. He will pass the ba­ton to 72-year-old for­mer Fresh­fields lawyer Ian Hewitt in De­cem­ber.

“Our thought all along is that we want to recog­nise Andy’s sig­nif­i­cant achieve­ments here at Wim­ble­don. We don’t want to re­tire him too early, so we wouldn’t un­veil it un­til after he’s fin­ished. But it’s some­thing we are do­ing for him, as we did with Fred Perry and the other busts around the site.”

Not want­ing to pre-empt a ca­reer that could have many years left in it, Brook said that Mur­ray had not yet been con­sulted or asked to pose for an artist. He also bat­ted away sug­ges­tions that Mur­ray’s name could be at­tached to one of the show courts.

“I think it’s un­likely that we would want to start nam­ing sta­di­ums after play­ers. We quite like Cen­tre Court and No1 Court. We like our tra­di­tions and that’s prob­a­bly one we will stick with.”

Brook has cer­tainly main­tained the tra­di­tional feel of the AELTC. He has an ob­ses­sion with all-white cloth­ing – even to the point of ban­ning caps that use grey shad­ing un­der the peak to re­duce glare. But he has also been pre­pared to chal­lenge the sta­tus quo within this of­ten chaotic sport.

Per­haps his finest achieve­ment, in view of the dif­fi­culty of bring­ing all seven tennis stake­hold­ers to­gether, is the ad­di­tion of an ex­tra week to the grass-court sea­son – a move which he brought about through the canny use of Roger Fed­erer’s per­sua­sive pow­ers. He also cites the con­struc­tion of the new No1 Court and the pur­chase of neigh­bour­ing Wim­ble­don Park Golf Club (or, tech­ni­cally, the early re­lease of that land) as high­lights of his ten­ure.

“We’ve ap­pointed a form of master-plan­ners to help us think through all of the is­sues,” Brook said, in re­la­tion to the 80-acre ac­qui­si­tion which will tre­ble Wim­ble­don’s avail­able space.

“We think it will take a year, maybe a bit longer. That’s why this is a good time to leave, be­cause right now that think­ing is at an em­bry­onic stage and it needs the same per­son [to guide it]. There are some great ques­tions. For in­stance, Church Road right now is on the edge of the site but, in the new world, it will be right in the mid­dle.

“So do we close Church Road dur­ing The Cham­pi­onships? That hap­pened dur­ing the Olympic Games, so it’s been done be­fore, but for a some­what smaller event. That’s one pos­si­bil­ity. Or do we un­der­take an engi­neer­ing project to sink the road or bridge across it?

“Do we think our third sta­dium court [No2 Court, which holds 4,000 spec­ta­tors] is big enough? If you look at Mel­bourne Park or the US Open, they’ve got a third sta­dium twice the size of ours.

“The Dis­trict Line is at the far side of the golf course, so should we think about a big­ger Wim­ble­don Park sta­tion po­ten­tially be­ing the ar­rival point? We could tell a nice Wim­ble­don story for peo­ple ar­riv­ing and leav­ing the grounds. Those are just some ex­am­ples.”

Wim­ble­don has come un­der fire from mem­bers of the ATP player coun­cil, who sug­gest that the play­ers de­serve a big­ger share of its prof­its. But first-round prize money has climbed from £11,000 to £45,000 dur­ing Brook’s ten­ure. And as the above list of ideas sug­gests, Wim­ble­don con­tin­ues to evolve in the most bold, am­bi­tious and ex­pen­sive man­ner.

“Play­ers don’t un­der­stand where we’ve come from and they al­ways want more,” Brook said. “Spend more time with Rod Laver or even Tim Hen­man and they’d learn things were very dif­fer­ent not that long ago. We are mak­ing a de­ci­sion to spend money for a roof on No1 Court rather than put it into the pock­ets of to­day’s player and I think that’s the right thing to do.”

Watch­ing brief: Philip Brook ap­plauds the ac­tion with the Duchess of Corn­wall

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