Before Andy most of us were only half-aware of the annual delights of Wimbledon, though even SW19 veterans sometimes forget exactly how to behave, writes John Mullin
Go on, admit it. You never gave much of a ball toss for Wimbledon in the years BA (before Andy). Prior to Judy Murray’s Special One – sorry, Jamie – you probably did no more than indulge in a little low-level scoffing at Home Counties demeanour and power-puff fist pumps as Tim Henman fell again at the penultimate hurdle.
True, in earlier years, you may not have been averse to a little Borg vs McEnroe or have pined for Jimbo Connors – “I’m trying, for Chrissake!” – or (remember him?) Vitas Gerulaitis. Those, of course, were the days when players were characters, and tennis for a time transcended sport, in the way that Ovett vs Coe or Higgins vs anyone transcended athletics and snooker, and were major water-cooler events in our lives. Before, of course, we had even heard of the water-cooler.
But since then and until Murray announced his presence, in front of James Bond, and falling over as if shot by David Nalbandian ten years ago, you never gave much of a monkeys. Even for a few years afterwards, you never quite knew what to make of Andy, all that muttering and blaming other folk as he crashed out, far too tentatively.
Now? You’re all brushed up on Djokovic’s fearsome form on grass, Wawrinka’s astonishing single-handed backhand, and Nadal’s latest injury, to the appendix and to the psyche. You’ve studied the draw. You can see where the dangers lie (A. everywhere). You find yourself playing the new national sport: Can Andy Do It (All Over Again)?
You don’t like yourself for doing so. You’ve been here so often with the football, and you know it’s the hope that kills you. But you can’t help it. You’re tentative, almost nonchalant, at first. But, if Our Boy’s still there as the second week starts, you know High Doh beckons.
So, the Robinson’s Lemon Barley Water is on ice. The snacks are in. For the diehards, the local tennis court is booked for one evening next week. You’ve even dug the racquets out of the bottom of a cupboard, one of them still with a wooden press on it.
Roll on summer and a great Scottish victory!
You lot, though, are Johnny-come-lately lightweights. Long before Andy first came to my attention, winning the Junior US Open title in 2004, I have always adored Wimbledon. Mystifyingly so. It’s not as if anyone played tennis round my gaff when we were growing up, or dressed up in whites.
Perhaps it was simple: school was out for summer: the impossible elegant Evonne Goolagong winning as a 19-year-old in ‘71; Smith beating Nastase in five sets in a rain-delayed final in ‘72 – “God was on my side,’ he said afterwards, as only an arrogant Yank could; the ‘73 competition and the players’ boycott. Nastase was beaten on court 2 “the graveyard of champions”; Borg first appeared and was mobbed; and Brit Roger Taylor lost a rain interrupted semi-final – his third loss at that stage – to the eventual winner Jan Kodes. I could go on. And on.
Of all the gigs I valued when a national newspaper editor – yes, even I find it quite hard to believe myself now – none came close to an invite to Wimbledon, and a place in the Royal Box. You’ve often wondered how the toffs get in there, haven’t you? Well, that was me – three times.
And I even turned it down once to take my mother on holiday. To Millport of all places, where the crazy golf pales five minutes into a week-long stay.
The Royal Box is the ticket money can’t buy. Even the hardest bitten of republicans would find it hard to resist: a seat next to Brucie and Camilla for an extremely pleasant lunch; feeling like Caesar at a gladiatorial context as the players go head to head just for you; and Felicity Kendal and Jennifer Saunders to chat to over cream teas.
What’s not to like? It’s so posh they even pass around boiled sweets. Too hot in the glare? Let us move that newly installed and very expensive retractable roof forward just the odd foot, so that you – our guests in the Royal Box – can sit comfortably in the shade.
It’s not, of course, necessarily that you really want to chew the fat with Brucie (though I can report his wife Wilnelia is the loveliest of people) or Felicity, but it is one of those delicious moments when you know that you’ve jumped the shark. You too, laddie from Cumbernauld, can belong!
This – if I were rather more Dave Spart, the one-dimensional ultra-leftie Private Eye creation – would recognise that this is a case study in how Britain works. Class is a big, big issue at Wimbledon, I’d be the first to admit. As is race. You don’t see many black faces down SW19 way, unless they happen to belong to soldiers showing you to your seat.
It is fortunate that I am a deeply shallow individual, but you can get drawn into the forelock tugging against your better judgment. That’s what’s so powerful about what we might call the Establishment: even if we don’t want to belong, we are conditioned to respect their rules.
One sports editor friend of mine – whom I did take to Wimbledon once as a guest of the ATP, a great ticket but almost a let-down after the Royal Box – confessed to detesting John McEnroe. This surprised me.
My chum liked his sports folk to be both brilliant technicians of their trades and interesting personalities. Surely Mac qualified on both counts? But he showed such a lack of respect, said my friend, no apparent fan of the traditions for which Wimbledon would appear to stand. He’ll be wanting to watch Henley next.
Though my Royal Box behaviour was beyond reproach, I am sorry to admit I let myself down while a guest of the ATP two years ago, as Murray steamed towards his first Wimbledon singles title. The ATP had invited me for maybe six years, and this was the first – and last – after departing as a national newspaper editor.
With perhaps a Pimm’s too many on board, I got rather caught up in Andy’s third-round victory, earning a rebuke from one woman who told me, witheringly: “This isn’t a football match.” I was suitably mortified. It seems you can take the boy out of Cumbernauld…