Alan Hubbard

Anyone for tennis? Just about everyone it seems - certainly in Britain and much of the world one suspects - with Wimbledon well underway in that rather precious corner of London SW19 that is quintessentially English.

Wimbledon fever once again has swept the nation like a benign pandemic. 

The sunglasses on - occasionally - the courts are crammed, the queues are long and the the thwack of ball on taut racket strings, accompanied by those animalistic grunts from the strictly white-clad players reverberates throughout the verdant pastures of the carefully manicured lawns of the posh All England Club lawns. 

The well-schooled ball boys and girls are scurrying like demented people.

We like to say it is the best sporting event in the United Kingdom. 

There is no doubt it is the best-organised, running with a sophisticated smoothness which, like our traditional pageantry at royal events, is the envy of the world.

Whether one is glued to the box at home, has queued literally for days to get inside the hallowed temple of tennis just to stand and watch from afar on what used to be Henman’s Hill and is now Murray’s Mount, or somehow managed to snaffle a ticket, Wimbledon captivates us all at this time of the year.

It suggests that all is well with the world - even though it isn't. 

There is a little matter of what is happening in Ukraine, as well as global economic distress, and now the second round KO of our two home-grown heavyweights, teen queen Emma Raducanu and two-times Wimbledon winner Andy Murray. Double fault, indeed!

Britain's Emma Raducanu exited this year's Wimbledon in the second round but fans at the Grand Slam have plenty to look forward to ©Getty Images
Britain's Emma Raducanu exited this year's Wimbledon in the second round but fans at the Grand Slam have plenty to look forward to ©Getty Images

Well, I say homegrown: the delightful but defeated and disappointed Raducanu, shock winner of last year’s US Open, may have been born in Canada of a Chinese mother and Romanian father, but since her Flushing Meadows triumph, she has been as British as bacon and eggs - or more appropriately strawberries and cream.

Mention of Wimbledon’s signature dish is valid as it is the one thing that has not suffered a price hike this year. 

It remains frozen, so to speak, at £2.50 for a modest bowl.

Should you wish to quaff it with the equally traditional glass of Pimm’s, the drink alone will leave you with just 80p change from a tenner.

Britain’s two leading lights may have been prematurely extinguished but a legion of domestic hopefuls left from a record entry of 17 continued to wave the Union Jack into the third round - and hopefully beyond.

As my insidethegames colleague Mike Rowbottom reported here last week, the current tournament is technically denuded by the absence of ranked players from Russia and Belarus following their official banishment.

The immediate reprisal from the world tennis governing bodies for both men and women was to strip the tournament of vital ranking points, suggesting it should be Wimbledon Lite.

Not that the faithful could give a referee’s toss about that.

They don’t see the fab fortnight as pointless.

Most of the world’s’ significant elite are there to be applauded, plus some with unpronounceable names who come from places they’ve barely heard of.

No matter. 

As former Wimbledon champion, Jimmy Connors once memorably said: "You could stick rackets in the hands of two orangutans and you will still sell out the Centre Court."

The effervescent Connors ranks high among those legendary stars I enjoyed watching during my 30 years of covering Wimbledon, starting in the halcyon days of Aussie dominance via Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad, John Newcombe, Fred Stolle, Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong through to the irascible but always entertaining John McEnroe, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Billie-Jean King, Chris Evert, Steffi Graf, Christine Truman and a host of other luminaries.

Then there was the Romanian Ilie Nastase. Between them, the antics of him and McEnroe make the present bête noire, Australian 'Nasty' Nick Kyrgios seem like a choirboy.

And let’s not forget Boris Becker, currently residing at Her Majesty’s pleasure for the next couple of years.

A far cry from the days when he wooed Wimbledon and was tagged "Bonking Boris" by the tabloids because of his lively love life of course.

Tennis great and former Wimbledon winner Jimmy Connors said
Tennis great and former Wimbledon winner Jimmy Connors said "you could stick rackets in the hands of two orangutans and you will still sell out the Centre Court" ©Getty Images

I have to say that I strongly believe the sandy-haired left-hander popularly known as The Rockhampton Rocket, was the best I have seen and in my view would have beaten, like Muhammad Ali at his zenith, and any opponent in history, even the likes of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal today.

Not that Wimbledon is everyone’s jug of Pimm’s. 

I know some, fellow journos among them, who can’t stand the place, believing it to be pompous, stuffy and overpriced. 

One who held such an opinion was the light Frank Keating, a renowned and witty sports writer with the Guardian

He hated everything within the ivy clad Emporium and was once hauled before the All England Club committee after committing the dreadful sin of loaning his centre court press pass to a mate for a few hours. 

He was told he would be banned from the tournament for the rest of the week. "Can’t you make it life?" he pleaded.

While Wimbledon may be something of an anachronism in today’s world of sport, it has certainly lead the way in welcoming players who happen to be gay.

Not that any male player has "come out" in modern times, the one and only being the three-times champion Bill Tilden, the American ace who dominated the tennis scene in the 1920s and was twice arrested for homosexual activity when it was illegal.

While there are no rumours of gay men on the present tennis circuit, it is well known that there has been a whole legion of women, most famously Billie Jean King, the feisty pioneer of women’s rights movement in tennis, multi-champion Martina Navratilova, Darlene Hard, Maria Bueno, Betty Stove and Rosie Casals, to name but a few gay icons welcomed at Wimbledon.

However tennis is one of the major sports, still to take a stance on the vexed issue of transgender. 

Yet, it was seriously involved back in the seventies when Dr Renée Richards was a regular on the women’s tours before being banned from the US Open.

What might happen should a trans tennis player ever turn up at Wimbledon remains to be seen.

Surely a case of "New balls, please!"