Tennis

London | Wimbledon Shorts… Day 14

More off-court stories from in and around Wimbledon…

It’s been an absolute privilege. I’ve loved it. Thirty amazing years. Thank you. Sue Barker

Sue Barker bids farewell

Sue Barker has bid a tearful farewell to Wimbledon after 30 years of presenting coverage of The Champioships for the BBC, calling it an ‘absolute privilege’.

Before becoming a presenter, 66-year old Barker was a professional tennis player and won the French Open in 1976.

To mark Barker stepping down from her role fronting the annual sporting showpiece, commentator and former Wimbledon champion John McEnroe introduced a film of her highlights, both as a player and a presenter.

McEnroe said ‘Sue Barker is Wimbledon’, while there were tributes from the great and the good of the sport, including Andy Murray, Roger Federer, Pete Sampras, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Virgina Wade, Rafael Nadal and Billie-Jean King, who all paid tribute to the former French Open champion.

From elsewhere in the sporting world, Olympians Robin Cousins and Michael Johnson also sent their best wishes for a happy retirement.

“I think my final message to Sue is that I’ll miss her massively, professionally,” Tim Henman said. “She’s been here every Wimbledon that I’ve ever been involved in as a professional player, and now working on the tournament side, and for the BBC.

“We’ll miss her massively but, hopefully, it’ll give her more time to get to the Royal Box in the evening and have a few more glasses of champagne. So I look forward to that.”

Former World No 1 Billie Jean King said: “Sue, you know I’m upset you’re leaving, right? I know you have to. I’m probably leaving too, don’t worry.

“Anyway, thank you for everything. And I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens in the next chapter of your life and just go for it.”

After the film drew to a close Barker was visibly moved and cried as her fellow presenters continued to praise her for her achievements.

“She’s the GOAT. Best ever,” King added.

Presenter Clare Balding also appeared to choke up as she wished Barker well: “And, I think it’s fair to say, we’ve broken her,” she said.

Barker managed to get a couple of sentences out, despite her tears, saying: “It’s been an absolute privilege. I’ve loved it. Thirty amazing years. Thank you.”

A crowd of Wimbledon fans gathered below the commentary box and could be heard clapping, cheering and chanting Barker’s name.

Attendance

The total attendance for Wimbledon was 515,164 people over the two-week tournament, surpassing the half-million mark for the 3rd time, after records set in 2009 with 511,043 and then 500,397 in 2019, which was the last time The Championships was held without COVID restrictions limiting capacity.

The figures reflect the introduction of play on the Middle Sunday for the first time, turning Wimbledon into a 14-day event, which saw 39,427 people in the grounds.

Without the extra day, however, there was a total of 475,740 people, which represents a 5% decrease from the equivalent 2019 figures.

Nevertheless, it demonstrates a bounce back from the pandemic, which saw the tournament cancelled in 2021 and just 301,837 allowed to attend in 2021 due to reduced spectator capacity.

The second week figures for this year’s championship were around the same level as the pre-pandemic years.

Glorious sunshine and plus-30C in the last few days saw fans crowding the hill to its 1,500 capacity to watch the quarter-final, semi-final and final matches.

The first week, though, was dogged by disappointing attendance figures after it had expected 42,000 tickets to be sold daily.

Just 36,603 people entered the grounds on the opening Monday, a 14% drop from 42,517 in 2019, while the cumulative number of spectators was 153,193 from the first Monday to Thursday, the sparsest attendance since 2007 when 148,986 people turned up.

Fans attributed the drop to a combination of the cost-of-living crisis, fears about catching coronavirus, and the absence of 8-time Wimbledon winner Roger Federer, who normally draws in swathes of international observers.

Meanwhile, attendance in The Queue for premium on-the-day tickets, which also returned after a Covid-induced 2-year hiatus, was at least 5 times lower this year than in 2019.

“Everything about the championship, particularly fan behaviour, is more of an art than a science and so of course we look at the things that will be different on any given day and what that results in,” Sally Bolton, AELTC Chief Executive, said. “In the box of thinking about all the things that might have contributed to the experience we have had this year, certainly the fact that we haven’t had a full championship since 2019.

“Stating the obvious, the world has changed and all our behaviour has changed and that is certainly something we will think about.”

Jabeur’s African dilemma

Ons Jabeur was the first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam women’s singles final but she fell agonisingly short of becoming Africa’s first female champion at the Majors.

“I just try to inspire as many generations as I can,” said the World No 2 from Tunisia after losing a 3-set final to Elena Rybakina.

Only 3 Tunisian women have WTA rankings, and after Jabeur, there is a chasm until Chiraz Bechri, ranked 718, and Ferdaous Bahri, at 1,545 in the world.

Elsewhere on the continent, Egypt can boast 50th-ranked Mayar Sherif, but she is the only woman from her country in the top 400.

For long-time continental powerhouse South Africa, 17-year-old Isabella Kruger, who played in the junior tournament at Wimbledon, is national number one but 456 on the WTA rankings.

Andy Murray had to say goodbye to his beloved Maggie May

Instagram

Andy Murray says goodbye to Maggie May

“Today our family said goodbye to this amazing little dog,” he wrote on social media alongside a picture of him giving Maggie May, the family’s border terrier, a kiss on the head.

“She was a huge part of our family and our first pet so this really hurts,” he continued. “Give your pets a big cuddle tonight cause it stings when you can’t anymore.

Thanks Maggie Mayhem you were an absolute star.”

Andy and wife Kim welcomed Maggie to their family in 2008, and they also are parents to Rusty, whom they welcomed in 2011.

In 2021 he told ‘PetsPyjamas’ that his dogs help him to ‘switch off’ and that they would ‘win an award for loyalty’ adding: ”They are my biggest supporters, whether I win or lose, they still want to hang out with me.

“Sometimes I find it hard to unwind after a match, or if I’ve had a particularly tough training day, but I love taking them for walks, or throwing a ball for them in the garden, or even just sitting with them on the sofa –  I find that helps me relax.”

Dog Lovers

Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina and finalist Ons Jabeur are both dog lovers.

At the Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose, California last year, Rybakina happily joined in with the pooch pet walk on court, a tradition by the Humane Society Silicon Valley, to showcase hounds up for adoption.

She also urged any potential owners to get their pet from a shelter in an Instagram post in November having visited a shelter herself.

“I visited for the first time, and I wanted to take everyone. And if it is not possible to take them to you, then you can come and help, play, take a walk, because they all need affection.”

Travel bug

Rybakina travels the world with her sport but also takes time out when she can, either at tournaments or beyond, to see the sights.

Her social media posts are peppered with images from around the globe with street art in Miami to castles in Slovakia.

The youngest player to lift the Venus Rosewater Dish since 2011, is clearly enjoying the journey, which is clearly just beginning, both on and off the court.

WTA Charities and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation join forces

A new collaboration between the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and WTA Charities has been formed, as WTA leaders and the foundation’s co-chair, Melinda French Gates, convened in London to discuss how the two organisations will harness their platforms and resources to further serve the future of women and girls around the world.

Those gathered for the roundtable conversation included Billie Jean King, Mary Pierce, Pam Shriver, Vania King, Iva Majoli, Cara Black, Daniela Hantuchova, Johanna Konta, Marion Bartoli, Ilana Kloss, Louise Pleming, along with WTA President Micky Lawler and Wimbledon CEO Sally Bolton.

Along with Melinda French Gates, they explored ways in which the new collaboration can bring greater attention, commitment and resources to the most serious health issues facing women and girls worldwide.

More than one billion women and children don’t have access to the nutrition they need to survive and thrive, and the current food crisis is expected to hit women and girls especially hard.

The meeting on Friday marked the beginning of a new alliance for the WTA and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which aims to elevate women’s leadership and voices in support of women’s health, and specifically women’s nutrition, as a major global health priority for the public, donors and partner governments.

From discussing the challenges faced overwhelmingly by women in low-and-middle-income countries and the impact of the global food crisis, French Gates and those around the table outlined a series of immediate objectives for the joint initiative, including recruiting philanthropic investment through WTA channels, raising critical funds with a dedicated tennis-aid program and developing leadership programs that will serve women’s nutrition needs on a global scale.

All sorts of requests reach the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but rarely via LinkedIn, which is how Lawler first reached out to the group about a partnership during a sleepless pandemic night.

Eventually, the idea made its way to foundation co-chair Melinda French Gates, who found the thought of working together with the sport appealing.

“I thought, ‘God, what better?’ I mean, I’m always looking for [gender equality] champions, because I know the difference they make for young girls,” French Gates told The Associated Press at Wimbledon on Friday, when she attended the Grand Slam tournament for the first time.

“I know the difference when they call on a government. I know when they have a link to a first lady in a country, something happens.

“We know that these athletes are at top of their game. They’re role models, they’re leaders and they can speak to these issues because they know them,” added French Gates, who said the foundation has not previously partnered with a women’s sports league.

“I just know, place after place, is better when we are moving toward gender equality.

“There’s nowhere in the world where we yet have it. But what I know is that so many young girls look up to female role models. And so who do they look for? They look for women in business, they look for women in entertainment, they look for women in sport.

“And so when this partnership started to come about, and Micky had this idea, she said, ‘Who better to know the importance of nutrition than our athletes, right?’ ”

Lawler was struck by seeing a Netflix documentary about Bill Gates and, she said on Friday, “It was Melinda’s brain that I was very interested in.”

Wimbledon drivers are having their perks cut

Jaguar Land Rover UK

Wimbledon ditches drivers’ perks

The Times reports that Wimbledon drivers, who take the world’s best players to The Championships, are said to be quitting next year because officials are removing their access to the matches.

The All England Club hires slightly older, middle-aged drivers to make the experience a ‘bit more classy’ for the executives and players who use the service, according to Wimbledon sources.

The workers are paid but are motivated by the perks of the job, which include the chance to chat to players and being able to watch them play from selected seats on No 1 Court.

One driver, who has been working at the tournament for more than 10 years, said they were paid about £11 an hour but added: “I don’t do it for the money but because I love being part of the Wimbledon experience.

“I’ve driven all the players and they are lovely.

“The main reason I do it is because there are seats reserved for the drivers to use on Court No 1.

“It means that when we are not working we can watch tennis, which I love.

“We have been told that, from next season, we won’t have access to the seats and will just have a ground pass.

“They want to make more money by selling those seats. Wimbledon has become so greedy. This will be my last year as a driver.”

Another driver said that Wimbledon chose older drivers to transport players and receive the privileges.

“The thinking is that if you’re Roger Federer for example and you’ve just been knocked out of Wimbledon, you don’t want to be driven home by a star-struck twenty-something who’s going to ask for a selfie,” the source said. “Behind the scenes, it’s quite an important part of the brand.

“By pissing them off Wimbledon risks losing a cohort of experienced people who quietly help make the championships what they are.”

It is understood that this year has been the first time that player transportation has been run entirely in-house by Wimbledon, and has experienced some ‘teething problems’.

St John Ambulance volunteers

St John Ambulance’s volunteers treat tens of thousands of spectators each year at the All England Club from 4 treatment centres, dotted around the grounds.

More than 350 volunteer first-aiders, nurses, paramedics and doctors are on site over the two-week period looking after the general public while the players are looked after by a separate, elite medical team, with specific experience in treating on-court injuries.

Rosemary Waddy, a 77-year-old retired doctor, has worked with St John Ambulance (SJA) for almost 40 years, helping at the last 7 Championships.

As a volunteer support member, Rosemary, who lives in Surrey, works closely with the charity’s on-site command team, providing regular updates on the condition of patients.

She also oversees the first aid posts, ensuring they are properly equipped to run effectively.

“There are 42,000 people at Wimbledon every day,” she told i. “When you think of it like that, it’s a small town. And if anything can happen in a small town, it can happen here.

“As far as I know, we haven’t had a pregnancy, and we haven’t delivered a baby yet. But anything else we’ve dealt with. You have your strokes, your heart attacks, your serious medical conditions.”

Heat accounts for the majority of the 150 patients they treat each day on average, with spectators spending hours on end in direct sun watching lengthy matches unfold, putting themselves at risk of exhaustion.

Waddy recommends wearing a hat and applying sun cream – just be careful not to use too much.

“If they apply too much and start sweating, it begins dripping into their eyes and you get can get a potentially nasty chemical burn.

“We have to be very careful about washing that out thoroughly to make sure that they don’t get long-term problems.”

Alcohol consumption is part and parcel of the Wimbledon experience, with spectators strongly favouring Pimm’s over Robinsons squash, which ended its 86-year partnership with the tournament this year.

To learn more about how to volunteer with St John Ambulance visit the charity’s website

Wimbledon’s Tennis Ball Manager

Andy Chevalier, 41, is an actor, but for just over a month out of the year, he works at Wimbledon, having started as a security guard in 2002 and as part of the ball-distribution team since 2018.

The Ball Distribution Manager oversees the teams on-site at Wimbledon where a lot goes on behind the scenes to ensure enough balls are on the courts for the matches to proceed seamlessly.

“This year is my first as the ball-distribution manager at Wimbledon,” Chevalier said. “There are 9 people on my team.

“My role is to ensure that, with my team, there are always enough tennis balls in the right places: match courts, practice courts, under the umpire’s chair, and even warm-up balls in the umpire’s office.

“I arrive almost two weeks before the Championships begin to receive the delivery of balls and prepare.

“This year’s order consisted of over 58,000 balls. Each of Wimbledon’s 18 courts needs 21 new cans of balls a day — 18 cans is enough for the longest possible men’s game, with three spares, just in case.

“The outside courts get 1,900 balls a day. Behind each umpire’s chair, there’s a metal barrel where the ball boys and girls retrieve them.

“Our day starts at 8:45 a.m. with transporting the balls around the venue by buggy. We drop the balls off at their respective courts, then the teams distribute them.

“For the match courts, like Centre Court or Court One, we deliver the 21 cans in special green bags and store them behind the umpire’s chair.

“On each court, there’s a captain who delivers the used balls back to the ball-distribution office to exchange them for two new cans.

“They need to work quickly to exchange the balls before the umpire arrives on the court for the next match

“Those balls come back to my office at Centre Court so we can sort through them.

“We’ll go through about 350 balls a day, which takes roughly two hours. We check the balls to see if they’ve been used in 3, 5, or 7 games.  We call these “3,5,7s.”

“You can tell which number each ball is by the wear of the Slazenger logo — the ball also gets fluffier the more it’s used.

“We squeeze the balls to check that they’ve still got adequate pressure. If we leave them outside their cans, they’ll lose pressure within a day.

“We then send the “3,5,7s” back out to the courts.

“The umpire stores one or two spare cans under their chair for when players hit the balls out of the court. When that happens, the umpire will examine one of the balls in rotation to match it with one of our ‘3,5,7s’.

“The umpire can then drop an equally used ball back into the rotation rather than a new ball, which would hit harder and faster compared to the used one.

“Eventually, the balls all come back to the office. We re-tin them and sell them at the Ball-Resale Kiosks, which generate £15,000 for charity each year.

“Gammy balls end up with the police dogs.

“The Umpire’s Office also needs balls for when there’s a rain delay. We have to keep all the balls from that game separate, so players can continue to use them when the match restarts.

“We also have to deliver more cans of warm-up balls to the office for when the players return to the courts.

“When players get back to the courts, they need balls to warm up, too. Rather than giving them new balls, we give them two tins of 5-game balls.

“These championships had the worst possible start for me, with half an hour of play followed by a rain delay.

“The opening Monday was, by far and away, the busiest day I’ve had since 2018.

“If we have a rain delay early on, there’s potential for several delays during the day.

“All 18 courts come off, and when they go back on, they need 36 cans of 5-game balls for the players to warm up with.

“If we’re doing it two or three times a day, we’ll work through closer to 700 or 800 balls. Sunny days are great for us.

“Thankfully, we’ve never run out of balls on a court.”

Tunisian Chair Umpires banned

The International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) has confirmed that 3 Tunisian chair umpires have been banned from the sport after being found guilty of match fixing charges.

Majd Affi, a green badge chair umpire, has been banned for 20 years after being found guilty of 12 charges relating to events between 2017 and 2020.

Mohamed Ghassen Snene, also a green badge chair umpire, and Abderahim Gharsallah, a white badge chair umpire, have been banned for 7 years each, after being found guilty of 4 charges relating to an event in Tunisia in 2020.

The charges related to the umpires manipulating scores inputted into their electronic scoring devices, which did not reflect the actual scores on court.

The cases were heard by independent Anti-Corruption Hearing Officer (AHO) Jane Mulcahy QC, and the sanctions mean the individuals will no longer be able to officiate at any tennis event authorised or sanctioned by any international tennis governing body or national association for the length of their bans.

Stan Smith and his wife Marjory Gengler seen in the Royal Box watching the Men’s Singles Final on Sunday

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Stan Smith shoe still the tops

Fifty years after Stan Smith won his singles title at Wimbledon, his signature shoe line with Adidas is as popular as ever, and has become more hip, versatile.

“When I’m walking, I generally look at people’s feet more than I look at their faces, just to see what they’re wearing,” said Smith, 75, sitting under a canopy in the back yard of the stately 3-story house he rents every Wimbledon fortnight, one of the houses closest to the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club.

Over the last 50 years, Adidas has sold more than 100 million Stan Smith tennis shoes, now a fashion statement, and not something competitive players would wear on the court.

Smith, the one-time standout at Pasadena High and USC, made the Guinness Book of World Records in 1988 for the most pairs sold — approximately 22 million — and that number climbed in the 1990s when Adidas released the Stan Smith II and retro Stan Smith 80s.

The most common ones are uncomplicated, with clean white leather and a touch of green on the back.

Smith, who figures he owns about 150 pairs, wears his everywhere, except in the Royal Box at Centre Court, where they are still considered a little too casual.

“I’ve lobbied for quite a while but they won’t let me do it,” he said. “I’ve got some black ones. They have some with a pointed toe, which is a patent leather, but I haven’t tried that.”

This year is the 50th anniversary of Smith’s Wimbledon men’s singles title, and he and his wife, Marjory, will be sitting with the royals on Sunday for the men’s singles final.

In fact, there will be more Smiths in Centre Court, including his 4 children and their spouses, and 10 of the 16 grandchildren, who are here to celebrate Stan’s anniversary and then visit Adidas headquarters in Germany, the company that gave him a lifetime contract.

Konta’s retirement

Johanna Konta retired from the pro tour in December, got married and is now heavily pregnant while joining BBC Sport’s Wimbledon team as a pundit.

She retired with 4 WTA titles to her name and is based in her home town of Eastbourne with husband Jackson Wade and thr couple expecting their first child in early September.

“It is definitely different,” Konta said about being back at Wimbledon as a broadcaster. “When I arrived that first day – obviously, I only know the place as a player, so I had to relearn different areas of the venue from a broadcasting perspective.

That was quite funny. I didn’t really know where to go, so I needed a lot of help.”

Does the 31-year old wish she was still on the court?

“I miss parts of it,” she said. “But no, I’m happy with where I am in life. I’ve got lots to look forward to. So no, I don’t wish I was out there.

“I always knew it [retirement] was going to be an adjustment, and it wasn’t going to be an adjustment made in a couple of weeks.

“It’s going to take time, it’s going to take a year or two for me to start finding my way outside of tennis.”

Period protest to ditch strict ‘all white’ dress code

A protest was staged outside Wimbledon on Saturday calling for the Club’s strict ‘all white’ dress code to be revised, with a group of campaigners saying the rules are outdated and cause anxiety for women during their periods.

Recreational tennis player Gabriella Holmes, 26, and footballer Holly Gordon, 28, started the campaign, ‘Address The Dress Code’, to highlight the issue.

The pair arrived at Wimbledon’s Gate 5 with two other women, wearing white skirts with red undershorts, ahead of the ladies’ singles final on Saturday afternoon.

The outfits are inspired by the former French player Tatiana Govin, who wore red shorts under her skirt at the 2007 championship, sparking widespread media attention, the group said.

They handied out fliers with a photo-shopped version of the famous ‘Tennis Girl’ photo, that shows a woman lifting her skirt to reveal blood-stained shorts rather than a bare bottom.

They also held up banners with messages like: ‘Address the dress code’ and ‘You can do it Ian Hewitt’, referring to the Chairman of the All England Club.

The organisers said they want Wimbledon to ‘amend’ the traditional dress code so that women can decide if they want to wear colours that make them more comfortable.

“We’ve basically come down today because we want Wimbledon to address the white dress code that doesn’t take into consideration female athletes on their periods,” Ms Holmes told the PA news agency.

“We want to make it really known to Wimbledon that the rules they are making at the top, they’re all already filtering down to grassroots levels.

“We are already seeing tons of young girls who drop out of sports when they start their period or by the time they’ve hit puberty they’ve stopped sports altogether.

“We think it’s the time to address those barriers for young girls getting into the sport and it starts at the top, so that’s Wimbledon.”

Ms Gordon added: “The conversation around women’s sport, in general, is becoming bigger so this conversation shouldn’t really come as a surprise.”

She said that they are hoping the Wimbledon Board listens and sits down to think about potentially making amendments to the dress code.

“We’re not hoping to drastically change the all-white dress code, we just want to kind of amend it and keep in mind the practicality for women instead of keeping up traditions essentially for tradition’s sake.

“We ultimately want it to be the women’s choice about what would actually alleviate any stress or shame when it comes to competing professionally in front of the world.”

Ms Holmes added that they have suggested women could choose to wear Wimbledon’s colours of purple and green as an option for undershorts.

“We want women to be able to focus on the tennis and on the sport and not have to worry about other factors when competing at this level,” she said.

Raducanu inspires the next generation

Former British No 1 Katie O’Brien believes a talented crop of British juniors is taking inspiration from the country’s best tennis players, and revealed Emma Raducanu had a hitting session with one of them.

This summer has seen a boom in British tennis with 10 players reaching the 2nd-round at the All England Club, the best showing at the tournament since 1984.

O’Brien is the LTA Women’s National Coach and spends time at the National Tennis Centre working with promising British juniors such as Mimi Xu, Jasmine Conway and Hannah Klugman.

Some of Britain’s best players also train at the NTC in Roehampton, and O’Brien believes this provides perfect inspiration for juniors.

“They’re getting to see our best players in action so they come down and get to see Cam Norrie practising, they will see Katie Boulter and Emma Raducanu, they can see Andy Murray and it’s just inspiring being in that environment,” she said. “And I think success breeds success in the same professional habits that we see the pros have and the youngsters can see that.

“I think our British pros realise just how influential they are, how much they can inspire the next generation.

“Just at the beginning of the grass court season, Emma Raducanu wanted to play last minute at the NTC on the grass and she bumped into one of our juniors off the court, Mimi Xu, and she actually offered to play with her for 45 minutes – that’s something that Mimi is never going to forget.”

Eleven British players were in the Girls’ Singles at Wimbledon this year, with Conway, 17, reaching the quarter-finals after receiving a wild-card into the main draw.

With 14-year-old Xu reaching the 3rd-round and 13-year-old Klugman making her singles debut and reaching the quarter-final of the Girls’ Doubles, O’Brien believes this summer will prove an invaluable experience for those in action.

“We’ve got a crop of young talent coming through, it’s not just one and the spotlight isn’t just on that one person,” she added.

“We had 11 junior girls in the main draw and they were all competitive, so they’re all going to be pushing each other on for weeks, months and years to come.”

Roger Federer with Chairman of the All England Club, Ian Hewitt speaking on the Centre Court balcony on the Middle Sunday of The Championships

© Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Federer’s focus

Roger Federer’s on-going absence from the ATP tour has led to many doubts about his eventual come-back, or even a successful come-back, but the Swiss great, who is less than a month shy of turning 41, is far from done, and has revealed that his main focus in life is on getting back to the match court.

He recently attended a philanthropic event in connection to the Roger Federer Foundation, one of his active interests away from tennis, and spoke about his efforts towards a return to the sport.

“Time will tell how I want to deal with this, how often I keep looking for interest,” he said. “I think about that now sometimes, but not often.

“My main focus is on how to make my come-back in tennis. I work hard on that and I think about it every day.”

Federer is set to play at the Laver Cup and the ATP Basel Open in September and October.

It has been more than a year since Federer’s last appearance on a tennis court, at Wimbledon, the same place where he recently received one of the most rousing receptions one will see, during the Centre Court centennial celebrations.

“What feeling you get, and how you react after such applause and standing ovation, I still don’t know that in advance,” he said. “Novak [Djokovic] also said that: a lot of us are nervous before such a parade.

“We don’t do this every day either, we never get used to it. It remains uncertain, while all you have to do is walk a bit and say a few words. And I was quite emotional, although not everyone has seen that.

“You never tire of such attention. That is why it is also difficult for many athletes to stop. Or why they keep playing demonstration matches. Because they love to perform. Because in the end we are not just tennis players, but also performers, entertainers,” he continued.

His absence from the 2022 Wimbledon Championships broke a 23-year-long streak of him playing in the iconic grass court Major, which remains the most successful Grand Slam tournament of his illustrious career, with 8 singles titles.

“It feels very strange to me not to play Wimbledon this year and to watch it on TV. I’ve been there every time since 1998,” said the 20-time Grand Slam champion. “But it is also a time of more rest.

“I’ve been on the road for so long that it was also nice to experience a little more calm and to be in one place more often, which already happened due to the coronavirus.

“It gave me the opportunity to be selective in figuring out my travels. To give something back. Many friends always came to see me, now I could turn it around.”

Back to croquet

The Washington Post reminds us that croquet is an integral part of the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club and that the Championship matches are all over, and players have jetted home, the 6 spill-over practice courts across Bathgate Road stand ready for their annual rebirth, back to croquet.

“It’s part of the DNA; it’s part of the fabric of the club,” said Neil Stubley, Head of Courts and Horticulture for the Club.

Croquet dates back to the beginning, hatched on 23 July, 1868, when 6 men met in a magazine office in London, and the one who became honorary treasurer, Samuel Horace Clarke Maddock, had no idea just how that treasury would mushroom.

It budgeted to add tennis — ‘The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club’ — by 1877.

Croquet waned. Tennis surged. Croquet made a rally, and even as the place became ‘The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club’ in 1899, croquet hung on.

Until 2007, the croquet lawns persevered over in one corner of the grounds, until the new medium-sized stadium of No 2 Court covered that area, when the lawns moved off-site, just across the street, where croquet is played from April to September, except for mid-June to mid-July when they are converted to practice courts.

Now that the tennis players have dispersed, it’s time for the scarifying, for the baseline renovations, for the oversewing, the fertilising, the regrowing, the germination sheets, the remeasuring, the return of the croquet hoops.

It’s time to ‘Hoover it’, as Stubley said, to get out the ‘Billy Goat, which is like a big petrol Hoover’, and to suck up detritus, and take the grass from 8 to 6 millimetres.

“So a traditional croquet lawn should be the same as a traditional USGA golf green,” he said. “It’s a sandy profile. It’s normally a bent-fescue sword.

“Because on croquet, like golf, the greens, it’s about the trueness and the smoothness. On a tennis court, it’s about rebound and ball height.”

The club’s croquet players vie with those in other clubs such as Hurlingham or Roehampton, flying off fly on croquet trips to places such as the Greek island of Corfu and Montenegro.

Bernard Neal from Cheltenham, a professor of structural engineering at Imperial College London, won the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club’s own club championship 38 times.

“It’s not a very great achievement,” he told the BBC when he was 89 in 2011, 5 years before his death “These were the club championships for members only, and not many members of the All England Club play croquet at all.”

Sometimes the croquet life can follow upon a tennis life in the same life.

“It is a game that grabs you,” said Jonathan Smith, who played world-class tennis in the Grand Slams of the 1970s and reached the Australian Open semi-finals in doubles and making the Wimbledon 3rd-round in singles in 1977, losing to Vitas Gerulaitis.

He never anticipated he would hold any position such as ‘member in charge of croquet’ when about 15 years ago, a friend took him out to the lawns in the corner of the grounds.

He calls croquet ‘a great game for anyone who’s a bit knackered’ after the strains on the joints from a pursuit such as tennis or rugby.

“If I were to try to hit a croquet ball from the boundary and hit the peg in the centre of the lawn, that is 14 yards. And if I did that 3 times out of 10, I would be a very happy bunny.”

Then he mentioned Reg Bamford, a croquet wonder who got honoured at Wimbledon this fortnight.

“He actually hit the peg 65 times consecutively,” Smith said, “and then he stopped for lunch.

“If you go to a croquet club, people are passionate about croquet, and if you go to a tennis club, people are passionate about tennis. We happen to have both. We’re keen on croquet, but we’re passionate about tennis.”

Croquet breathes on, maybe even for another 154 years, with somewhat easier horticulture ahead because, once the Club expands as planned, ample practice courts will appear, and the croquet lawns will stay put year-round.

Disgraced former umpire chief returns for US Open

The Telegraph reports that disgraced former umpire Soeren Friemel is returning to tennis at the US Open, just 6 months after he stood down as Head of Officiating at the ITF.

Friemel, a 50-year-old German, quit his role at the ITF in February, less than a fortnight after Telegraph Sport revealed that he was serving a 12-month suspension for harassing a younger male umpire.

Yet, almost as soon as Friemel’s ban elapsed on 18 June, a completely different group of administrators at the USTA have hired him back as one of 6 US Open supervisors working under tournament referee Wayne McKewen, a speedy return, which is causing growing concern in the officiating world.

Friemel had previously served as US Open referee in 2019 and 2020.

“There could hardly be a greater demonstration of why tennis officiating needs to be unified, rather than having multiple different teams run by the 3 professional tours and 4 Grand Slams,” said one insider, who preferred not to be identified.

Friemel’s former ITF position has now been split into two different roles, a decision that Kris Dent, the ITF’s Head of Professional Tennis, said was intended to reduce the amount of power concentrated in the hands of any one official.

On Thursday, the ITF announced Iain Smith as its new Head of Officials and Andrew Nicholas-Wynne as Head of Officiating Compliance.

According to Andrew Jarrett, who served as Wimbledon referee from 2006 to 2019: “Iain Smith’s appointment is a start as he will represent all officials’ interests and not just a few.

“However, he will still have to deal with the divided world of officiating with all of its vested interests.

“I still expect there to be a closing of ranks, the protection of the few, and the hope that the current focus [on the problematic issues that lie under the apparently serene surface of tennis officiating] will all die down.

“The world officials, players and the general public deserve better than this.”

The decision to bring Friemel back in a senior role at next month’s US Open is understood to have frustrated other officials employed by the USTA.

Mertens breaks with coach

Elise Mertens, who reached the 4th-round at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon this season, but not gone beyond the quarter-finals in any singles event, has split with her coach, Simon Goffin, following a 7-month partnership.

The 26-year-old Belgian announced the move following her singles campaign at Wimbledon, reaching the round of 16 as well as the doubles finals, partnering Zhang Shuai as the tournament’s top seeded team.

Thanking Goffin for his ‘support and advice’, Mertens added their ‘different views’ on the way she should play were ‘too challenging’ for their collaboration.

“I want to inform you that the collaboration with my coach Simon Goffin has come to an end,” she wrote on Twitter. “I am very grateful for his support and advice, but our different views on how to become a better player have proven to be too challenging.

“I wish Simon all the best and I am sure he will find a new challenge very soon.”

According to press from Belgium, Goffin did not travel to Wimbledon and no new coach has been announced.

The pair began working together during the 2021 off season.

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