Extract from Tennis’s strangest matches by Peter Seddon:

Since the Modern Olympic Games began in 1896, the number of occasions on which British competitors have made a clean sweep of the medals in one event has been, let’s admit it, rather fewer than they would have liked. So hats off to the British ladies’ tennis squad at the 1908 London Olympics who saw off all opposition to take gold, silver and bronze.

What a proud moment it must have been as the long-skirted heroines ran down every ball and rallied to the cause, pink cheeks all aglow, with true British spirit. But alas, behind this most agreeable 1-2-3 is a rather different story.

What could possibly be insinuated? Might it have been a hollow victory? Who were the opposition? In truth, a more appropriate question is ‘Where was the opposition?’ Let the farce commence.
Matters began only mildly strangely when it was decided there would be two Olympic tennis titles that year, a covered court tournament staged at Queen’s Club in May, followed by a contest on grass at Wimbledon in July.

Gladys Eastlake Smith served notice of Britain’s triumphal intentions by taking the indoor gold and two months later the grass court Olympics sprang into action at Wimbledon’s Worple Road ground.
‘Sprang’ may be too strong a word. Teetered proved to be about right. Thirteen ladies put their names forward for entry into the singles, among them six overseas players willing to mix it with the seven-strong British field. But things started to go pear-shaped early on.

Officials in charge of the draw squirmed uneasily as none of the overseas players turned up! They comforted themselves with the thought that it could still be a cracking contest even though Britain was guaranteed the medals. It was, after all, a strong field.

There was Charlotte Sterry, fresh from winning her fifth Wimbledon crown the month before, and six-times champion Blanche Hillyard; what a battle that might be. ‘Might’ proved to be the operative word as both of them scratched. The officials, meanwhile, merely began to itch a little.
That still left fine five players chasing those three elusive medals. It was fighting talk but nothing more as the destination of gold, silver and bronze was decided by playing just four matches in four rounds.

In a ludicrous draw, which included all eight phantom players, walkovers were the order of the day. Madame Fenwick, the French hope, was entirely conspicuous by her absence but still progressed to the semi-final draw by first ‘defeating’ the equally invisible Austrian torchbearer Miss Matouch and following this walkover with another over fellow truant Charlotte Sterry.

While Madame Fenwick might have read of her disembodied Olympic progress with not a little astonishment from the comfort of a sun-drenched terrace somewhere on the French Riviera, Dorothy Chambers Lambert seized gold by winning three matches comfortably. Her opponent in the final was Dora Boothby, who just about made a game of it by losing 6-1 7-5 after getting there without striking a ball, courtesy of two walkovers. Thus she became the honoured recipient of an Olympic silver medal without winning a match and by taking only six games.

Even that performance was heroic compared to the one that captured the bronze; that coveted gong went to Ruth Winch whose only match was her semi-final defeat againt Chambers Lambert in which she took the meastly total of two games.

No matter! It was a triple triumph for the British who had steadfastly overcome the absentee Austain, French and Hungarian entants by adhering to the most important principle of lawn tennis competition. The cynics may chorus ‘It’s a lottery’ and that’s precisely the point.

Those British girls weren’t daft. They knew the first rule of any competition. If you’re not in it you can’t win it.

Bjorn Borg, Wimbledon 1976

Winner at Roland Garros in 1974 and 1975, Borg reached the Wimbledon final in 1976 without dropping a set. He then dispatched Ilie Nastase in straight sets. Borg became the youngest male Wimbledon champion of the modern era at 20 years and 1 month (a record subsequently broken by Boris Becker, who won Wimbledon aged 17 in 1985). It would be the last time Borg played Wimbledon as an underdog.
With his long blonde hair and good looks, Bjorn Borg changed the face of tennis in the early 70s: winning Roland Garros made him a european celebrity, but winning Wimbledon made him a worldwilde celebrity, the first tennis popstar.

Extract from Mr Nastase, the autobiography:

We emerged from the locker rroom that was on the left, just inside the main entrance to the All England Club, turned let, walked up a few steps, through some wooden doors, and passed underneath Kipling’s words about meeting Triumph and Disaster and treating those two impostors just the same (yeah, right). Then, just on the left, before the door that led onto Centre Court, we were told to wait in the famous little anteroom. We sat there, just Bjorn and me and Leo, the little lockerroom attendant who carried all our rackets and bags. Bjorn and I had agreed before we went out which end we would take with our chais, but that was all we had said to each other all morning. In the anteroom, we didn’t exchange a word.

Then we were called onto court. We emerged to a total scrum of photographers. Even I had never seen so many, it felt like a boxing match. We both bowed when we reached the sevice line, and each went to our corners. Borg won the toos and elected to receive. When play started, I began well. So well, in fact, compared to Borg, that I broke him in his first service game, led 3-0, and had three break points for a 4-0 lead.

Sure enough, the Ice Man cometh. Borg woke up. He held serve, broke back, got to 3-3, and broke me again to go 5-4, after which he served out to win the first set. I think that, if I had won that first set, anything could have happened. But, with Borg one set up, he got into his stride, whereas I seemed to lose my momentum. I had served really well all through the tournament, making use of my slightly heavier racket. Now, though, my serves were neutered, and he was benefiting from the slower court and higher bounce to slug great returns at me as I made my way to the net. He also served unbelievably well, and because of the conditions, had more time to choose on which shot he would come up to the net, so he won a lot of points at the net, something he would not normally have done. Although I was fast, Borg was a great athlete as well, so he was able to run to anything.

By the second set, I had lost confidence. I began to swear and shout at my brother and Mitch out of frustration. I tried staying back, I tried going up to the net, but Bjorn had an answer to everything. Before I knew I had lost the set 6-2.

I kept trying to get myself going in the third set. I was slapping my thigh the whole time, but still Borg was better than me. I’m not the sort of player who, at the change of ends, will sit there trying to analyze the game and figure out a way of changing things. I would just change ends faster. When I was winning, on the other hand, I used to take a long time: let the other guy sit there and think about it. But now that I was losing there was no point in sitting there, going crazy. Borg, meawhile, was spending every change of ends putting freezing spray on his stomach muscle to numb the pain. It obviously worked.
It was incredible how, having totally crushed him six months before in the Masters final, the situation had been reversed, and I was now the one who couldn’t play. But that’s the unpredictable side of sport. Maybe if we’d played the next day, the result would have been different, you never know. But I have to say Borg played really well that day.

He broke immediately in that third set and reached 5-4. He was now serving for the title. The crowd went wild and tried to encourage me. I don’t know how, but I managed to break back after saving a match point with a passing shot. I survived until 7-7 (the tie-breaks were at 8-all in those days) when I was broken again. This time, Borg reached match point, served match point, served to my backhand corner, and I returned into the net. It was all over. Borg hurled his racket into the air, as Smith has done four years before. Although I had lost, I spontaneously leapt over the net to hug and congratulate him.

Novak Djokovic Wimbledon 2016 outfit

The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club:

Wimbledon guided tour – part 1
Wimbledon guided tour – part 2
Wimbledon Centre Court roof
Court 3 : a new Show Court at Wimbledon
Waiting in the Queue to Wimbledon
Wimbledon Museum: The Queue exhibition
The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum: Player Memorabilia

A trip down memory lane:

Wimbledon ‘s biggest upsets
Wimbledon memories: Mrs Blanche Bingley Hillyard
Wimbledon memories: Charlotte Cooper Sterry
Wimbledon memories: Dora Boothby
Portrait of Wimbledon champion Ann Jones
Wimbledon 1969: Laver’s getting beat by an Indian
Rod Laver – John Newcombe Wimbledon 1969
Around the grounds at Wimbledon in 1971
Wimbledon 1975: Ashe vs Connors
1976: Bjorn Borg first Wimbledon title
Portrait of 5-time Wimbledon champion Bjorn Borg
Wimbledon 1976: Chris Evert defeats Evonne Goolagong
Portrait of Virginia Wade, winner in 1977
1981: First Wimbledon title for McEnroe
1982: Jimmy Connors defeats John McEnroe
1984: John McEnroe defeats Jimmy Connors
1985: Boris Becker, the man on the moon
1986: Boris Becker defeats Ivan Lendl, wins second Wimbledon title
Portrait of 3-time Wimbledon champion Boris Becker
Wimbledon 1988: An era ends as Graf beats Navratilova
Wimbledon 1988: Edberg a deserving new champion
Portrait of 2-time Wimbledon champion Stefan Edberg
Wimbledon 1990: Becker vs Edberg
1990: Martina Navatilova’s historic 9th Wimbledon title
Wimbledon 1991: the first Middle Sunday
1992: first Grand Slam for Andre Agassi
Andre Agassi: thanks to Wimbledon I realized my dreams
1993: Pete Sampras defeats Jim Courier
1994: Pete Sampras defeats Goran Ivanisevic
1995: Tim Henman disqualified!
Wimbledon 1996: singing in the rain
1996: Richard Krajicek upsets Pete Sampras
Wimbledon 1996: a winning streak
1997: Pete Sampras defeats Cédric Pioline
2000 Wimbledon SF: Pat Rafter defeats Andre Agassi
2000 Wimbledon Final: Pete Sampras defeats Pat Rafter
2001 Wimbledon 4th round: Federer defeats Sampras
Wimbledon 2010: Rafael Nadal defeats Tomas Berdych
The Spirit of Wimbledon: a 4-part documentary by Rolex retracing Wimbledon history
Wimbledon 2012: Roger Federer defeats Andy Murray
Andy Murray’s road to the Wimbledon 2013 final
Wimbledon 2013: Andy Murray, 77 years after Fred Perry
Wimbledon 2014 coverage
Wimbledon 2015 coverage

Fashion and gear:

Polls:

Who will win Wimbledon 2016?

  • Novak Djokovic (53%, 50 Votes)
  • Roger Federer (21%, 20 Votes)
  • Andy Murray (17%, 16 Votes)
  • Dominic Thiem (5%, 5 Votes)
  • Kei Nishikori (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Stan Wawrinka (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Tomas Berdych (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Milos Raonic (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Richard Gasquet (0%, 0 Votes)
  • David Goffin (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Someone else (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 95

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Who will win Wimbledon 2016?

  • Serena Williams (33%, 8 Votes)
  • Garbine Muguruza (33%, 8 Votes)
  • Victoria Azarenka (17%, 4 Votes)
  • Simona Halep (8%, 2 Votes)
  • Angelique Kerber (4%, 1 Votes)
  • Someone else (4%, 1 Votes)
  • Agnieszka Radwanska (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Roberta Vinci (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Belinda Bencic (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Venus Williams (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Timea Bacsinszky (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 24

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Wimbledon champion Andy Murray

From Andy Murray‘s autobiography Seventy-Seven:

In the Olympics if you lose the final, you still get a silver medal. A runner-up trophy at a Slam doesn’t really compare with a silver medal. In the Wimbledon final, you have everything to gain and everything to lose at the same time. I had come through that semi-final against Janowicz and I knew I had a great chance of winning the final.

I was OK until the last 30 minutes before the match and then the nerves hit me again. I’m sure Novak, Rafa and Roger and their teams were nervous but the knowledge that they’d won Wimbledon before must have helped. Last year I lost and I did think that I might never get another chance to do it. For me, someone who has never won it before, and my support team, the nervousness is heightened. And that’s before you even think about it being my home Grand Slam and the extra expectation that entails.[…]

Then, finally, there is the walk to Centre Court. The one thing that helped me there is that I’ve walked through the corridor so many times. As soon as I started the walk, I felt better. It didn’t feel uncomfortable, the nerves eased. I know those hallways. I have sat on Centre Court, I have played numerous matches out there. I felt even better than the previous year. Walking to the court I could see people out of the window. People going up to the Hill, looking at their tickets, rushing to take their places. They looked happy. So I felt I should be, too.

The beginning of any match is really important, and even more so in a Grand Slam final. Statistics show that if you win the first set in a Slam final, you are much more likely to go and win the match. And this time, I had three break points in the first game. I wanted to get that break from 0-40, I was hitting the ball well from the back of the court, but I didn’t quite make it.[…]

The final was much as I expected it, full of deep-hitting, eneregy-sapping rallies, Novak striking the ball out of the middle, and both of us looking for that essence of authority. Winning the first set was going to be critical and, after I couldn’t convert any of my chances in the first game, I broke in the third with a backhand down the line, wrong-footing him. We had played 20 tortuous minutes and it was only 2-1. Then, in game four, I had three break points and took advantage of the second.
I immediately had Novak on the back foot on his serve again, earning three break points and taking the second. I hung on to my advantage this time, and when I eventually served out he set to love, I felt a rush. I had played the perfect service game and pretty much a perfect set.

I did get a bit defensive at the start of the second set and Novak pushed out to a 4-1 lead. At 4-2, I had two break points, but he won three in a row for advantage. I hung around in another long rally, broke his next serve and he double-faulted the game away. 4-3.
Four games to three became 4-4 and 5-5. At 15-all in the eleventh game, Novak got involved in a dispute with umpire Mohamed Lahyani about a baseline call – Novak thought the ball was out but there was no call and Hawk-Eye, so I’m told, said it was good. I had two break points and on the second, he netted. For the second time, I served out to love, this time finishing the set with an ace. Two sets to love up. A nice cushion but the job was nowhere near finished.[…]

At least the finishing line was in sight. I imagine that’s the same as when you reach the last kilometre of a marathon and you feel much better than you did five kilometres out because you know the end is close. In the same way, it is a lot easier to chase the balls down when you are only one set away from finishing the match rather than another two-and-a-half sets, which is what it was looking like at 4-1 down 15 minutes previously. I was now in a position where I could really put pressure on an try to close out the match.[…]

I felt I was beginning to read Novak’s intentions, even though I went from 2-0 up to 4-2 down in the third. I broke back, setting it up with a swinging forehand and he missed his backhand long. Then I held for four-all, with another of those running forehands to a backhand drop shot.
In the next game at 15-all, again I had to cover some ground. Novak played a drop shot, I could only flick it back, he played a lob, but I had the time to spin round and give chase and got enough of a racket on it to fire the ball at him before he could react. 15-30.
I suppose the next point was one of the most crucial. Novak struck a very solid forehand into my forehand corner which meant a scramble and a forehand ‘get’. He swept his backhand deep into the opposite corner, which I managed to get back as well, this time with interest. he could only play an off-balance backhand volley and i had read it, moving up the court for a forehand winner.

An explosion of noise. The crowd was right in my head now. I could sense their support, their desire, their drive. I wanted to get them over the line. I was blowing hard, but so was Novak. When he netted a forehand on the next poin point, I remeber him walking back to the chair and looking at him for a split-second. He kicked out at his racket bag. He was suffering. I was about to serve for Wimbledon.

A few fraught minutes (and deuces) later, the title was mine.

Andy Murray and Fernando Verdaco, Wimbledon 2013

From Andy Murray‘s autobiography Seventy-Seven:

Having won the Olympic gold medal and the US Open the previous year, I expected to go into Wimbledon with a bit more confidence, but the feelings of nervousness and stress were still the same. Maybe after the US Open, I felt that playing a Slam wouldn’t be the same arduous challenge anymore because I had won one, but for 99 per cent of the British population Wimbledon is the only one that really counts for the British players. I couldn’t change that. I felt that pressure.

Getting the first in under the belt can be the trickiest at Wimbledon. I am always nervous before the opening match because the court plays differently for a couple of days; it is extremely green and tricky underfoot. So I was really pleased to put in a decent first-round performance against Benjamin Becker.

Elsewhere, Rafael Nadal went out in the first round to Steve Darcis of Belgium and Roger Federer was beaten in the second round by Sergiy Stakhovsky from Ukraine (the guy I had beaten in the US Open junior final in 2004). Both Rafa and Roger were in my half of the draw and as soon as they were out, all the media talk about how tough it was going to be for me suddenly turned. ‘This is Andy’s Wimbledon to win.’ ‘If he doesn’t get to the final it will be a catastrophe.’ That’s why I never get obsessed with draws. But it is hard to block out that sort of talk and avoid complacency.

The fact that a lot of players were slipping and sliding on the courts in difficult conditions was also a concern. Against Lu Yen-hsun in the second round, I didn’t feel comfortable at all. My movement was stiff and tentative. I was also playing on No.1 Court which plays a little differently to Centre Court so I wasn’t settled. I felt anxious throughout, but managed to get through in straight sets.

The win set up a third round meeting with Tommy Robredo of Spain, the number 32 seed and a very fine player. We played under the roof on Centre Court which changes the conditions somewhat. It gives the court slightly different characteristics, which was something I needed to use to my advantage. I think I did a good job; it was my best match of the tournament.

Saturday afternoon brought some light relief as I got the opportunity to meet again some of my fellow Team GB Olympians, who had been invited into the Royal Box for the day. It was great to see some familiar faces, all decked out in the box, so after a quick switch of clothes from my practice gear into a suit and tie, I walked out to an ovation that was one of the most profound of my life. These are not the kind of occasions I particularly relish – I don’t know quite what to do or say, but everyone wanted to shake hands, have their pictures taken, say a few encouraging words. That was special for me. My spirits were rising all the time.

On Monday, I felt really good in defeating the Russian Mikhail Youzhny in straight sets. My quarter-final opponent would be Fernando Verdasco of Spain, a left-hander, the first time I had played one since Feliciano Lopez in the third round of the 2012 US Open.
It might not be easy for the layman ot understand why, but playing lefties is very different because of their variety of spins and angles. And when Verdasco is having a good serving day – as he was this time – he is a daunting challenge.[…]

Even though it was a five-setter, there was not too much running involved – only three kilometres over three-and-a-half hours. Many of the points were quick ones. After the match, I was more mentally than physically tired. The whole affair was really draining and emotional. Often guys come back from two sets to love down and end up losing that fifth set because it is hard to keep that concentration and not have a dip for a few games. Luckily I didn’t do that in the fifth and it was great to know I could come back to win without playing my best tennis.

In the semi-finals, I was drawn to play Jerzy Janowicz of Poland. He had been one of the stories at the end of 2012, racing through the field at the Paris Masters indoor event to reach the final and his ranking shot up as a consequence. He beat me in that tournament – I had match point, but didn’t follow through with a shot when I had a chance.

No one could predict how Janowicz would feel playing in his first Grand Slam semi-final. I know from experience that you feel so close to a final, but it also seems a huge distance away. […]
My opponent hit a 139-mph ace in his first service game, a statement of intent. Against someone like Janowicz it is important to let them know you mean business, that whatever they do, you are right in there with them, not prepared to give an inch.
I lost the first set on a tie-break. It was clumsy on my part but it was only one set. I broke his first service game in the second set. It was past eight o’clock and I could sense he was getting agitated by the gradually worsening light. It was perfectly playable but he kept on chuntering to the umpire about it. When I won the third set from 4-1 down, which he wasn’t happy about (neither was I that I let him have such a lead), he was going at the umpire again. I didn’t see Andrew Jarrett, the referee, walking on to the court, but I suddenly sensed his presence.

‘We’re going to close the roof,’ he told me.

I just thought he had to be kidding. Just because Janowicz is moaning about the light, we close the roof? Why? I wanted him to explain the rule to me but, as far as I recall, all he said was,

‘It’s the fairest thing to do… I’ve decided to close it.’

Back in the locker room, Janowicz was soon on his mobile phone, which was pretty hilarious when I come to think about it. It wasn’t a quiet conversation either, he was pretty agitated. I just sat down with my team, had a shower, and got ready to come back out to play. Anyone would be a little angry at the circumstances. I had the momentum and the light was good enough to play. It was 8.40pm, hardly night-time at that time of the year. There was at least half an hour of playable light left.

But I knew I had to put that grievance behind me. I had a job to finish. I wanted to win the match and win it now. And I was pleased with how quickly I settled down when we went back on court. I played a really good fourth set.
And so I was into the Wimbledon final again, against Novak. it was a match-up I was beginning to relish.