Streaker during the Wimbledon 1996 final

Extract from Tennis’s strangest matches by Peter Seddon:

The apparent obsession of the All England Lawn Tennis and Crocquet Club with the state of dress or undress of competitors was completely put in the shade on the sunny afternoon of Sunday 7 July 1996 when someone employed within the very grounds of the club itself finally went all the way.

A touch of ankle, no stockings, shorts for women, shorts for men, mini-dresses, halter-neck tops; thus progressed over the yeas the gradual erosion of dress-code ‘decency’ so highly valued by Wimbledon’s self-appointed arbiters of good taste.

By the time Anne White took the all-white rule to its logical conclusion by appearing on Court 2 in 1985 in a figure-hugging, neck-to-ankle white body-suit there was surely little left for the players to try.
Miss White, by the way, was censured for her action as, to coin a phrase first used by the Wimbledon authorities in 1949 over the Gussy Moran panties saga, her costume ‘drew too much attention to the sexual area’. Anne agreed to cover up, later musing,

“I didn’t want to put anyone off their strawberries and cream.”

So what next? Competitors playing naked? Not even Wimbledon were yet fearful of that one, but as a good second best there had been talk for a number of years of the likelihood of steakers defiling the sacred greensward.

Ever since Michael O’Brien had his embarrassment covered by a policman’s helmet in a rugby match at Twickenham in 1974, sport had experienced a streaking epidemic. In 1982 Erica Roe bounced on to the scene, again at Twickenham, and since then no sport has been safe. Cricket leads the way but even the more theatrical setting of snooker and the sedate conservatism of bowls have been hit.

No one had dared to try it on Wimbledon’s Centre Court, but prior to the 1996 Championships William Hill bookmakers were offering just 4-1 on a streaker interrupting Centre Court play during the men’s final. It was almost bound to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, although when it did the spectacle was reserved only for the match preliminaries.

Men’s final, Sunday 7 July 1996. Fourteen thousand spectators on Centre Court and a packed royal box. Finalists Richard Krajicek and Malivai Washington pose for photographs at the net prior to warm-up.
Enter 23-year-old blonde London student Melissa Johnson, taking a break from her summer-holiday catering duties in the grounds to leap over a barrier and run the length of the court waering just a minuscule maid’s apron. Sporting a huge smile, Miss Johnson lifted her apron to give both players an eyeful and then proceeded to do likewise for the royals before being led away by a gentleman of the law.

Would the royals be offended? The Duke and Duchess of Kent and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent were visibly amused. Seventeen-year-old Lord Frederick Windsor looked as if he hadn’t enjoyed a tennis match so much for years and the knock-up hadn’t even begun.
As for the players, they laughed too. Malivai Washington walked back to the baseline to begin his warm-up, lifted his shirt to reveal his bare chest and received a huge ovation.

The streak was, in its way, both the most sensational and remarkably unsensational event in Wimbledon’s 119-year history. All over in a flash and scarcely an offended soul to be found.
The club that had held its breath filled with dread for so long issued a formal statement:

“Whilst we do not wish to condone the practice, it did at least provide some light amusement for our loyal and patient supporters, who have had a trying time during the recent bad weather.”

Melissa was taken to Wimbledon police station for the duration of the final and released without further action.
As for the match itself, we mustn’t forget, that Krajicek became the first Dutchman to win Wimbledon, sweeping aside the unseeded American 6-3 6-4 6-3 in 94 minutes.

It was the day the Wimbledon ice was finally and irredeemably broken. Even the beaten finalist shrugged his shoulders and gave a disarming interview:

“I look over and see this streaker. She lifted up the apron and she was smiling at me. I got flustered and three sets later I was gone; that was pretty funny,” said Washington, clutching his loser’s cheque for £196,250.

Cliff Richard, Wimbledon 1996

Extract from Tennis’s strangest matches by Peter Seddon:

A quarter-final match between Dutchman Richard Krajicek and three-in-a-row Wimbledon champion Pete Sampras always promised much but no one could have predicted such a stirring response as that given by the Guardian when it was all over:

“Something magical happened in Centre Court on Wednesday 3 July, an event in its own way every bit as much a testament to the fortitude of the native British spirit as Elizabeth I’s rallying of the troops against the Armada some years back. “

Yet bizarrely it wasn’t the tennis that made this match so strangely memorable, but what happened when the rains came and the tennis stopped.

At a Wimbledon already badly interrupted by inclement weather, the last thing a troubled refeee and the increasingly fractious crowsds wanted was a wet Wednesday. But they got it all the same. After play began at 12.30, games were just 2-all in the first set when the heavens opened yet again. Three hours later, with the green covers raised tent-like over the court, it was still bucketing down.

Sandwiches had been eaten, books read, crosswords finished and British resolve tested to such limits that the bedraggled crowd were beginning to look mighty glum.

Enter Sir Cliff Richard, the Peter Pan of Pop, an avid regular at the Championships.

“Would he, perchance, be prepared to deliver a song or two to raise the flagging spirits of the Centre Court faithful?” ventured a Wimbledon official.

Cliff answered in the affirmative and it was just like the war all over again. Appearing in the royal box with a microphone, the 55-year-old icon began his repertoire with, naturally, ‘Summer Holiday’. With unwavering eccentricity the British fans cast off their dampened spirits and joined in.
‘The Young Ones’ swiftly followed. Then ‘Bachelor Boy’ and ‘Livin’ Doll’. As the scene became ever more surreal, Sir Cliff was joined by a backing group including Martina Navratilova, Pam Shriver, Gigi Fernandez and one-time Queen of All England Virginia Wade.

As the crowd swayed in time to the ditties and Cliff danced with a black lady corporal on royal box security duty, the unthinkable happened. The sun came out and resumption of play was announced.
Cliff left the stage with a cheery

“I never thought I’d play the Centre Court”

and Sampras and Krajicek resumed battle once more. Most of the crowd present that day forget that, between further rain breaks, they saw Krajicek take a two set to love lead before a further shower finally curtailed play just after 8 pm at 1-1 in the third.

Being one of those days, even that fate came courtesy of a Wimbledon oddity as it was a delay in covering the court that finally drew the curtain on this unpredictable affair. Ground staff member Mark Hillaby failed to follow the drill, ending up in hospital after tripping and banging his head during the attempted cover up.

For the record, Krajicek later prevailed over Sampras and went on to win his first Wimbledon crown, but it was Cliff who was that year’s star. His impromptu turn was suely the best Centre Court performance by a British man since Fred Perry completed his hat trick of wins in 1936.

Boris Becker and Ivan Lendl, Wimbledon 1986

Extract from Boris Becker’s autobiography, The Player:

Before my first Wimbledon final I felt like a child in a toyshop; everything was possible and I had it all before me. Every round I survived had been a triumph. Since then everything had changed. The training was more concentrated and less relaxed, and felt more like a state of emergency than anything else. The endgame against Ivan Lendl would finally answer the questions everyone was asking. Was Becker 1985 a fluke, or is he really a mega talent? It felt like a matter of life or death. At this stage, I defined myself solely through tennis and any defeat meant the complete loss of my self-confidence. Only victory could rescue me.
In 1986 I was happy when it was over. It was the most pressure I’d ever been under. The wunderkind had to prove himself. Even I couldn’t be sure how good I really was.

Lendl had never won Wimbledon, and he’d almost lost the semi-final against my friend Bobo Zivojinovic. It was only because Bobo was undone by the umpire in the fifth set that Lendl won. I preferred to have Lendl as my opponent. I knew Bobo too well, because we often practiced together, and he could break my serve, but I couldn’t break his. Lendl was already sitting in the changing room, and we didn’t speak a word. Not his usual jokes, not even a comment, just silence. He was number one in the world. I was number six. He was twenty-six and wanted to win Wimbledon at last. I was eighteen, and had to win at least one more time. I was convinced I’d win. It sounds strange, but the previous night I’d dreamt of victory, just like the year before. Lendl, on the other hand, seemed frightened, almost transfixed.

I take the first two sets 6-4 6-3 – a stress-free hour. In the third he leads 4-1, a small crisis for me. Soon he’s leading 5-4, and I’m serving. I go down to love-40. My attitude is, OK, let him win the third set, but I’ll come back in the fourth. Then three second serves, three reflex return volleys… Somehow I turn it around and win the game. Five all. I realize he’s falling. Lendl serves – I break to 6-5. I’m serving for my second Wimbledon success. It’s 40-30. When the match ends I’m on the same side of the court as in 1985. Lendl is devastated. “Well played”, he says. I’m up in the clouds, immensely relieved.

I felt I’d been transformed from a boy to an adult. I’d opened the gate to the future and now I could have faith in myself. The victory in 1986 was the most important of my career. In 1985 I’d hardly known what I’d done; one year later I knew all too well. The reaction in Germany was overwhelming, but it left me strangely cold. After all, only a month before they’d written me off.

Rafael Nadal, Roland Garros 2006

Winner of his first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros in 2005, Rafael Nadal suffered a foot injury in the fall that could have put an end to his career. He missed the Australian Open in 2006 but came back and fought his way to a second Roland Garros title.

Extract from Nadal’s autobiography, Rafa:

Returning to Monte Carlo that year was like coming home. Once again I came up against Federer in the final, and once again I won. Then I faced him again in the final at Rome. It was a killer match, a true test of whether I recovered from my injury. I had. The match went to five sets, lasted five hours; I saved two match points, and I won. And then it was Roland Garros and a chance I thought I’d never have just four months earlier of preserving my French Open crown. It meant more to me to be back here now than it had to be here the year before, even though tgat had been my first time. Winning this would mean, for me and my family, that the nightmare we’d gone through would be, if not forgotten, exorcised, and we could resume, in a clear and confident state of mind, the victorious trajectory that had been so nearly terminally curtailed. And I had a point to prove: I wanted to show that my win in 2005 had not been a one-off, that I was in the Grand Slam league to stay.

I made it to the final by a tough route, beating some of the top players of the moment, among them Robin Soderling, Lleyton Hewitt and, in the quarterfinals, Novak Djokovic. A year younger than me, Djokovic was a hell of a player, temperamental but hugely talented. Toni and I had been talking about him and I’d been watching him in my rearview miror, looming closer, for a while now. He’d been racing up the rankings, and I had a strong feeling that he would be neck and neck with me before too long, that it would not just be me, but me and him, against Federer. Djokovic had a strong serve and was fast and wiry and strong – often dazzling – on both forehand and backhand. Above all, I could see he had big ambitions and a winner’s temperament. More a hard court than a clay court player, he was competitive enough to make it difficult for me in the Roland quarters. I won the first two sets 6-4 6-4, and was preparing for a long afternoon’s work when unfortunately for him, but fortunately for me, he had to pull out with an injury.

In the final it was Federer again. I lost the first set 6-1, but won the next three, the final one on a tiebreak. Wathing the video of the match later, I thought Federer played better than me overall, but in an atmosphere of high tension (he, so eager to complete the foursome of major titles; me, so desperate to banish the ghosts of my exile), I stuck it out.

As Carlos Moya saw it, Federer was not fully Federer when he played against me. Carlos said I had beaten him by attrition, badgering him into untypical mistakes for a man of such enormous natural talent. That had been the plan, but I also think I won because I’d won the year before and that gave me a confidence I might otherwise have lacked, especially against Federer. Whatever the case, I’d won my second Grand Slam.

After all I had been through, it was an incredibly emotional moment. I ran up in the stands, as I had done the year before, and this time it was my father I sought. We hugged hard and we were both crying. “Thank you, Daddy, for everything!” I said. He doesn’t like to show his feelings. He had felt the need to look strong and composed during my injury, but it was not until now that I fully grasped how hard he’d battled to stop himself from breaking down. Then I hugged my mother, who was also in tears. The thought that filled my mind at that moment of victory was that it as their support that had pulled me through. Winning the French Open in 2006 meant that we’d come through the worst; we’d overcome a challenge we feared might overwhelm us, and we had come out the stronger for it. For my father, I know, that was the moment of greatest joy of my entire career.

Bjorn Borg, Roland Garros 1978

From Inside Tennis, a season on the pro tour by Peter Bodo:

On the day of the finals, transparent clouds travel through a sky of china blue. The air is crisp and cool, as if the seasons have changed and left a single autumnal day in honor of the past champions.
At the entrance to the Tribune présidentielle, the box reserved for honored guests and dignitaries, Juliet Mills sits at a table examining a complex seating chart, wondering where to put Belmondo, and Princess Caroline and Philippe Junot. Mills, a former film star, is now in charge of the celebrated at Roland Garros. Each day she attends to their needs and works out a seating arrangement as assiduously as a debutante giving her first dinner party.

On the floor of the stadium, a Signal Corps bad in khaki uniform plays brassy music as the galleries slowly fill. Runners of crimson velvet crisscross the court beneath the feet of ball boys who stand at parade rest holding a panoply of flags. A single strip of carpet provides a path from the court to the end of the stadium, up the stairs of the presidential box, and into a portal lined with royal guards in uniforms of black and red with burnished helmets.

The stadium is full now; the band is silent. Some 18,000 spectators await the start of the ceremony.
Suddenly the guardsmen raise their trumpets and sound a brisk fanfare. All eyes are fixed on the portal as the announcer intones the name of Henri Cochet, the seventy-six-year-old Frenchman who was the first champion of Roland Garros, and triggers an avalanche of applause.
Next comes René Lacoste, le crocodile, who turned his inelegant nickname into a trademark known throughout the world. Then Jean Borotra, the bouncing Basque, who smiles and waves casually, hardly pausing as he takes the stairs with the sprightly step that earned him his nickname. As he joins his fellow musketeers before the French standard, the parade of champions continues chronologically, from Peggy Vivian to a beaming Don Budge. There is Hoad, the blond bull wearing a mile-wide smile, looking as robust and invincible as ever; Darlene Hard Wagoner in a blue polyester pantsuit with a loud geometrically patterned top; Manuel Santana, the virtuoso, dapper and compact in a blazer of navy velvet.
The speaker reaches 1973 and the name Bjorn Borg. There is a moment of anticipation and then Borg appears, his hair clean and long and golden in the sun, his body lean and angular in the track suit that fits him like a second skin.
And then 1977 is called. Vilas steps out to a warm welcome. Vilas takes the stairs with his head bowed and proceeds to where Borg and Panatta stand chatting. He realizes his error and looks for the Argentinian flag. When he arrives before it, he exchanges a few words with his neighbour, Santana.

Borg held a long first game to start the match, then broke Vilas when the defending champion made three puzzling errors and double-faulted the love-40 point. Vilas broke back, but Borg won the next four games running to take the first set, 6-1, in a mere thirty-seven minutes.

Vilas is strong and Vilas is steady. Borg is his equal in that, but Borg is also frightening quick, and his consistency is neither defensive nor aimed at prolonging a point; it is merely an aggressive tactic to prepare him for the killing stroke. Errors from Vilas’ backhand begin to come with disturbing frequency. Each time he misses, he throws the racquet from his left hand to his right just as he concludes his follow-through, then snaps his left palm upward in a gesture of despair. It is meant only for the eyes of Tiriac, who sits courtside, just behind Vilas’ chair, sending a multitude of subtle hand signals to his protégé.
Absorbed in the match, Tiriac resembles some prehistoric turtle, with his broad, curved back and the sad, impassive eyes set deep in his head. The eternal cigarette cupped in his right hand is raised every other moment to the mustache that frames his mouth like an inverted horseshoe. When Vilas looks over, Tiriac will nod or just blink, but the blink seems loaded with profound implications.

Tiriac is no help today, for Borg is really on form, and Vilas has not mastered the attacking game well enough to force his opponent out of his rythm. After Borg wins the second set, also by 6-1, Tiriac advises Vilas to attack in the third. In desperation, Vilas begins to hit his flat first serve. He takes the initiative. He attacks, but he is tentative and flounders like a man caught in a bad dream. The dividends are higher now, and after surrendering an early break that gives Borg breathing room, Vilas manages to hold on and take three games. But he cannot stop Borg when the Swede serves for the match at 5-3. When Vilas hits a volley out to give Borg the match, the winner drops his racquet and slowly, almost as if he is yawning, raises his arms high above his head. He turns toward the players’ box, and for the first time in the match, he looks at his coach, Bergelin, and his fiancée, Marianna.

When Vilas sat down to the reporters, the light in his eyes expessed relief. “He gave me no chances to win. He made no mistakes. I think he played much better than me today,” he admitted.
Vilas was aked if so routine a loss to Borg was discouraging, and whether he felt that more work would ultimately give him a better chance against his Swedish rival. “I think I have to improve my play on all surfaces, learn to do more things,” he replied. “He is quicker, but I am stronger. Today, we were not out there so long that I could take advantage of my strength.” He continued, in a voice that was softer and less mechanical, “There are many disadvantages with my kind of thinking, but I have also one big advantage – I am not happy.”
“Why not?” a woman reporter asked kindly.
“It is impossible. When you are happy … you are dead.”

When Borg appeared, his hair hanging in thick, wet strands about his ears and shoulders, he was smiling.
“Well, how will you celebrate your third French title?”
“There will be a big kiss tonight,” Borg quipped.
He was surprised the match went so easily and felt that he won all the important points – the deuce and 30-40 points that support a win. After the first two games, he knew that Vilas did not have the confidence to beat him: “I see it in his shots, you know, and also in his face. He looks to me a little bit afraid. He become very nervous when he makes a mistake, like he cannot believe it, you know? Like somebody is doing something very bad to him.”
Someone suggested that Vilas might have a complex about him, but Borg would not confirm the theory. However, he allowed that his easy wins over Vilas in their last few matches had put him at a distinct advantage.
A late arrival asked Borg if he was doing anything special that evening.
“Yes in one hour I go on plane for Belgrade to play Davis Cup,” said the champion.
“You will have a champagne party, maybe?”
“Yeah.” Borg laughed. “Maybe on the plane.”
On the way out, I asked Borg what he would like to do on the private jet waiting at nearby Charles de Gaulle airport to take him to Belgrade.
“Sleep,” he replied.