Wimbledon President’s day brings past champions surprise

It was Borg who caught the imagination, the style, the unflappable manner, the shot making – everything about him in fact. I was mesmerised!

Mon 27th Still laid low with Covid

Tues 28th / Weds 29th Starting to feel marginally better. Thank goodness for Wimbledon on the TV. Nine hours per day – wall to wall. We should have been sat on centre court and celebrating a family birthday. We manage a celebration of sorts with a delicious eat at home Wimbledon afternoon tea, ordered online.

Friday – test negative for Covid

Saturday – catch train to London

Sunday – Presidents Day, Wimbledon Centre Court and lunch. Celebrating the work of tennis volunteers.

Walking in from Southfields station. Reaching the Wimbledon grounds, I am first aware of the green screens shielding the practice courts from view. The magnificent beasts within are at play. From the outside can be heard the pop of the ball on racket and the phwoa! of effort as the magnificent beasts ready themselves for the arena. As I approach the entrance gate, sounds, sights, smells and anticipation. A feast for all my senses and a moment to savour.

I have been invited due to my volunteering efforts along with three other Cornwall volunteers to the Presidents Day, hosted by the LTA President. It feels like the priviledge that it is. Lunch, a few presentations for outstanding service, a few words from the CEO and the President. Then we get to watch the tennis on Centre Court. Decent seats too, thanks LTA, very much appreciated.

It’s a 100 years since the opening of Centre Court and the first time play has been planned to take place on the middle Sunday of the Championships. Proceedings open with a centenary retrospective, an absolute masterclass in outside broadcasting from the BBC. The fusion of live broadcast interspersed with video on the scoreboard screen is impressive. There is roll call of past singles champions, each receiving applause as they step onto Centre Court.

It is evident as they step hesitantly onto Centre Court, that even past champions can struggle with simple instructions. The event briefing probably went something like. “Good afternoon everyone, we are really pleased to see you here to celebrate the centenary of Centre Court today. When your name is announced, step through the doors, wave appreciatively to the crowd, walk forwards onto the carpet and do not, I repeat, do not, step on the grass, ladies especially. Make your way along the line to your left and take your place facing towards the centre of the court. Everyone got that? Good. Enjoy the afternoon.”

I think we can conclude by their entrances to Centre Court, that a number of the gathered champions, were not listening; probably talking amongst themselves, during the briefing. You can imagine the whispered conversations at the back.

“What did they just say?”

“I think they said, go through these doors, make sure you stay on the grass and not the carpet and go to the left hand end of the line”

” If you just follow follow the person in front you will be fine”

The introductions started with one time winners through to multiple times champions. Some notable exceptions, some but not all explained by Covid. Roger Federer got the biggest cheer and followed the instructions. Well done Roger!

Could these Champions not just all take to the court and do a little gentle hitting over the net? Wouldn’t that be something to remember! A gentle rally with Sue Barker and John McEnroe our compares as they reminisced about their Centre Court experiences.

My attention was drawn to the most iconic player from my youth. Aged 17 in 1977, it was the first year, I picked up a tennis racket. I remember a few of us in lower 6th playing a few times in the summer term. It was in this year that I first really became aware of Wimbledon. And what a year, Virginia Wade winning the women’s singles and Bjorn Borg winning the second of his five men’s singles titles. It was Borg who really caught the imagination, the style, the unflappable manner, the shot making – everything about him in fact. I was mesmerised!

Now in 2022 it was Borg I was straining to catch a glimpse of. Here he is in the flesh standing in a cream suit and a full head of now grey hair. Only a good tennis ball throw away from my hero. Until then all my heros had been footballers from places like Scunthorpe, Preston, Glasgow and Liverpool. This man, Bjorn Borg was from Stockholm in Sweden for goodness sake! This was different. A picture of Borg soon joined those of the footballers of Liverpool Football Club on my bedroom wall.

I idly wondered if I might bump into Bjorn Borg later between matches, maybe stretching his legs in search of a mid afternoon coffee! My main idol before Borg had been Kevin Keegan who played football for Liverpool and England. I once years later, found myself stood next to Kevin Keegan in the cafe at the sports centre were I worked, coincidently just about to play a game of tennis. My tongue tied as never before and the moment passed without him even knowing the adultation we had bestowed on him as kids. Probably for the best then and now. It is enough to be in the same arena as Bjorn Borg and I will let him take his coffee in peace.

It is Borg I credit with accelerating my fledgling interest in tennis into something that I would spend most of that summer of 1977 playing whenever the chance arose. At the end of the school term moving on from the borrowed school rackets to purchase my very own first racket; made of wood, with twisted blue and white strings! I had never heard of string tensions, but looking back it must have been at the lower end, as I recall the ball almost sitting in the strings, before being propelled forwards towards the net and the frame bending with the weight of the then white tennis balls.

That summer we played so much that my thumb became locked in position from gripping the racket. It was strange that I could position my thumb on the racket and play, but for a while it was little use for anything else. We even found grass courts in the local park to dive around on.

I ventured to the library to learn more about this game of tennis. Returning home with a book by Tom Okker, who until that point I had never heard of. Tom Okker was known as the Flying Dutchman and the book, ‘Tom Okker, Tennis in Pictures’. I was hooked.

Before the summer was out, money saved from strawberry picking was invested into my first proper racket. A Slazenger Challenge No1 with gut strings. When a string broke the man in the sports shop would just replace a couple of strings (yes really, unthinkable nowerdays)) for us overnight, and we would go on playing again the next day.

Back to the present day. Middle Sunday Centre Court. Heather Watson, GB no 2, departs in straight sets defeat, maybe her last appearance on Centre.

After afternoon tea. Queuing to get back on Centre Court, applause like an incoming wave – rises rapidly to a crescendo then peters out like pebbles being drawn back down a beach. Repeat, repeat, repeat …..

Impatient now to rejoin the crowd to watch the rising star of Carlos Alcaraz. Destined to become the idol for many young players, but no matter how good, the connection cannot replace the bond I have with Bjorn Borg.

Sunday late. Make the decision to get back to Cornwall as Covid is still present at home. Catch the overnight sleeper train.

On the train, the loud young men from Redruth, thankfully settle to sleep as we leave the station. No sleeper berths available; sit rather uncomfortably, trying to sleep in a variety of positions. The end of night thankfully and eventually is marked by the growing light of another beautiful day, as we pass along the coast before arriving at Newton Abbot. Young woman sat opposite, 5.41am nursing a can of Carlberg lager; not everyone’s day looks so bright though.

Arrive home Monday morning in time for breakfast.

2 thoughts on “Wimbledon President’s day brings past champions surprise

  1. This is brilliant Mike. Takes me back to my days. I started to watch tennis on television in the school science lab when taking GCEs. We had to be in school during exam time but when we had free time we were allowed to watch the tennis on the tiny black and white television. Those were the days. I remember Yvonne Goolagong and Billy Jean Moffat as they were then. From then on I was hooked. I did play tennis at school nd at times for school. We were lucky to have both grass and shale courts. Loved it. Wincw then I have followed tennis, having a number of favourites throughout the years. One of my all time favourites is John McEnroe. Such a rebel in those days but what a player. Today Rafael Nadal ranks highly in my favourites’ list. I do tend to prefer the men’s matches.

    I, too, remember watching Virginia Wade. I decided to iron and watch the match at the same time that day. Needless to say, the ironing board went over as I shrieked and leapt in the air when she won in 1977, the Queen’s Jubilee year – or one of them.

    I don’t often manage to get to the Wimbledon Championships as I am dependent upon the yearly ballot although I do subscribe to British Tennis so get an extra shot at the ballot. I managed to get to the semi finals twice, once when Tim Herman was playing and once when Andy Murray was playing but unfortunately both lost on those occasions.

    Your day sounds amazing and I am so pleased you were invited in your extremely responsible role in the tennis world. Hope your son is still doing well. Hope to meet again soon.

    PS Thanks so much for thinking of me. What a thrill. A pity I was otherwise engaged but we did enjoy our holiday in France.

    1. Hi Audrey,
      Many thanks for your kind comments and pleased to have rekindled your tennis memories from the 70s.
      I will make an effort to catch up next time I am in your part of the world.
      Best wishes,

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