The transition from avid Pope watching to fervent Argie bashing was almost seamless. Less than 24 hours after Pope Francis I (the one-lunged Pontiff) made his first balcony appearance in Saint Peter’s Square, the British press was reminding us of supposedly inflammatory comments he made 12 months ago about the Falkland Islands. Speaking on the 30th anniversary of the start of the Falklands War, Jorge Bergoglio (as he was then), led prayers for the fallen and referenced the disputed territory as “the country that is theirs and they were usurped”.
Meanwhile, The Guardian had its own axe to grind, delving into the murky history of the Argentine junta in the 70s and 80s and Bergoglio’s role as part of the discredited Catholic hierarchy of that era.
Not to be outdone, The Sun weighed in with its “Hand of God” headline – a none-to-subtle reference to Diego Maradona’s controversial “goal” for Argentina against England in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final. By tonight, I fully expect to be reading that the new Pope Francis cheats at cards and has been caught riding the bus in Buenos Aires without paying.
I’m not a Catholic but I am a sports fan, and the real story here seems to be Britain’s longstanding antipathy towards lying, cheating Argies of all shapes and sizes. On the same night that Pope Francis was elected, Andy Murray was having a run in with Argentina’s Carlos Berlocq at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. The Scot eventually won their fourth-round match 7-6, 6-4, but he was enraged by his opponent’s “extremely, extremely loud” grunting at key moments during the match.
“Murray annoyed at stupid grunt”, claims The Sun, in what by that paper’s high standards is a rather limp headline. I’d have gone with something a bit more indignant – “Muzza blasts grunting Argie”. That might strike a chord with the Telegraph reader who quipped earlier today in reference to Pope Francis, “I thought we’d sunk the General Bergoglio”.
Having listened to the brief clip on the paper’s website, I think Muzza does have legitimate cause for complaint. As far as I know, Andy’s never criticised his good friend and rival Rafael Nadal for inappropriate on-court noises. That’s probably because the Spaniard keeps his grunting at a consistent level throughout – much like his legendary whipped topspin forehand. So let’s hope that Berlocq doesn’t team up with Victoria Azarenka or Maria Sharapova for mixed doubles, or the decibel count will be well off the Larcher de Brito scale.
Closer to home, another Argentine we love to hate is in trouble yet again this week. Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez has been charged with driving his white Porsche while disqualified and without insurance. If found guilty he could face a jail sentence, a fine, or even an ASBO, though probably not a lengthy spell in manager Roberto Mancini’s bad books. Unlike the British press, Mancini has been notable for his forgiving attitude towards Tevez – whatever the provocation. Last weekend he joked “I hope that the police can stop him every day”, after Carlos celebrated his arrest by scoring a hat-trick against Barnsley in the FA Cup.
But there are some Argentine sportsmen who enjoy an unsullied reputation. In the 70s we marvelled at the muscular tennis player Guillermo Vilas, whose successes in the mid-70s have been rather overshadowed by those of Bjorn Borg. A few years later, there was Gabriela Sabatini, whose film-star looks are now ideal for promoting her own range of perfumes.
Formula One fans still revere Juan Manuel Fangio, who won five world championships, survived a kidnapping and heart surgery and lived to the ripe old age of 84.
But perhaps the greatest Argentine sports star is the man who was dominating the headlines 24 hours before Pope Francis. The majestic Lionel Messi scored two goals on Tuesday night, to help Barcelona beat AC Milan 4-0 in the second leg of their Champions League tie. Carlos Tevez may struggle with tricky English words like “constabulary”, but for the prolific Messi, “phenomenal” and “fantastic” don’t really need translating.
“John Terry’s career has been defined by courage, commitment and . . . controversy.” That was the verdict of an earnest BBC reporter with airtime to fill but not much in the way of new information about the latest drama to engulf the Chelsea captain. On the eve of his FA disciplinary hearing on a charge of racism, Terry announced last night that he was quitting the England team with “a broken heart”.
It was all a world away from the cosy Sunday evening fare usually provided by the likes of Downton Abbey. But in terms of narrative incoherence, unintentional humour and a total lack of character development, perhaps the John Terry Story could have come from the pen of Julian Fellowes.
Of course the BBC tactfully omitted to mention that it was John Terry’s use of a four-letter C-word that may end up defining his topsy-turvy career as football’s Man You Love to Hate. But an unwritten law only allows that word to be used by BBC presenters when discussing the former Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
I don’t want to downplay the importance of eradicating racist language and behaviour from football, sport and society as a whole. But Terry’s dispute with QPR’s Anton Ferdinand has always struck me as a playground spat between a couple of numbskulls rather than racism per se. That’s just my opinion, though, so do feel free to go on Twitter and abuse me if you disagree. (Just kidding.)
Sadly, John Terry’s attempt to present himself as the victim of an FA witch hunt has gone down about as well as Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg’s recent apology for raising tuition fees. Terry thought his acquittal on criminal charges back in July should have been the end of the matter, but those sages at the FA have to see the bigger picture.
So now we have another C-word to throw at the Chelsea captain — capitulation. Some believe that he’s chosen to call time on his England career rather than lose his place if this disciplinary hearing goes against him. Come to think of it, we could probably review a decade’s worth of headlines on John Terry — “Captain, Leader, Legend” — without getting much further than the third letter of the alphabet.
Cuckolding Wayne BridgeIn 2010 it was Terry’s ex-colleague Wayne Bridge making the headlines for refusing a handshake. It turned out that the amorous JT had done a lot more than just shake hands with Vanessa Perroncel, Wayne’s former squeeze and mother of his son, Jaydon. Bridge quit England in a huff and those supersubs at the Daily Mail came up with this really clunky headline.
Capello falls on his swordAlways a model of consistency, Fabio “the Communicator” Capello was the England coach who stripped Terry of the England captaincy in 2010 over the “Bridgegate” affair, and then reinstated him in 2011 to the astonishment of Rio Ferdinand and just about everyone else. Earlier this year the FA decided to remove Terry from the job again, prompting Capello to quit in a huff. Are you seeing a pattern here?
Crashing the Champions League partyApril fool JT was banned from playing in the 2012 Champions League Final against Bayern Munich after his “knees-up” with Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez in the semi-final second leg. Never one to miss a party, JT changed into his full Chelsea kit to collect the Champions League Trophy, prompting some wags on Twitter to mock-up other scenes of (unearned) Terry triumphs.
Court in the actThe racism trial wasn’t the first time John Terry found himself in court. In 2002 a fresh-faced Terry was one of three players prosecuted after a brawl in a Knightsbridge club. He was acquitted of assault and affray. A year earlier he’d been fined by Chelsea for mocking American tourists at Heathrow after 9/11. Over the years there have been many other piss-taking incidents, including one involving a glass full of urine.
Crying shameFinally, who can forget the sight of John Terry crying after missing his penalty in the 2008 Champions League Final. The Sun’s “Tears of a penalty clown” caption summed up the sight of rain-soaked and blubbing JT. I almost felt sorry for him.
This is scary. Completely unbidden, my iTunes library has started playing “Nothing Else Matters” as I sat down to blog about the second week of the London 2012 Olympics. Lissie’s cover version of Metallica’s 20-year-old power ballad fits the bill nicely as the soundtrack to my ongoing despair at our Games-obsessed media. For unbridled triumphalism, jingoism and tunnel vision, Britain’s eager beaver army of reporters and feature writers take the gold medal every time.
In case you’ve been holidaying in another galaxy or couldn’t care less about sport, I should point out that Team GB is enjoying unprecedented sporting success at the London 2012 Olympics. With 51 medals — 24 of them gold — we’re currently in third place behind superpowers China and the USA. Not bad for a nation of 62 million chip-eating, Coke-swilling couch potatoes, with a dwindling supply of open space in which to run, ride, cycle and swim.
I have nothing but admiration for all the members of Team GB — the medal-winners, the heroic failures and the also-rans. Britain’s modest and hard-working Olympic athletes are a refreshing change from listening to the weekly rantings of overpaid, inarticulate and morally bankrupt footballers. But it worries me when the athletic achievements of the home team have completely hijacked the news agenda. If you’re reading this outside the UK, bear in mind that I’m not just talking about the two weeks of the Olympic Games: we’ve had a full seven years of media hype.
The first week was fun. Admittedly, Team GB’s failure to get among the medals in the Olympic road race on Day 1 did cause a massive post-Tour de France hangover. But then there was Lizzie Armitstead’s silver in the women’s road, (Sir) Bradley Wiggins’s gold in the time trial, and successes galore for our rowers and track cyclists. Before you knew it Team GB had more gold on its hands than a marauding pirate crew. But it wasn’t so much a case of “Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum” as an unending chorus of “Where’s the next medal coming from?”
I can pinpoint the exact moment at which these Olympics “jumped the shark”. Last Saturday night, heptathlete Jessica Ennis, marvellous Mo Farah and unassuming long jumper Greg Rutherford all won gold in a breathtaking 45 minutes in the Olympic Stadium. After a summer in which Bradley Wiggins has won the Tour de France, I remember thinking that it couldn’t get much better than this for UK sport.
So instead of savouring this golden moment, BBC1 viewers were abruptly whisked off to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff just in time to see the GB football team lose on penalties to South Korea. Talk about a mood killer. It was a bit like leaving a champagne reception to attend a 2 for 1 curry evening at your local boozer. Presenter Gary Lineker looked almost as tearful as when his studio guest Ian Thorpe got a free transfer to the Clare Balding team at the Aquatics Centre. I’m sure it wasn’t Gary’s idea to cut from scenes of unparalleled sporting triumph to (let’s be honest) inevitable football failure, but someone should have known better.
The next morning at least one Sunday paper was describing Super Saturday as Britain’s “greatest day for 104 years”. What, better than VE Day 1945, the World Cup Final of 1966 or the glorious occasion on which Margaret Thatcher finally said “sayonara” to Downing Street? You cannot be serious!
Since then there have been loads more medals for Team GB, including an improbable gold for Andy Murray in the Olympic tennis, against an underpowered Roger Federer. We’ve seen Grenada earn its first ever Olympic gold, courtesy of the brilliant 400m runner Kirani James. We’ve also applauded Sarah Attar, Saudi Arabia’s first female track competitor to take part in the Games.
Yes, the Olympic Games is supposed to be a celebration of diversity and international sporting achievements — not parochialism and sour grapes. Steve Cram’s reaction to Algeria’s Taoufik “Lazarus” Makhloufi winning gold in the 1,500m on Tuesday was so peevish that Brendan Foster had to step in and shut him up. Makhloufi had been controversially reinstated in the event after being disqualified for not really trying in his 800m heat. We all knew he wasn’t really “injured”, but this hardly seemed the moment to keep harping on about it.
With all our medals and so many athletes to be proud of, do we really need to “big” ourselves up by denigrating less successful countries at these Games? If I had a fiver for every time some BBC twerp has sneered about the Australian medals drought I’d be on a plane to Nice right now. This “Yorkshire’s more successful than Australia” line is very childish and completely irrelevant if you look at the big picture outside the sporting sphere.
The UK has a ballooning trade deficit, negligible growth prospects and an idiot for a Chancellor; the Australian economy is holding up better than expected. When the dust settles on London 2012 I wonder who’s going to be feeling more secure about the future.
Does the Olympics really need tennis? Until my visit to the All England Club yesterday, I’m one of those who would have questioned the point of holding an attenuated version of the world’s greatest tennis tournament so soon after Wimbledon 2012. Perhaps it was the rare appearance of the sun, or the sheer enthusiasm of all the 2012 volunteers, but I left SW19 feeling that “Inspire a Generation” might be more than just an empty slogan.
First up on Court 1 was reigning Wimbledon Champion, Roger Federer, against Uzbekistan’s most famous export, Denis Istomin. Other superheroes might wear a red cape or mask, but the “Federator” was sporting an elegant red shirt, with matching head and wristbands. I’m not Federer’s biggest admirer, but watching him in action must be somewhere on that list of 1001 things to do before you die. Bamboozling opponents with his spins, slices and unerring placement, Roger could be the tennis equivalent of the Taj Mahal. Not white marble perfection, but poetry in motion — and not a drop of sweat in sight.
You can’t really appreciate the genius of the man on TV, because you’re constantly distracted by the fawning commentary and the sight of Roger rearranging his well-tended locks so as not to obscure the sponsor’s “swoosh”. Unfortunately, it would have taken something much larger than Federer’s head to obscure that very uninspiring London 2012 logo, which is on display around Wimbledon this week. Nike’s ubiquitous “swoosh” is a design classic; the London 2012 logo is like a clumsy rearrangement of a second-rate Matisse cut-out, and it looks even worse in green than it does in pink.
Wimbledon has been subtly rebranded for the Olympic tennis event. With a three-set singles format (apart from the men’s final) and no third set in the mixed, there’s less chance of an Isneresque marathon. But it’s the colourful new look of the place and the hordes of young volunteers manning everything from security to the catering outlets that make this feel like a different event. They’re also pumping pop music into an arena that’s previously been the sole domain of Cliff Richard.
Centre Court is still wreathed in ivy and the courts look almost as pristine as Roger’s shoes — despite the recent wear and tear. But the classic Wimbledon green and purple palette has been replaced by something a bit brasher, and the players aren’t restricted to predominantly white attire. Radek Stepanek’s blue and red shoes fell foul of the tournament’s rules this year, but they were conservative compared with the gaudy green, yellow and red London 2012 footwear designed for India’s doubles maestro, Leander Paes.
Judging by the number of flags and brightly painted faces I saw, fans are embracing the fact that Olympic tennis is about more than just the year-round scramble for dollars and ranking points. Seeing Federer in fetching Swiss red or Andy Murray in patriotic shades of blue makes them more identifiable as representatives of their country. But I can’t work out what Istomin’s dreary black and white ensemble had to do with the Uzbekistan national colours.
Though the fans were loudly supporting their home nation, there was room for plenty more of them. The grounds were emptier and the queues shorter than on my previous visits to Wimbledon. It felt like another ticketing fiasco, but perhaps they’d all just migrated to the overstocked 2012 shop or to Murray Mount to watch Britain’s Number 1 in action on Centre Court.
Back on Court 1, top seed Victoria Azarenka was doing her best to “Inspire a Generation” by wearing down Russia’s Nadia Petrova. Like John McEnroe, I used to think that Azarenka was the most famous living sportswoman from Belarus. We were both wrong. “Mother of Gymnastics” Olga Korbut, who rivalled Mark Spitz as the superstar of the 1972 Munich Olympics, is also Belarusian.
But Vika7 (as she’s known on Twitter) was entertaining the younger fans not with her crushing baseline game but by the trademark “whoop” that accompanies every shot. After a few minutes I realised that the on-court racket was being copied — even mocked — by some of the kids in the stands. “Why is she making that noise?” asked the seven-year-old girl behind me. To his credit, her dad came up with a very plausible explanation about “effort”.
Azarenka went through to the semi-final today, beating Germany’s Angelique Kerber. If she wins a gold medal this weekend, I just hope it’s her tennis and not her extravagant vocal performance that echoes down the years and inspires a generation.
For years the BBC’s voice of swimming was the unfortunately named Hamilton Bland, whose TV career ended in controversy in the late 90s. There’s nothing bland about his successors, former Olympians Adrian Moorhouse and Andy Jameson, who sounded as though they’d swallowed several gallons of Red Bull as they jabbered their way through last night’s pool action at London 2012.
There was endless talk about “strong back ends”, which I’m hoping was a reference to the swimming rather than the anatomies of some of the more well-built competitors. Andy, a butterfly bronze medallist in Seoul, foolishly attempted a critique of a breaststroker’s technique and was gleefully slapped down by his more clued-up partner. (Moorhouse took gold in the 100m breaststroke in 1988.)
Through all the chortling and frequent cries of “I’m so excited!”, I sometimes lost track of what was going on in the water. But with the ongoing furore about empty seats at Olympic venues, it was good to hear the Aquatics Centre buzzing with the sound of excited fans and even more excited BBC commentators.
You couldn’t help getting caught up in the atmosphere, as our Beijing golden girl Becky Adlington picked up a hard-earned bronze medal in the women’s 400m freestyle final. Moorhouse and Jameson were both genuinely thrilled as perennial underachievers France beat Michael Phelps’s USA team in a closely contested 4 x 100-metre freestyle relay.
These are testing times for TV viewers who don’t like sport, with up to 24 live streams broadcasting Olympic events on the BBC website. Even if you couldn’t care less about the rivalry between prolific medallist Phelps and Hunk of the Moment, Ryan Lochtie, the interaction between the various BBC pairings was intriguing.
On Saturday the men’s cycling road race featured just two beleaguered commentators (Chris Boardman and Hugh Porter) and one unbelievably tactless interviewer, Jill Douglas. (She won’t be getting an invite to Alexandre Vinokourov’s retirement bash.) But for the swimming, the “Andy ‘n’ Adey” double act was backed up by Sharron Davies asking the questions, with Clare Balding and Mark Foster perched above the pool.
With her sensible haircut and no-nonsense approach, Clare increasingly reminds me of the school games mistress who used to counsel us against the dangers of sitting on hot radiators. Balding has drawn criticism for questioning the extraordinary performance of China’s 16-year-old Ye Shiwen, who won gold in a world record time in the women’s 400m individual medley. (She swam faster than her male counterpart, Ryan Lochte.)
Needless to say, the Beeb has defended Clare’s right to raise this thorny issue with her co-presenter, Mark Foster. But I think many female viewers will also be asking whether poster-boy Foster has an all-over tan and — more important — what the hell is wrong with Ian Thorpe?
Australia’s “Thorpedo” was watching the action from the BBC’s Olympic Studio with host Gary Lineker. Neither of them looked particularly happy. Away from Match of the Day, Gary doesn’t have a whole lot to offer, apart from talking up Britain’s medal prospects and introducing frequent puntastic (“Oarsome”) tasters for forthcoming attractions.
The fashion-conscious Thorpe, obviously knows swimming inside out — he’s got five Olympic gold medals in his bulging trophy cabinet. But he looks miserable about being wheeled out as the BBC’s star pundit on the swimming action. Seeing him tear up every time he talked about his own glorious days as a teenage swimming prodigy, was like watching a lachrymose James Dean wind himself up for a particularly strenuous bout of method acting.
Cheer up, Thorpey, you’re only stuck with Lineker for a couple of weeks — we have to put up him 52 weeks of the year.
(Previously published on The Huffington Post UK.)
As Team Sky and Bradley Wiggins have blazed a triumphant trail in the 2012 Tour de France, Neil Stevens has been involved in another type of stage race. Neil’s a keen cyclist, but he isn’t one of the participants in this annual Race for Madmen. The Hertfordshire-based illustrator and graphic artist is a longstanding Tour de France fan, whose studio name is Crayonfire. So while Brad has been marshalling the peloton, Neil has been capturing the landscapes, the riders and the style of the world’s greatest bike race. I talked to him just before the start of this year’s race.
The pedal power of Twitter
When the 98th Tour de France ended on 24 July 2011, Neil Stevens was still a week away from tweeting — “Vive le Paris! Vive le Tour!” BMC’s Cadel Evans had won the race, but completing 21 days’ worth of illustrations was also a sporting challenge.
It all began a month earlier, when Neil decided to fill a gap between commissions with a project based around his favourite sport. “When you’re in a quiet period you’ve got to be inventive,” he says. “I had time on my hands to watch, so I thought, I’ll just illustrate every stage of the Tour de France.”
He announced his plans on Twitter, not realising that cycling fans, bloggers and lovers of vibrant, contemporary illustrations would get quite so caught up in the action. Towards the end of July, Sport magazine did a feature on the cycling prints and, as Neil recalls, “I woke up to hundreds of emails!”
Every second counts
Bradley Wiggins will enter Paris on Sunday with a cushion of more than three minutes — a huge margin compared with the eight seconds enjoyed by the 1989 Tour de France winner Greg LeMond. Time is also of the essence when you decide to draw every stage of a three-week, two-wheeled procession through the Alps, the Pyrenees and many points in between. So when Neil embarked on his 2011 Tour series, his style was “deliberately simple and geometric”.
The strategy for last year’s Tour de France was all about watching the action on TV, then sketching (with a tablet), scanning in and building up the scenery in layers “like a theatre set”. Finally he added textures and shading, to create 21 charming vignettes of the peloton racing across the French countryside.
The best-laid plans
Team Sky’s preparations for Bradley Wiggins’s 2012 campaign have been faultless. Neil also assembled some of the key elements for his prints before the 99th Tour de France got under way. “I’ve got a whole back catalogue of hills, mountains, cyclists, people, cars, flags, sun . . . ”
As well as the scenic prints that capture the landscape of the race, cycling fans can also buy Gallic-flavoured Tour Type illustrations based around each stage number. Though Neil says, “I don’t do humour or caricature”, he has also captured Tour greats Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and Eddy Merckx in another series that evokes the vintage cigarette card look.
As of June 2012, more than 2,000 high quality digital prints of last year’s Tour de France series had been sold through Crayonfire Prints. That is largely thanks to Twitter, word of mouth (designer Paul Smith is a fan) and some timely pre-Christmas exposure in a Sunday Telegraph supplement.
J’adore le vélo
I wish I’d started earlier, but I only discovered the Tour de France in 2010. Neil’s introduction was around 1987 — the annus mirabilis of Ireland’s Giro d’Italia and Tour de France winner, Stephen Roche. In the past 25 years there have been many doping scandals, disqualifications and days of shame for cycling. But British fans who’ve stayed the course will feel amply rewarded with a Wiggins win this year.
Like millions of TV viewers and roadside spectators, Neil Stevens is in love with the Tour de France. “The jerseys, colours, caravans and the whole experience of being in a mountain stage”, are an endless source of inspiration. As Bradley Wiggins leads the “Sky train” into Paris tomorrow, look out for Neil’s pictures of British cycling’s biggest day out.
To see Neil Stevens’s cycling prints and other work, visit the Crayonfire shop.
What really sets Roger Federer apart from his peers isn’t his bulging trophy cabinet or his breathtaking one-handed backhand, but his ability to be conceited in four languages.
Wimbledon 2012 is over and Roger Federer is once again on top of the world and the tennis rankings. Yesterday the Swiss precision instrument reduced Centre Court to a wad of damp tissues, runny mascara and broken dreams, as he beat Britain’s Andy Murray to secure his seventh Wimbledon title. Worshippers at the altar of King Roger have once again rushed to acclaim him as the GOAT (greatest of all time) and according to one hyperventilating headline writer he’s “nearly a saint”.
Federer’s tennis may be sublime, his shorts preternaturally crisp and his brow improbably sweat-free, but he’s not getting any more likeable — or humble — as the years roll by and the trophies pile up. Since Federer collected his 17th Grand Slam singles title on Sunday, “the Swiss” (as that Kraut Boris Becker likes to call him) has been hard to avoid. I don’t buy newspapers and I usually bypass the BBC big match build-up these days. There’s only so much fawning over Federer I can take before my blood pressure soars and I have to lie down in a darkened, Sue Barker-free room.
In the early hours of this morning he gatecrashed John Inverdale’s final Today at Wimbledon, forcing me to fast-forward to the closing montage. There he was again on today’s BBC News at One, modestly telling star-struck reporter Joe Wilson that he doesn’t feel like “the greatest of all time”, before giving us a quick reminder of his latest career milestones.
Yesterday’s tennis coverage also included the awesome sight of Roger admiring a showreel of his greatest Wimbledon moments. In a move that @DjokerNole would probably have admired, some joker at the Beeb had decided to include footage of Federer losing the epic 2008 Wimbledon final to Rafael Nadal. Unless I misunderstood him, Federer explained away that crushing disappointment as a matter of bad luck. (Try telling that to Rafa or his fans.) But we didn’t hear an explanation for that rather naff ponytail he sported in his younger, pre-GOAT days.
What really sets Roger Federer apart from his peers isn’t his bulging trophy cabinet or his breathtaking one-handed backhand, but his ability to be conceited in four languages. Despite speaking English better than most BBC commentators, Roger doesn’t seem to have grasped the concept of irony — that’s when you need a good dose of @PseudoFed. Sudafed relieves the symptoms of the common cold; @PseudoFed is a Twitter account that alleviates the irritation of listening to the GOAT being a pompous ass.
Not Roger Federer, a “humble tennis player, married to Mirky”, has been tweeting tirelessly from his FedBerry since September 2010 and has now branched out into blogging. In his Compare the Meerkat-style pidgin English, Federer’s alter ego gives us a glimpse into the ever-so-#humble life of a global sporting deity and reluctant love object for BBC presenter Sue Barker.
You won’t learn much about tennis by following @PseudoFed, but he does supply the warm, witty and self-mocking persona that is sadly missing from the real Roger Federer. Getting a tweet from @PseudoFed almost makes me forget that the real Roger is preening narcissist, who rearranges his hair almost as often as Rafa unscrambles his underwear.
I’m not going to add another chapter to the adulation of Roger Federer. Instead, here’s a tribute by Mac Davis to that monument to modesty, @PseudoFed. Stay humble.
It takes up to 10 minutes to close the Centre Court roof — roughly the same amount of time that the dilatory Rafa Nadal wastes between serves.
To close or not to close? While Britain’s dodgy bankers and dithering politicians hog the headlines, there was another crisis brewing down in leafy SW19. Day 7 of Wimbledon 2012 should have brought a feast of tennis all over the grounds of the All England Club, with Andy Murray continuing his march towards the final. But this time it wasn’t just the soggy British weather raining on everyone’s parade — it was idiotic officials refusing to sanction extended opening hours under the Centre Court roof.
Before the Centre Court retractable roof was unveiled in 2009, tennis fans endured many frustrating afternoons during the Wimbledon Championships. If you were lucky enough to have Centre Court tickets you would sit freezing under the lowering skies, hoping against hope that Sir Cliff Richard wouldn’t grab the mic and start warbling. Meanwhile viewers on BBC1 or BBC2 would brace themselves for another trip down memory lane in the company of Sue Barker. Is the Borg vs McEnroe Wimbledon final of 1980 greater than the Federer vs Nadal smackdown of 2008? Who cares.
The new Centre Court roof cost up to £80 million (depending on which tabloid newspaper you read) and its vast web of steel trusses and glass is a thing of beauty. But the capacity to play on, whatever the weather, has become a focus for controversy. This court covering may be a masterpiece of engineering, but it’s not like a car roof — you can’t shut out the showers in an instant. It takes up to 10 minutes to close the Centre Court roof — roughly the same amount of time that the dilatory Rafa Nadal wastes between serves. Then there’s a further half hour delay while the Centre Court air management system creates the right environment for indoor play.
One of the more tedious aspects of this year’s Wimbledon has been the prevarication over whether to just start matches under the roof if there’s even a hint of rain in south west London. I’m sure most players would prefer to compete in a wind- and rain-free environment from the outset. (Serena Williams would just be happy if all her matches were scheduled on one of the two main show courts, instead of in a neighbouring borough.) In practice, matches like Nadal’s second-round encounter with giant-killer Lukas Rosol started outdoors and ended under the roof.
The Murray vs Baghdatis encounter on Saturday night was played in an atmosphere of feverish excitement as a new “beat the clock” element came into play. Wimbledon has to observe a curfew of 11pm for play under the Centre Court roof. Apparently Merton Council is worried about the possibility of marauding tennis fans turning the borough into an outpost of Wembley.
Wimbledon has been at pains to emphasise that it is “a traditional daytime, outdoor event”. So rather than move Andy Murray’s rain-affected Court One match with Marin Cilic to Centre Court yesterday evening, the powers that be decided to shut up shop for the night. “Murray Madness” shouted the Daily Telegraph’s headline this morning. I’m sure the players, spectators and TV broadcasters would have been thrilled if play had continued for another three hours under the roof. But the inflexible, minor public school bureaucrats who run Wimbledon didn’t get where they are today by giving people what they want.
A few weeks ago the British press sneered at the organisers of the French Open because the Nadal-Djokovic final had to be carried over to a second day. The issue then wasn’t just the weather but the 3pm Sunday start time, which was designed to accommodate US TV schedules. But we can hardly call roofless Roland Garros a “laughing stock” when Wimbledon refuses to play on the middle Sunday or after 11pm, and when matches on the two main show courts invariably begin at 1pm.
We do like to look down our noses at those garlic-chewing foreigners, with their potted geraniums and acres of uncovered red clay. Wimbledon sends Radek Stepanek off court for having the temerity to breach the “all-white” rule with his natty red and blue shoes. But it’s OK for Serena Williams to wear those eye-catching pink shorts and matching headband: that’s within the rules.
Wimbledon has a huge (retractable) roof but it really doesn’t know what to do with it. Let’s throw out the rule book and have some common sense. While we’re at it, could the BBC please impose a quota on those endless slo-mo replays of Andy Murray and others shaking their fists like over-excited toddlers every time they win a point. It’s not big and it’s not clever.
Later today, 14-year-old golfer Andy Zhang will tee off in the 112th US Open at San Francisco’s Olympic Club. As that well-known golfing organ The Mirror puts it, the Florida-based whizz-kid is “tipped to become the biggest thing since Tiger Woods”. Let’s hope he manages to stay out of bunkers — and car parks.
He may only be a 5000/1 shot for success this week, but rookie Zhang is a reminder of what tennis fans have been missing recently: new faces. What has happened to the sport that, as Martin Amis once observed, used to be all about “the latest double-fisted infant to be groomed for stardom”?
Once we had teenage queens — Tracy Austin, Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Martina Hingis — generating headlines, courting controversy and grinding their geriatric opponents into the dust. But in the run-up to Wimbledon 2012, the only “drama queen” we’re hearing about is the limping Andy Murray, who’s attracted the ire of German pretty boy Tommy Haas.
When Amis wrote about women’s tennis for Vogue in 1988, fans barely had time to draw breath as one pubescent sensation succeeded another. Back then Graf was only 19, her future hubby Andre Agassi still had enough hair for both of them, and the long march to tennis immortality had begun. Monica “the Shrieker” Seles was a precocious 14-year-old, the tempestuous Jennifer Capriati was just over the horizon, while the metronomic Tracy Austin was embarking on her first comeback at the ripe old age of 26.
Not all these ladies were best known for their racket skills. Was it really her topspin backhand that made Argentina’s toothsome Gabriela Sabatini such a big hit on court in the 90s? I saw Russian temptress Anna Kournikova play at Wimbledon once, and I’m pretty sure I was the only one focusing on the ball that day.
While Steffi, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova racked up titles, dollars and endorsements, you could always rely on some orthodontically challenged neophyte shaking things up a bit. In 1983 Martina was sensationally knocked out in the fourth round of the French Open by 17-year-old Kathy Horvath. That was the only match she lost that year. Horvath’s not exactly a household name these days, but Maria Sharapova is. The Russian provided what was perhaps the last truly jaw-dropping moment in women’s tennis, when she crushed Serena Williams in the 2004 Wimbledon final.
Are there any rising stars out there who are likely to emulate “Sharaposer” or Boris “Boom Boom” Becker at this year’s Wimbledon? I doubt it. Apart from Laura Robson, Aussie beanpole Bernard Tomic and the American Sloane Stephens, I’m struggling to think of many notable players who have yet to hit the giddy heights of 20.
Andrew Castle says there are 27 players in the men’s top 100 who are aged 30 or over. (The return of pensioner Barry Davies means the average age of the BBC commentary team has risen sharply, too.) When 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone played Japan’s Kimiko Date-Krumm in the first round of this year’s French Open, they had a combined age of 72. Twenty years ago the top five women probably would have added up to less than that — I’m talking about age not bra size.
The decline of the teenage wonderkids is often attributed to the game being more “physical”, especially since wooden rackets were consigned to the Wimbledon Museum. Of course that didn’t stop a musclebound Rafael Nadal from almost busting out of his pirate pants, when he won the 2005 French Open just days after turning 19.
In the mid-90s women’s tennis introduced age eligibility rules, partly in response to teen prodigy Jennifer Capriati’s sad and spectacular fall from grace. That kind of “court” appearance just isn’t good for the image of the game.
But perhaps the lack of young faces is down to the fact that it’s just too much like hard work for a generation hooked on the instant stardom of the internet. If Anna Kournikova was coming up now, I’d tell her to bypass the gymn, the practice courts and all that sweaty activity that ruins your makeup and gives you muscles in all the wrong places. If you’ve got a pretty face, an average backhand and a yearning for publicity, aim for a career in reality TV.