Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Wimbledon Love

The Championships, Wimbledon - my favourite two weeks of the year - are underway.  I've always loved Wimbledon, for reasons that are as much aesthetic and poetic as sporting.  The beauty's in the detail; the blond wooden net posts, the impeccable green lawns that turn sun-blistered and scratchy by the end of the fortnight, the way the sun falls on Centre Court coating it in a heavenly glow as behind, the tiered seats lie steeped in shadow.  And at this time of year, I always enjoy reading the writing of tennis correspondents who share this feeling.

I still have a stack of BBC Wimbledon magazines at my parents' house.  Through the Nineties this was a great publication, with a really high standard of writing and photography throughout.  I'd played the sport since I was eight, but for a spell during my teens I wanted to write it as well.  As a gangly sixteen year old I spent a week on work experience at The Guardian.  I lost myself in their clippings library and wrote about Andre Agassi for The Rose Guardian, the pretend newspaper that fellow work experiencees were putting together.  At home, I followed ATP and WTA tour matches on Ceefax.  With little sense of targeting or readership I typed a lengthy feature about Thomas 'King of Clay' Muster's reign on the red-dust courts of Europe, and sent it snail-mail to the Express & Echo, a paper more commonly interested in local football derbies and horse racing in the Exeter environs.  Unsurprisingly, it never ran.  Then, without ever being able to pinpoint the precise moment that it happened, my tennis writerly ambitions slipped further and further down the rankings until, eventually, they disappeared from sight.

Every time Wimbledon comes around though, I find these dreams suddenly reappearing in the main draw, wild-card like.  Once again I'm smitten; a starry-eyed teenager with a ring binder full of snipped articles and a head packed with stats.  I picture myself with a press pass, looking out over the lines of courts; the sun-hatted throngs; the knee-length-skirt-wearing officials who carry with them a whiff of the Church Fête.  I'd note the swirling brollies, colourful and rain-dashed; the jet-black VIP motors at the virginia creeper-clad club entrance; the track-suited, racket-bag shouldering players whose time in the sun is beckoning.  I'd watch the wistful faces of old pros turned pundits, stuffed in suits under studio lights.  I'd think of all that history, hearing the echoing ground strokes of great champions and ripples of applause from matches gone by.  And I would know that my job was to capture all of it and set it down as best I could.  Not just the score - which shot won what point - but the poetry, the romance, the dreams, the desire.  All the winsome details that add up to make the Wimbledon fortnight the loveliest two weeks of the English summer.

To borrow from MacArthur, old wannabe-tennis-journalists never die; they just fade away.