Ah, good old Wimbledon: a fortnight of rhythmic ball thumping, ooh-ing at Federer’s forehand, aah-ing at Djoko the elastic athlete, and praying against common sense for good weather and British success. Some foreigners can be sniffy about Wimbledon’s particular charms — all that Union Jack patriotism, excitement over strawberries and cream and English eccentricity. ‘Grass is for cows,’ said the Argentinian Guillermo Vilas, famously, a line still repeated by some Latin players who can’t handle the low bounce and quick pace of the green stuff. Well, moo to them. Wimbers is tennis at its best, the grandest of all slams, which is why I like to go every year, at least twice.
Pimm’s has become so identified with the tennis ‘brand’ that it’s a cliché — but that doesn’t stop it from being absolutely delicious, essential drinking in fact. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy a Pimm’s or three when I’m watching a game. Only pints will do, frankly, since half the glass is ice anyway. (For tips on how to make ice, may I refer you to my book Celebrate?) I try to smuggle mine under my chair and sip it when the cameras aren’t on me. Oversized sunglasses help the disguise, and mean I can nod off unnoticed after one too many Pimm’s in the sun.
TYPICALLY I prefer watching the men to the women. I don’t hate my own sex or anything; I just can’t stomach the women players’ shrieking. Here I agree with your High Life columnist, Taki, who wrote so eloquently against the shrieking phenomenon in last week’s Spectator. There are male grunters, it should be said (Nadal, Agassi, Ferrer, Djokovic — though not, of course, the serene and beautiful Roger Federer), but they have a lower pitch so it’s not too offputting. The shriekers, by contrast, howl so loudly that they make it hard for the audience to focus on the tennis. You can even hear them on Centre Court from the outside courts. The worst offenders are Maria Sharapova (101 decibels, according to a scientific tool called a ‘gruntometer’), the Williams sisters (Serena at 88.9 decibels) and Victoria Azarenka. I remember playing a bad screamer in county tennis. Her relentless noise turned her into a sort of androgynous warrior on the other side of the net, which terrified me. She won. I’ve had it in for shriekers ever since.
THE Spectator’s editor has asked me to say who I think will win the men’s tournament this year. Well, I don’t want to encourage gambling, but surely Jo Wilfried Tsonga is worth a small punt at 28/1? He could have beaten Murray in the semi-final last year, his game suits grass, and he’s one of those players who’s just unstoppable when he gets into what the pros call ‘the zone’. Or what about Juan Martín Del Potro, a US Open winner, at a staggering 50/1? Now that I’ve tipped them, however, they’ll probably both be knocked out before you read this.
We can already forget about Nadal the Ninja, brought to his knees (literally) in the first round by the unseeded Belgian Steve Darcis. I suppose Djokovic, the world no. 1, is rightly favourite. But at 11/10 he’s not what you might call ‘value’. I’d rather follow my heart and back Federer — looking jazzier than usual in fluorescent orange-soled trainers — or stick ten British Pounds on our home favourite, Andy Murray. On Monday I watched him crush the talented German Benjamin (not Boris) Becker. His all-round game looks better than ever.
Actually, there’s something in the air that tells me this could be another special summer in British sport. Justin Rose wins the US Open at Merion; the Queen takes home the Gold Cup at Ascot; Murray triumphs at Queen’s and then, dare I say it again, Wimbledon; the Lions cruise to victory Down Under, Team Sky beat everyone else on the Tour de France, and we wallop the Aussies in the Ashes. Unless the weather spoils it all. Which reminds me, here’s a great tip if you’re visiting Wimbledon — remember your umbrella.
THE LAST TIME I wrote in these pages, I issued a challenge to Boris Johnson to take me on at ping pong. The Mayor said he’d be up for it, and his office duly contacted The Spectator to arrange the details. Team Johnson insisted that the match should be held at a venue of their choosing. I said by all means. And then — nothing. The Spectator has tried to follow up, but now it’s radio silence from the Mayor’s office. Is Boris scared or what? He should be.