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After the rehearsals, attention shifts to Wimbledon

By Jacob Akindele
27 June 2016   |   1:47 am
A ceremonial game is played on the hallowed Centre Court on the day preceding the championships. It is the only time that the court is used other than for the two-week fiesta that is the zenith of tennis tournaments.
Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates after winning his men's third round match against Great Britain's Aljaz Bedene at the Roland Garros 2016 French Tennis Open in Paris on May 28, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / MIGUEL MEDINA

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic celebrates after winning his men’s third round match against Great Britain’s Aljaz Bedene at the Roland Garros 2016 French Tennis Open in Paris on May 28, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / MIGUEL MEDINA

A ceremonial game is played on the hallowed Centre Court on the day preceding the championships. It is the only time that the court is used other than for the two-week fiesta that is the zenith of tennis tournaments. There are no paying spectators in the stands. It is to test the sap of the well-manicured ultimate luxury in surfaces.

The gladiators are the spouses of the executives of the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Bedecked in spotless white attire, the four ladies savour the honour of stepping on the arena where history is made, in the annual sports culture. Tradition is what Wimbledon is about. It is sustained. It endures; a symbolic representation of the permanence of the eternal essence of Homo sapiens.

Welcome to the lush green courts of Wimbledon to which all roads have converged for the yearly tradition to crown the men’s (gentlemen’s) and women’s (ladies’) champion for the year. The players from all over the world know that Wimbledon is different. They must be at their best, not only in white attire, but also in demeanour.

The Committee of Management always reserve the right to make the seedings; giving due cognizance to a player’s record on grass-courts; which now is only from the warm-up tournaments played in Germany and England.

In days of yore, Paris was the only Grand Slam that was not played on Grass. But The US Open and its Australian equal, changed to hard courts. Our own Lagos Lawn Tennis Court originally consisted of 12 grass courts that were maintained by inmates from nearby Broad Street prison, now Freedom Park.

In the period when professional tennis debuted with the famous 32, Wimbledon would not allow them to participate; paving the way for “Amateur” Alex Metrevelli of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to win the 1973 title. In 2002, there was a protest withdrawal by Spanish players over the seedings that did not take account of their record on clay. Their slots in the draw were promptly filled by lucky losers from the qualifying tournament. At, Wimbledon, the show must go on.

Mark McCormack (Author of “What They Don’t Teach You in Harvard Business School”) broke the Wimbledon resistance to commercialism. From his experience in managing Golf’s Jack Nicklaus, he told them: “Hey, you guys (pardon me, gentlemen) have a potential huge fortune in this. He negotiated an agreement: no commercial billboards on the courts, but a package of concessions and viewing rights worldwide for television by his outfit Trans World International. Yes, you don’t want to make “profits.” No problem. Whatever is in excess of the expenses would be ploughed back into improving the facilities and donated to the Lawn Tennis Association of Britain, to develop tennis in the United Kingdom.

Lamenting the fact that no Briton had won the championships since Fred Perry in 1936, a great indication of the success would be to have one. Virginia Wade (South African born Briton) won the 1977 Ladies’ title watched by The Queen in the Royal Box for the Centenary edition of the Championships. For the gentlemen, the great hope was Tim Henman, who buckled under the burden. The Wimbledon Tournament hands the (British) Lawn Tennis Association so much money every year that a newspaper headline wailed: “Huge profits, scant returns.”

Wimbledon likes to parade the famous. In 1998, when the Committee of Management got wind that Wole Soyinka was to attend, he was to be included in the Royal Box List for the day to the delight of the Press, especially the Paparazzi and the Press, whose seating area was then contiguous to the Royal Box!
However, the Nobel Laureate would have none of it and keep away; for reasons to be found in his book “You must set forth at Dawn.”

So much for tradition. The seedings are out. Novak Djokovic leads the gentlemen pack, while Serena tops the Ladies. For the Serbian, a calendar Grand Slam was achieved with his victory over Andy Murray in Paris. Is he aiming at an encore? The loss of the titles in Melbourne and Paris must definitely be a burden of memory on Serena Williams, who is chasing her fifth Wimbledon title and a record 22 GS titles to tie Germany’s Steffi Graff.
Welcome to Wimbledon, for the ultimate surface but mind your steps; the grass is slippery when wet! Let the games begin.
PJA.