I am glad Safin and I have at least one thing in common. It seems we both dislike Wimbledon
Safin mans the barricades for the great food revolt
Friday June 29, 2007
There's a riot going on at the All England Club. Outside, the streets are paved with free food and drink - cold latte, organic yoghurt, you name it. It is impossible to walk a few yards without having a freebie pressed into your hand. Inside, it's a different matter. And Marat Safin is not happy about it.
"A plate of spaghetti costs £12.50. Where else do you see such outrageous prices?" the Russian No26 seed raged a couple of days ago after another rain delay. He has a point. Spaghetti? £12.50? They're having a laugh. Any self-respecting international tournament would welcome Mr Safin with a plate of borscht, a handful of gherkins, a sprinkling of cabbage and a decent beef stroganoff. At half the price.
Yesterday, having completed a straight-sets victory over Pakistan's Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi and changed back into jeans and hoody, he had time to contemplate his next match - against the champion, Roger Federer - and his next meal in the players' restaurant. Federer will be tough, but not as tough as the steak. As for the pasta, don't even go there. "It's definitely not the Cipriani of New York. That's one of the best restaurants in New York, and I could have great pasta there for $20," he tells me, almost exclusively. "And we could certainly get a better pasta in Russia for 20 bucks."
Things are not much calmer among the press corps, where journalists are revolting.
Sorry, couldn't resist that. Let's start again. Things aren't much calmer among the press corps, where journalists are revolting about the all-day breakfast. Veteran correspondents stalk the corridors of the powerless, whispering conspiratorially. Last year the all-day breakfast virtually doubled in price after 11am. This year the authorities have been even more dastardly. The all-day breakfast is now called the English breakfast, and after 11am it metamorphoses into brunch. The difference? Brunch costs £1.25 more and comes minus the hash browns - although you do get an extra sausage. Reporters are accusing Wimbledon of subterfuge, skulduggery and worse. "I look forward to the all-day breakfast all year - sod the tennis," says one hungry hack, who asks to remain anonymous.
This is chaos, anarchy, the last fetid days of capitalism gone kaput. Forget Roman Abramovich and "Frank" Shinawatra, come to SW19 for the perversion of old-fashioned kitchen values. Yes, players get a food allowance of £23.49 here and yes, they also get a £170-per-day allowance and yes, they stand to take home £700,000 if they win the tournament. But there's only one Roger Federer, local rents are exorbitant and £23.49 doesn't even cover two bolognese.
Meanwhile, those behind the desk in the press office are also whispering conspiratorially. "Marat Safin's won £6.5m in prize money and he says he can't afford a bolognese," says one disbelieving publicist to her equally disbelieving colleague.
But our Marat's not leaving it at the food. Oh no. There's more. There's that bonkers grass surface, the delays, the rain, the pomposity and the endless security searches. It's bureaucracy gone mad. "The only thing they do," he says, "is search your bags and all your pockets about 300 times a day."
Again he has a point. I saw them spend an age searching Richard Williams' bag. Surely they must recognise Venus and Serena's dad by now. As for Safin, they couldn't seriously believe that this bronzed Muscovite Adonis is a common-or-garden terrorist. It's the same for the public. By the time you get past security you're lucky if you get to watch half an hour's tennis.
Safin is not alone in his dislike of Wimbledon. Maybe we British get so thoroughly wrapped in a nostalgic blanket of strawberries, grass and boaters that we forget just how miserable it can be for players who simply want to play the game as best they can without nonsense bounces and regular Cliff Richard breaks.
The Ukrainian Andrei Medvedev couldn't stand Wimbledon's "snobbishness", saying that "all the history, that's rubbish". He also lambasted the bureaucracy. "They smile and say, sorry, you can only have one badge. Sorry, you can only have 30 minutes on the practice courts." (Fair enough - when I ask if I can visit the players' restaurant to hear their side of the story I am told I have the wrong pass.) Chile's Marcelo Ríos, a former world No1, famously said that grass was better suited for grazing than ground strokes.
But, on the plus side, strawberries are £2 a punnet for the fifth year in succession, Timmy got two sets back and Safin says the showers are truly great. "No, showers are really important! If you see them, you understand what I'm talking about."
As for the pasta, he can always give it a miss. If he gets here early today he can even pick up a free yoghurt and latte on the street.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007