Why Wimbledon is So Special.
Why Wimbledon is So Special
For 11 months of the year there is little happening along Church Road, Wimbledon, to indicate that this is the home of the world's biggest tennis tournament. It is a road much favoured by driving instructors and people exercising dogs. Then, in the build-up to, the staging of and the clearing up at the end of The Championships, all changes. Church Road and its immediate environs in the London suburb of SW19 are filled with those whose task it is to present the tennis and those who have come to watch it.
Wimbledon is special in so many ways. It is the only one of the four Grand Slams still to be played on grass and it remains free from subsidy or indeed any outward sign of commercialism. Because of the worldwide upsurge in tennis interest, it becomes annually more difficult to stay ahead of the rest, but Wimbledon manages to do it. As the previous chairman of the All England Club, John Curry, once said, "One of the skills we have is that we're fuddy-duddy. Once people think we're dynamic that's when we have problems."
Curry was only half-joking. In its quiet, understated fashion, Wimbledon is organised and presented with a precision, which makes it magnificently unique. In the bewildering eddies of tennis, the fastest changing of the major sports, Wimbledon has not only stayed majestically afloat but continues to be the pinnacle of tennis ambition and achievement.
The late Arthur Ashe, one of the tournament's great champions, attempted to explain this phenomenon: "Part of the reason that Wimbledon attracts such attention is that it is a bona fide, certified British tradition and British traditions are just a bit more traditional than anyone else's."
Many players built, and continue to build, their whole year round Wimbledon. Think of the planning that went into the achievements of Bjorn Borg, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Boris Becker. Think how Pete Sampras' career has always been arrowed towards this one event - with spectacular success - and how Tim Henman annually bears the considerable burden of British expectation.
It is a tournament which has changed for ever the lives of so many of its champions, for winners like John McEnroe and for losers, too, like Goran Ivanisevic, three times the "bridesmaid" as men's singles runner-up.
Another of The Championships' great champions, Jimmy Connors, calls Wimbledon the Olympics of his sport and John Newcombe, that supreme Australian competitor, has observed, "You can find out anything you want to know about a person by putting him or her on Centre Court at Wimbledon."
Much of Wimbledon's eminence comes from the historical fact of having been first in the field, but that eminence needs to be defended with what might be termed modest ferocity. Many are the sporting enterprises, which have learned to their cost that pre-eminence in their particular field of operations is not necessarily an enduring quality.
There are other tennis events which can claim bigger this or that. The US Open, for example, makes much of the fact that it offers the premium prize money. But none has ever offered the prestige that goes with a Wimbledon title. And for all its so-called amateurish attitude, Wimbledon has been brave and hard-nosed when the necessity arose.
The best example of this came when Wimbledon showed the rest of the world the way in 1968, drawing a curtain over the years of "shamateurism" and under-the-counter payments by opening its gates to amateurs and professionals alike in 1968 - the single most important change in the sport's history.
A recent headline in The Times over an article about Wimbledon pointed out: "The Bubble Keeps on Growing." So it does, and the job Wimbledon carries out so well is to ensure that bubble never bursts.