Wednesday 28 September 2016

Couchsurfer: Anyone for tennis?

Published 22/06/2015 | 02:30

Maria Sharapova
Maria Sharapova

All hail Wimbledon, the best time of the year to be a tennis fan, or a celebrity fan, or just a summer fan: the strawberries and cream, the Pimms, the will-it-won't-it of rain stopping play, the shots of Victoria Beckham and Keira Knightley in sunglasses. And, of course, the players.

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"Tennis is about balls, Clare. Big balls." That's Andy Murray, in a comedy sketch for Unicef. The 'Clare' in question is broadcaster Clare Balding, who will be replacing John Inverdale as host of the BBC's nightly Wimbledon coverage, after Inverdale's stunning gaffe in 2013, when he wondered live on air, after French player Marion Bartoli won the women's championships, whether her father had told her when she was young that she was never going to be a "looker . . . a Sharapova".

As 'sexism in tennis' moments go, it was pretty sensational, although far from isolated. At the Australian Open earlier this year, a TV commentator asked Eugenie Bouchard, ranked at Number 11 in the world, to "give us a twirl" in a post-match interview, while the debate over what various players are wearing - from the 'racy' pleated white skirt-and-shorts combo worn at the recent French Open by Maria Sharapova (above), to the Williams sisters' parade of gorgeous gold, hot pink, and even burlesque gear - goes on and on.

So what else can we expect at Wimbledon? Well, there is the question over what Andy Murray will do with his wedding ring. The World No Three married Kim Sears in April, and, at his first tennis tournament as a married man, he tied the ring to his shoelaces. We're hoping for it be woven into his hair this time.

For the top-ranked male player and last year's Wimbledon winner, Novak Djokovic, this is also his first Wimbledon as a married man, and a father - he married pregnant girlfriend Jelena Ristic just days after winning the men's title last year. At the time, he dedicated his win to his fiancée, so this could be a chance for the devoted-father routine.

Roger Federer may be World Number Two and looking for a record-breaking eighth win, but, for most of us, it's his modesty, his style, and, mainly, his friendship with Anna Wintour that fascinates. "She's very nice and gives us good advice," he recently said of Wintour's friendship with him and wife Mirka. Then there's Rafael Nadal, who will be hoping to make a classic Wimbledon come-back, along with crowd favourite, Australian Nick Kyrgios, who has shown he can beat the best on a good day, and spark up plenty of tabloid headlines over his on-off Twitter flirtation with Belarusian player and former World Number One, Victoria Azarenka, who asked him 'How can I learn to serve as big as u?'

In women's tennis, meanwhile, it's still all about Serena Williams. As one commentator said recently, "Women's tennis isn't a sport these days. It's Serena's stage." The great rivalries have always made this a perfect layman's sport - you don't need to understand much about the game to get the dynamic that existed between Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, or Steffi Graf and Monica Seles, or even the Williams sisters, occasionally troubled by Martina Hingis and Justine Henin. They may be temporarily gone, but there is still enough to keep things interesting. Caroline Wozniacki seems to be back on form and well over her break-up with Rory McIlroy; she may or may not be dating American football player JJ Watt. Serbian player Ana Ivanovic is certainly dating Germany midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, and on the strength of her French Open quarter-final win, looks likely to do good things.

Tennis is a sport perfectly made for fair-weather spectators - uncluttered by too many players, like football, or too much distance, like golf, it is the ideal stage for personalities, rivalries and heroic narratives.

Wimbledon starts on June 29

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