Sunday 17 December 2017

Serving up a right racquet at Wimbledon

The annual tournament reliably delivers a cocktail of glamour, intrigue, mystery and scandal - and the odd spot of tennis too, writes Katie Byrne

Anyone for tennis? (clockwise from top left) Amber Le Bon, Laura Whitmore, Sam Smith, Yasmin Le Bon, Maria Hatzistefanis and Erin O’Connor yesterday at Wimbledon
Anyone for tennis? (clockwise from top left) Amber Le Bon, Laura Whitmore, Sam Smith, Yasmin Le Bon, Maria Hatzistefanis and Erin O’Connor yesterday at Wimbledon
Power: US player Venus Williams in action on the court yesterday
US actor Kevin Spacey has a chat with last year’s Mens Singles winner, Scottish tennis champ Andy Murray

Writer Lauren Weisberger has picked the perfect moment to launch her latest book.

'The Singles Game', set in the ferociously competitive world of international tennis, lands in bookshops just as thousands of Union Jack hat-wearing tennis fans form lengthy queues for the annual Wimbledon championships. Weisberger's book is intriguingly described as a "tell-all about a beautiful tennis prodigy who, after changing coaches, suddenly makes headlines on and off the court".

The US novelist has form in the 'tell-all stakes' - her previous hits include 'The Devil Wears Prada', a thinly-veiled account of her time working at 'Vogue' magazine, in which the frosty magazine boss may or may not have been based on the real-life Anna Wintour. So no doubt readers and tennis fans alike will be left wondering whether the book's antics are inspired by life on the real tennis circuit. Then again, when it comes to the world of competitive tennis, she won't have been short of inspiration. As the sporting action kicks off in SW19, we take a look at the off-court drama that's got people talking already:

The spats

'The Singles Game' depicts the complicated relationship between a tennis player and her coach, but we don't have to look too far to see this dynamic played out in real life.

Great British hope Andy Murray recently parted company with his coach Amelie Mauresmo. She later described the Glaswegian as "complex". Meanwhile, US tennis legend John McEnroe said Murray should consider rehiring his former coach, Ivan Lendl - even if it might feel like taking back "your ex-wife".

Power: US player Venus Williams in action on the court yesterday
Power: US player Venus Williams in action on the court yesterday

The game of musical chairs continues elsewhere. Roger Federer recently hired former world number three Ivan Ljubicic, who happens to be friends with his arch-rival Novak Djokovic, while Compton-born Serena Williams once dated her former coach, Patrick Mouratoglou.

Their relationship was outed by Williams' arch-rival, disgraced player Maria Sharapova, at a press conference. When a journalist asked Sharapova to respond to Williams' claims that she was boring, the Russian tennis star hit back by saying: "If Serena wants to talk about something personal, she should talk about her relationship and her boyfriend who was married, who is getting a divorce and who has kids - and not draw attention to other things."

The plot of this particular soap opera thickens: Sharapova's ex-boyfriend, Bulgarian player Grigor Dimitrov, was rumoured to have briefly dated her rival ...

The outbursts

US actor Kevin Spacey has a chat with last year’s Mens Singles winner, Scottish tennis champ Andy Murray
US actor Kevin Spacey has a chat with last year’s Mens Singles winner, Scottish tennis champ Andy Murray

Wimbledon may be known for Pimms and strawberries and pomp and pageantry, but there is another side to this annual grasscourt outing. There may be royalty in the boxes, but it doesn't stop the temper tantrums and ego outbursts on the courts.

The players at the helm of this sport like to make statements. John McEnroe's famous meltdown in 1981 has now been etched into the Wimbledon annals, while Serena Williams cheeky 'Are you looking at my titles?' t-shirt is hard to forget.

Last week, retired French player Marion Bartoli made a statement of her own by revealing she had lost three stone. Her dramatic new appearance has been linked to the derogatory comments BBC pundit John Inverdale made about her. Speaking to Radio 5 Live in 2013, Inverdale said: "I wonder if her dad did say to her, 'Listen, you're never going to be a looker.'" Bartoli has never held a grudge - but the comment has gone down in the history of unsportsmanlike gaffes.

The guests Wimbledon is always a great event for celeb-spotting, and this year is already shaping up to be a good one: seen mingling with the masses yesterday were tennis stalwarts Pippa Middleton and Cliff Richard, as well as US comedian Rebel Wilson and TV presenter Laura Whitmore. Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey was even spotted launching a campaign to save the tigers with current champ Andy Murray. Mind you, the gilt-edged invite-list tends to be kept hush-hush - but if you're going to be there, the Royal Box is the golden ticket. Royal Box invitees are issued with a dress code: gentlemen are asked to wear suits and ties, while ladies are asked to avoid wearing hats as they tend to obscure the vision of those seated behind them.

This isn't a suggestion - it's a demand. F1 driver Lewis Hamilton was refused entry last year when he turned up wearing a floral shirt and trilby hat.

The Royal Box isn't the only celebrity circus. Roger Federer's box is almost always populated by the aforementioned Vogue editor Anna Wintour, who will no doubt be wearing some variation of her trademark oversized black sunglasses and patterned shift dress ensemble. Actor Bradley Cooper is another member of Federer's entourage. The glamour quotient will be upped considerably if he chooses to bring model girlfriend Irina Shayk as his plus-one.

It's even starrier in Serena Williams' box, which was like an after-party at the Grammys last year. Guests included John Legend and wife Chrissy Teigen and her "good luck charm", rapper Drake. "We've been friends for, like, so many years," Williams once told a press conference when she was asked about her relationship with the rapper. "He's just like family."

Andy Murray's guestlist tends to be low-key by comparison, but all eyes will still be on Murray's formidable wife Kim, who became a star in her own right after she was caught delivering an expletive-laden outburst towards her husband's opponent, Tomas Berdych, in the Australian Open in 2015.

Better still was her response to the online outcry that followed: she wore a t-shirt reading 'Parental Advisory: Explicit Content' at the finals. This particular lady is not for turning …

The Style You'd think with a strict 'tennis whites' only dress code, Wimbledon would offer little in the way of sartorial suspense. Well, you'd be wrong, because there's already been one dresscode disaster at this year's tournament when Nike was forced to recall its 'Premier Slam' dress for urgent alterations after it was deemed by officials to be too skimpy.

Stella McCartney's Adidas designs for Caroline Wozniacki have turned heads for all the right reasons in the past, while other noteworthy fashion moments include Anne White's catsuit in 1985; Sharapova's tuxedo-style two-piece in 2008; and Venus Williams' Tina Turner-inspired dress in 2010.

Venus's sister, reigning champion Serena Williams, is sporting a much more pared-back look this year: a simple racerback dress with pleated skirt designed by Nike, but an eyecatching new hairstyle - yesterday she wore her locks piled on top of her head, complete with a fiesty ruby streak - has got people talking.

Still, if it's fashion you're after, make sure to check out the newly-designed ball boy and girl uniforms. Ralph Lauren has been designing the uniforms for the last 11 years, and this year's look even includes a pair of designer shades.

The celebrity guests also know how to cut a dash. Sienna Miller served an ace when she wore a white Galvan jumpsuit and tortoiseshell sunglasses last year, while Rosamund Pike paid homage to traditional tennis attire in a sleeveless white shirt and matching skirt by Antonio Berardi.

As always, Wimbledon 2016 promises plenty of action, both on the court and off it. And even those who can't tell an umpire from an underspin are in for a treat.

Irish Independent

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