It’s that time of year again. French Open is over and done with, and soon Wimbledon will be upon us. For some of us, this marks the beginning of a two-week stint trying to see the TV from the sunniest spot we can find and cheering on our favourite player. For others, it conjures magnificent images of strawberries and cream and an excuse to drink all the Pimms you can. For the rest, it would appear that Wimbledon doesn’t excite the ‘pimmsical’ pleasures of frolicking in an overly British manner. Unfortunately it seems to be dampened by murmurs of elitist attitudes and is possibly becoming more about a fashion statement than a love of the game.
For me, Wimbledon marks the height of British summer time, no matter what the weather forecast. It’s the one time of the year when it’s entirely acceptable to have the TV blaring through the house, echoing the sounds of grunting athletes and stern line judges. However, how much of Wimbledon is actually about the sport? Last year Bill Borrows, writer for the Telegraph, described Wimbledon as carrying “an air of snobbery and elitism from a bygone age”. He claims that tennis as a sport was isolated to the south east of England and had it experienced wider popularity, “we would now have a roster of potential Grand Slam winners”. He also identifies that before his 2013 win, Andy Murray was considered Scottish. Only after was he claimed as a British Wimbledon champion. He is the type of sportsman we are not used to: he is emotional, and often angry, on court – a controversial matter in the etiquette of tennis and possibly a factor in the view of Wimbledon as classist. It has taken a significant win for the crowd to get used to this new, more rugged style of playing.
Is Wimbledon stuck in a rut? . Players are under strict instruction to wear white. This forced dress code is something that Venus and Serena Williams have often contested. So is Wimbledon behind the times, or is it unwilling to move on from such a sacred part of British culture? Possibly, but that being said, there are obviously enough Wimbledon fans out there. To give an idea of the immense scale of the competition – both sporting and spectating – the Radio Times published an article before Wimbledon 2015, summarising the numbers. Wimbledon is a takes place over a two-week period, comprising of 622 individual matches. In 2014 491,084 tennis fans arrived at Wimbledon guzzling “230,000 glasses of Pimms and 100,000 pints of beer” and “28,000 bottles of champagne”. Keeping it British, Wimbledon served 350,000 cups of tea as well as “28,000 kg of strawberries and 7,000 litres of cream” – while the players themselves are treated to some of the 15,000 bananas reserved for the players.
I freely admit that I like to immerse myself in the British merriment that embodies Wimbledon. However, is it more a celebration of all things British? When we watch a sport, are we interested in the game, or simply the glory of winning?
The build up to 2012, the London Olympics and its aftermath saw a peak in sport spectating and participating. Sports clubs and venues revelled in refurbishment and the rush surrounding the mass sporting event. The 2014 Fifa World
Cup was pretty exciting, despite the sheer disappointment that came with England’s group stage exit. Similarly, 2015’s Rugby World Cup, hosted by England, saw some serious national pride and build up, despite the rather dismal performance of our home team. Yet the hugely international status of Wimbledon is
arguably taken for granted. With Wimbledon, there are never any discussions to be had on the rules or the host venue, because these two pivotal factors never change. This consistency is perhaps why this consistent British sporting event is less exciting to many than a
less regular shot at national glory. For those who can’t bring themselves to support Murray – who is, slowly becoming a national treasure – there is a usually a definite favourite within the ‘Big Four’ who have reigned supreme in the finals of the tournament for the best part of a decade: Federer, Djokovic, Nadal and (finally) Murray. There is certainly a comedic substance to the British identity of the Grand Slam and the lack of British success. I remember the subtle giggles while listening to adults talking about Henman’s chances back in the early 2000s. Joking aside, there are few moments where I remember feeling more patriotic as Murray’s 2013 win. The Royal Wedding, the Olympic opening ceremony, and Andy Murray becoming the first British male player to win Wimbledon in 77 years. Then again, the 2012 final of Wimbledon in which Murray lost to Federer after a gruelling game – for player and spectator – was incredible. I challenge anybody to watch his final speech and not shed a single tear.
Wimbledon begins in earnest on the 27th of June, and given Murray’s recent trip to the finals at Roland Garros – the first British player to do so in three quarters of a century – expectations will be high. So, this season, why not refresh your Wimbledon experience – for the love of the sport or the overwhelming sense of British culture. Of course, it is possible to enjoy both, but it is important not to forget the game – the hard work and training – behind the fresh fruit and summer cocktails. Perhaps a surge in the diversity and number of viewers might encourage the changes necessary to bring Wimbledon into the modern era, spreading a non-elitist view of the game, both nationally and internationally.