First Serve: Wimbledon's Wackiest


• According to Art Spander, “The trouble with Britain is that everyone still thinks it’s the ‘90s. The 1890s. They can’t get over the loss of the Empire, much less the loss of a few soccer games, cricket matches or tennis matches.”

• After No. 129 Jelana Dokic defeated No. 1 Martina Hingis, Ian Woolridge claimed, “The sheer enormity, the staggering impossibility…This hard-to-ignore defeat heaps humiliation on the shame she already felt.”

• After noting that some writers have overstated Jennifer Capriati’s astounding success, one Dutch reporter claimed, “Her comeback is the best since Lazarus.”

• Christopher Clarey noted that when in London, “what you lose in the cost of lodging and food, you make up in the cost of sunscreen.”

• After losing in the ‘98 semis, Natasha Zvereva said, “I’m tired. I need a mental institution.”

• Asked who is the better player, Graf or Navratilova, Chris Evert responded, “Steffi from the waist down, Martina from the waist up.”

• The Guardian asserted, “Lleyton Hewitt is the most unpopular No. 1 since Connors…[He] has the air of a Nazi storm trooper who has been ostracized by the other storm troopers because they find him a bit on the fanatical side.”

• According to one observer, “At 6-foot-10, and nearly 16 stone, Ivo Karlovic [Wimbledon’s tallest player ever] towered over Hewitt by a foot and “outweighed him by a whole Daniela Hantuchova.”

• English papers claimed that Gabriela Sabatini’s arrival at Wimbledon was Argentina’s revenge on Britain for the Falkland Islands fiasco in ‘85.

• Fed up with the tame tendency of BBC commentator John Barrett to always claim that tight calls were “too close to call,” the Evening Standard suggested, “If Richard Krajicek, over-reaching himself to smash a topspin lob, caught the ball on the outside of the racket frame so that it deflected dramatically, flew out of the stadium, became trapped in the undercarriage of the Goodyear blimp and traveled with that vehicle five miles south, only detaching when directly over Surbiton station and landing on that newspaper kiosk on Platform Two — and if the shot was mystifyingly called in — Mr. Barrett would say that the television pictures were inconclusive.”

• After spraying aerosol in John McEnroe’s eyes, a Wimbledon fan explained that he did it because “I’m Tony from Chicago and I felt like it.”

• A fan yelled out “louder” to super-screecher Maria Sharapova.

• A fan called Wimby to ask officials if they could turn down the volume on his broadcast because he was having a hard time concentrating on the matches.

• A woman who had tuned in too late to see the three-minute-long conclusion of the rain-delayed Sabatini-Capriati match, called referee’s office and asked, “Would it be too much to ask the girls to play it again?”

• J.V. Howes wrote to the Mirror, “I always used to look forward to Wimbledon…before players took up the filthy habit of spitting. I feel sorry for the ballpersons who have to pick up the balls. Now only does it look awful, but many viruses can be passed around too.”

• Reflecting on Wimby rain-soaked yet hungry-and-thirsty fans, Ronald Atkin claimed, “The skills of those folks able to hold an umbrella while eating strawberries and cream and downing champagne are enviable indeed.”

• The BBC asked Navratilova, “You are playing in a game now where there are so many young nubile girls playing all in nice frocks, looking very sexy. How much impact has this had on the perception of women’s tennis?”

• At a press event promoting Anna Kournikova’s endorsement of a bra, a reporter had the temerity to ask her an off-topic question, at which point, Kournikova shot back, “We’re here to talk about bras.”

• Lynne Tuss wrote, “Of all the bids for physical appeal at Wimbledon, the one that will stick longest in the mind is Chris Evert at the opening ceremonies for No. 1 court. She wore a short skirt and the sight of long brown slender legs was breathtaking, inducing in me the reaction Piglet has in Winnie the Pooh when he sees the blue braces and has to go home and lie down. Here is a woman who never needed a diamond navel stud to get noticed.”

• After conceding that neither of his parents were tall, the towering Ivo Karlovic announced, “It was the postman.”

According to Nick Price, Russian women’s tennis “has a pipeline. British tennis has a drain.”

Sue Mott observed, “Only Britons interpret the umpire’s opening word ‘Play!’ as the knell of doom. And at moments of crisis, Laurie Lattimore’s manifold faith in her own inadequacy, backed up by almost 20 years of abysmal British failure, took its torrid grip on her mind. Her confidence drained away like a Yorkshire reservoir…After all, the back view of receding British women with towels around their hunched shoulders is a familiar sight to regular Wimbledon watchers.”

Reflecting on British fans, Terrence Blacker asked if “there is any more depressing sound in England than ‘Come on, Tim?’ The voice is invariably well-bred and slightly tentative, as if its owner knows that one really should not be shouting in public, unless one is playing beach cricket…It contains a note of uncertainty, the desperate, unmistakable timbre of anticipated defeat. The sound of the crowd has none of the bullying swagger of a decent football chant. Here it is ill-timed and despairing. You can tell a lot about a country by its sporting heroes. We seem to go for nicely brought up bores, dead-eyed, even-tempered men who can be depended upon to say nothing remotely interesting…[and] have a required level of blandness.”

According to one reporter, “Sebastien Grosjean looked like a guy who just finished a four-hour conversation on existentialism on just one cup of coffee”…Larry Merchant noted that the N.Y. Mets Darryl Strawberry and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar might be coming to the tournament “so we’ll have real live ‘Strawberry and Kareem.’”

After Borg won the ‘72 Wimbledon junior title, the venerated commentator John Barrett wrote, “Clearly, here is a player of great match play potential, but from the way he hits the ball, he’ll be of no account on grass.” The Swede went on to win five Wimbys.

Venus contended that Steffi Graf, who won Wimbledon seven times, was not a grass-court player, because “she never came in and never served and volleyed.”

When asked if he noticed Princess Diana cheering for him, Sampras said, “Maybe she has a crush on me”…Justin Gimelstob confided that during his match against Sampras, he looked up in the Royal Box and saw “a really hot girl in the front row. I was looking at her. Okay, I thought if I play [well] here, maybe I’ll have a shot. Then I saw a Borg and thought it’s probably not going to happen”…Marion Bartoli attributed her shocking ‘07 win over Justine Henin to Pierce Brosnan.

A week before being stung by a bee in her quarterfinal, Kim Clijsters wrote in her diary, “Wimbledon is my favorite arena. I always get a buzz playing there.”

The London Times claimed, “The Championships at Wimbledon are a little like a swan—all grace and serenity above the surface and furiously paddling beneath.”

Harvey Araton noted, “The pigeon appeared just about the time Tim Henman was trying to prove he wasn’t one himself.”

Simon Barnes wrote, “As I watched Nadal vanish from Wimbledon in a blizzard of mistimed shots, I was reminded of the time I rode a camel. I am used to riding horses. It was not that I couldn’t ride the camel, it was just that it felt so peculiar. I wanted the camel to like me, but I didn’t feel in a position to trust it. The response time was different. I did okay, but it didn’t feel right. And I suppose Nadal did okay, but it didn’t feel right for him either. The stuff he was playing on was green and not red, it was fast and not slow, it was living and not dead. Nadal clearly wanted to make friends with it, but he never felt in a polition to trust it. And so he lost to Giles Muller.”

Goran Ivanisevic is the only Wimbledon champ whose entire name alternates between consonants and vowels … Kevin Curren lost the ‘85 final with white balls and the next year lost in the first round with yellow balls, a dismal back-to-back record that certainly will never be replicated…In ‘92, as Monica Seles swept through the field, her grunting drew ridicule. So in the final against Graf, Seles tried to play grunt-less ball. She lost…When ‘00 quarterfinalist Alexander Popp was asked how he deals with popularity, he responded, “I don’t know. I’ve never experienced it.”

“When Henman plays in order not to make a mistake, he has already made one.” — The London Times

“I don’t like reading. It’s boring.” — Tim Henman

When the woman who heads Henman’s fan club was asked if she finds Tim fascinating, she responded, “No, I find Agassi fascinating.”

“I wouldn’t sleep on the pavement for 24 hours for anyone else.” — An elderly British fan on Henman

Broadcaster John McEnroe confided, “That’s one of the best sets I’ve seen Tomas Zib play — although I should preface that by saying I haven’t seen him play before.”

South Afican Eva Melicharova presented a misbegotten — “here’s how not to do it” — serve which certainly was concocted by a committee. The shot, complete with an open grip, stratospheric toss and a triple hitch, eliticed disparaging snickers from the the most gentile crowd in sports.

Due to rain delays in ‘91, Wimbledon scheduled play on middle Sunday, which prompted Laure Pignon to note that, “For more than half a century I have been on Centre Court. I’ve had my emotions turn left, right, and inside out. But there was never a day like this, a day when joyful youth sat in the seat normally filled by blue hairs and blue chips. Some slept on the pavements outside, others came down on dawn patrol by bus and train, and together they brought a new sort of sunshine to the oldest lawn tournament in the world. Their unfettered enthusiasm was like a breath of seaside air in SW19.”

Asked why, after Borg, Swedes have struggled so much at Wimbledon, Stefan Edberg confided, “Grass court tennis is a boring game and we Swedes are a boring people.”

• Jimmy Connors’ classic Wimby/U.S. Open comparison claimed, “New Yorkers love it when you spill your guts out there. You spill your guts out at Wimbledon, [and] they make you stop and clean it up.”

• A security guard at the U.S. Open was so enamored with the new Ashe Stadium, he asked, “Can’t they play Wimbledon here every year?”