I have an curious tendency to arrive in Britain just as earth-shaking events are happening. When I first came to the island in 1966, Britain was about to beat Germany to claim the World Cup soccer championship – its most significant team sports triumph in history. A year ago I flew into Britain just as it was getting out of Europe. The day before I arrived, British voters approved Brexit, and since then, Britain has gone through one of its most tumultuous years – both on the tennis court and off.
Brexit sparked unending controversy and debate. There was a sense that Britain was battling both the European Union and itself as wonks clashed over the merits of soft Brexits and hard Brexits. There was a snap election that was supposed to solidify the Conservatives’ rule, but in the end made their hold all the more tenuous. Plus there were nasty accusations, a brutal assassination of a popular female member of Parliament and shocking terrorist attacks in Manchester and in London, as well as a horrifying apartment fire that brought to mind images of 9/11.
On court, however, the world of British tennis has been quite jolly. Andy Murray made a feel-good run to the Wimbledon championship and topped it off by winning gold in Rio. He then buckled down with one of the greatest “Eyes on the Prize” fourth-quarter runs in tennis and became the first British No. 1 in ATP history and Britain’s first world No. 1 in 69 years. No wonder the good Queen Elizabeth chose Murray as the first tennis player to become a knight. All hail Sir Andy. And even more exciting for him, he welcomed his first child, Sophia Olivia, to British soil.
On the women’s side, Johanna Konta won hard court titles in Stanford and – more impressively – Miami, gaining a stunning No. 6 ranking ranking and becoming the first top 10 British women’s player in 32 years.
Unfortunately, there’ve been downsides in British tennis, too. Romania’s Fed Cup captain, Ilie Nastase, unleashed a wretched torrent of verbal abuse against both Konta and Fed Cup Captain Anne Keothavong. Daniel Evans, who had posted career-best results to reach the third round of the Australian Open, was rising steadily in the rankings until he was suspended due to cocaine use. My lad, one does not disobey the rules in this land that so adores order and propriety. Perhaps of greatest concern is that Murray, despite a run to the French Open semifinals, has seen his results flatline. His health is now in question, he just pulled out of a pricey exhibition due to a problematic hip, and his No. 1 ranking is under siege. Konta’s Wimbledon run is also now in doubt due to a nasty fall while competing in Eastbourne.
But not to worry: if there’s anything we know about tennis, it’s that Wimbledon in general, and Centre Court in particular, remains a steady constant amidst a world in turmoil. Is there a greater calming influence in all of sports than the soothing world of lawns and manners they call the All-England Lawn Tennis Club? And once again, the luscious green courts in suburban London await tennis’ nomadic band of battling brothers and sisters. And certainly, the merry troupe, led by a seven-time Swiss winner named Federer, will deliver every possible emotion the sports menu can cook up: triumph, tedium, loss, shock and delight.
After all, that’s the purpose of Wimbledon. Every summer it comes our way as a stable, knowing and reassuring elder, a reliable and most compelling diversion in this world of tumult and considerable chaos.