by | Jun 30, 1997 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Once again we welcome you to our annual dispatches from Wimbledon, also known as the World’s Largest Umbrella Concession.

As you probably know, it rained quite a bit here the first week. Rain washed out one full day of competition, then washed out another. It rained days. It rained nights. The rain caused a flood. Then the Lord spake unto Noah, and said take the players two by two, one male and one female…. No, wait, wrong rain story.

Anyhow, it always rains here, and it’s always a problem, but the first week was so wet that the good and proper people who run this tournament had wrinkled fingers. Not from the water. From wringing their hands and saying,
“Dare we do it, old chap?”

The big question they were pondering — and a good reason America can send men into space while Brits still can’t figure how to put screens in their windows
— was simply this: Should they play tennis on the middle Sunday, which is normally a day off?

Never mind that they were more backed up than a North Dakota drainpipe. Never mind that they had players who started their first-round matches Monday and didn’t finish them until Saturday. Never mind that they were nearly 200 matches behind schedule and if it rained even one more day, they might as well have started next year’s tournament right now.

Never mind all that, because there is logic and there is tradition. And given a choice, a Brit will always choose tradition, just as an American will always choose the place with cable TV.

And tradition at Wimbledon says you don’t play on the middle Sunday. Fortunately, Mother Nature is still bigger than Mother England. So the Lord spake unto Noah and said, “Build thee an ark…. “

Wait, sorry, I was looking out my window again.

Uncommon fun for the commoners

Anyhow, they did finally play tennis Sunday, which really bugged a lot of the rich and snotty tournament organizers who fought against the idea, because playing on Sunday means no pre-purchased tickets, which means they have to let in — ugh — the general public.

This happened once before, six years ago. It provided the most memorable crowd in Wimbledon history. These people cheered, chanted and acted like fans of the game, instead of guests of the Duke.

And they were back again Sunday, many having slept all night in the streets. They paid for tickets with cash, not favors, and they raced to their first-come, first-served seats. There were men with T-shirts, not ascots. There were women in ponytails, not pillbox hats. Some fans had their faces painted and their shoulders draped in the Union Jack flag. They chanted “Let’s go Tim!” for England’s Tim Henman and “Let’s go Greg!” for England’s Greg Rusedski. The whole place was rocking and rolling and noisy and fun — which led one stuffy BBC broadcaster to remark, on the air, “There is a woman not far from me who is leaping up after every point, so obviously she has gone quite mad!”

I’d love to see him call a Red Wings game.

Anyhow, the only bad thing was that at the end of the day, Wimbledon was still as far behind schedule as Congress. And we don’t know how long the rain will stay away. Hey. At least nobody bit off anyone’s ear!

(By the way, to digress for a moment, how strange was that? Mike Tyson’s taking bites out of Evander Holyfield? Maybe Tyson thought they said the
“heavyweight chewpion.” The only thing weirder than Tyson’s appetite was hearing the Brits discuss it on the air Sunday. “Boxing has turned to cannibalism,” sniffed one commentator. Right. Next thing you know, they’ll want to colonize it.)

Did I mention the underwear?

An undercurrent of undies

Underwear has become a subplot at Wimbledon. Women’s underwear. At first, when I heard this, I thought the rain had leaked into these people’s brains.

But no, this is real. It has to do with TV cameras. The BBC announced it will limit its rearview angles in women’s matches this year, because apparently too many British men have been watching tennis to get a glimpse as the ladies lean over.

I am not making this up.

(By the way, this proves my theory about British TV: Men can watch only so many documentaries about earthworms before going nuts.)

So now the BBC often shows female players from the waist up — kind of like Elvis Presley on his first Ed Sullivan show — and the poor leering men will have to go back to the tabloids, whose motto is, “Why Show Women in Their Underwear When We Can Show Them Naked? See Page 3!”

Of course, this could all be avoided if they let women play in shorts, the way the men do. But that would take us back to the tradition problem, and you don’t want to push your luck.

So we trudge into the second week — or in actual tennis time, the fourth day
— and we pray that the clouds will not burst and the bigwigs of this tournament will not have to make any more momentous decisions, like “If the Duke is on fire, should we put him out?”

Of course, the most logical decision would be to hold this tournament someplace else. I’m thinking Spain. But that won’t happen. Instead, if it starts raining again, there is only one thing left for them to do.

Go upstairs, to the top of the ark, and wait for the dove to come back.


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