I am missing Wimbledon, but 2020 is not worthy of this masterpiece of world sport

Simon Briggs
The Telegraph
Wimbledon - I am missing Wimbledon - but, with tennis ceasing in March, 2020 almost does not seem to deserve such luxury - AP
Wimbledon - I am missing Wimbledon - but, with tennis ceasing in March, 2020 almost does not seem to deserve such luxury - AP

There is, in any normal year, a fluttering in the pit of my stomach as I make the left turn off Church Road and meander through the multi-million pound mansions to Car Park 4.

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It’s the first morning of Wimbledon and – for the next 13 days – I know I will be standing somewhere near the centre of the national conversation. The word “privilege” doesn’t even cover it.

After a decade of covering this tournament, I have come to know the quirks of the place. The shortest ice-cream queues. The seats with the best views. The poker-faced look of the communications staff, whose brief is to deflect any backstage controversy.

And each year, I am more convinced that this is the masterpiece of world sport. It’s a cliché, but Wimbledon really is the Platonic ideal of tennis, the most perfectly realised expression of a simple concept.

The 1980s club chairman John Curry is sometimes credited with coming up with the slogan “tennis in an English garden”. The garden in question could belong to a stately home – with petunias and ivy draping the walls of the clubhouse, and statues and water features sprinkled liberally between the courts. No other sporting venue – with the possible exception of Augusta National – is such a pleasure to explore.

All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club - REUTERS
All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club - REUTERS

My favourite moments are not so much the thunderous rallies or the shocking upsets – wonderful though they are – but the chance meetings with friends or contacts from the global tennis family. I think of leaning on the rail opposite Court 14 for a gossipy chat, while the stream of humanity flows smoothly past, or taking tea on the Competitors’ Lawn.

Unless you’re a player or coach, the tennis is the excuse for a party, rather than its primary focus. As the cultural historian Elizabeth Wilson has written, “going to Wimbledon is more like a day at the opera at Glyndebourne than an afternoon of football at the Emirates Stadium”. She could also have cited the Glastonbury music festival, which often takes place on its middle weekend.

As I write these words, I am searching for some negatives to place in the debit column, so as not to seem too soppy or sycophantic. Clearly, a tennis reporter comes out of the fortnight feeling weary. But the biggest pinch point is actually 6pm on the Sunday before play starts, when I press send on the last of countless preview pieces. At that moment, I am ready to be stretchered out of the media centre.

The striking of the first ball – at 11am on the first Monday – is thus an enormous relief, as you are now reacting to events rather than having to do all your own cognitive pedalling. Plus, half-a-dozen eager Telegraph Sport colleagues arrive nice and early, ready for me to boss around and badger for coffee.

So am I missing the first morning of Wimbledon? It’s hard to say. The tournament feels so unreal this summer. A distant memory from a parallel existence.

Tennis folk are used to experiencing the Championships as the emotional high-point of the season, which builds towards this moment with a Bolero-esque rhythm. Melbourne, Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo, Madrid, Rome, Paris, Queen’s… and then the Big One.

This year, the whole cavalcade was halted in early March, having visited only the first of those cities. So it’s almost as if 2020 isn’t worthy of Wimbledon. We simply haven’t earned our audience with Roger Federer, Serena Williams and the rest.

And so we set our sights on June 28, 2021. Perhaps then the plague will have lifted, and we can return to this luxurious event: the Dom Perignon of the sporting world.

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