Loran Smith’s Sports Column: Wimbledon
Published 3:20 pm Thursday, July 13, 2023
With the Wimbledon finals coming up this weekend, I will be watching
and not just the tennis—but also the grounds, the faces in the crowds, the
television coverage of the off-the-beaten-path profiles and the behind-the-
scenes vignettes that reflect the attachment and lore of the championship.
I saw recently that a writer with Sports Illustrated suggested that
today’s high-tech racquets have “killed” the grass game, that the era of the
wooden racquet was better for competition on grass. I can hear the
loyalists laughing with enduring contempt.
On previous trips to Wimbledon, I found no fault with the village and
the tournament. I like it that tradition is honored, like all white dress for the
competitors. Wimbledon’s cucumber sandwiches and strawberries and ice
cream are a staple of emotional fulfillment.
I like it that the grounds are mesmerizing. Just walk around and drink
in the atmosphere, hoping that the rain does not spoil an unforgettable
experience. I love the accents and not just that of the Brits. Wimbledon
has the greatest of international flavors which make you wonder why the
politicians can’t do as competitors seem to do. Compete doggedly but
never draw swords.
All sporting events showcase something unique which adds to the
allure that characterizes them. For example, it is the roar of the engines at
Indianapolis which distinguishes the Indy 500 from all other sports. You
could say the same thing about the Daytona 500.
The anticipation of kickoff of the Super Bowl is spine tingling. That
anticipation, that fever pitch, is there for a kickoff for a college rivalry game
and games like the Rose Bowl. The cheering is often non-stop at an NCAA
basketball Final Four. It can be deafening. Games are played indoors with
fewer spectators, however, but it is a major spectacle which can give you
The World Series has abundant and raucous cheering, great
anticipation but a measured calm seems to come about as things settle
down after first pitch. Sports atmospheres range from pomp and
circumstance to raw bluster and relentless force with the great
championships across the landscape.
Not sure what the take from others would be, but I believe that the
three classiest sporting events are the Masters, the Kentucky Derby and
Wimbledon. I’ve never been to Ascot.
All three of the aforementioned reeks of fashion and are entrenched
with tradition. It is difficult to start a golf tournament with a bang, which is
also the case with Wimbledon. (However, when the Derby’s well
documented anthem—My Old Kentucky Home—precedes the running of
the most famous of horse races, warm feelings wash over everything and
everybody at Churchill Downs. That is a very emotional and signature
moment, unmatched in sport.)
Being in London in July is a highlight just as Paris is in spring. You
don’t find signature restaurants as you do in the “City of Lights,” but pub life
in the city of “Big Ben,” is certainly not a bad life.
You can stay in a hotel in London, the most expensive or something
modest and becoming, and then grab a train or the tube to Wimbledon. My
first trip I remember boarding a train at Bayswater station to Putney Bridge
and then a double decker bus to Wimbledon village.
It was nice bumping into old friends from the U. S. at the Press
Centre including Edwin Pope, an Athens native, who was the sports
columnist for the Miami Herald and, of course, Furman Bisher of the Atlanta
It was Bisher who introduced me to a local lady, Elizabeth Robins,
who rented rooms, a bed and breakfast arrangement, to sportswriters. It
was cheaper than any lodging facility and much more convenient. I had
brought over from France a couple of bottles of duty-free wine which I
shared with Elizabeth and her college age daughter. They introduced me
to their neighbors and booked dinner at a couple of neighborhood
restaurants. Nothing like being immersed into a comingling of curious
visitors and the local gentry.
The competition at a Grand Slam tennis event is as good as it gets
and the politeness of the spectators leaves you with a sense of gratitude
that, John McEnroe’s behavior notwithstanding, manners are respected
and expected at one of the world’s great sports events.
Wimbledon is where they still refer to the competitors as ladies and
gentlemen. Wimbledon, the village, offers browsing at its best. Wimbledon
Common is one of the largest areas of common land in London. Men often
wear coats and ties to the matches.
And, the “Bobbies,” the police, walk around unarmed.