Loran Smith’s Sports Column: Wimbledon

Published 3:20 pm Thursday, July 13, 2023

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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

an earache.

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.