For most of the year in the UK, little attention is paid to tennis. Andy Murray aside, we don’t have any world-class players so the media’s attention is not often drawn to the subject. All that changes for two weeks in June/July when the country goes mad for the game and the BBC will showing almost nothing but tennis, because it’s Wimbledon time again.
The lawn tennis championships held at the All England Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon, south-west London have a long heritage. Play started at Wimbledon in 1877 and has been shown exclusively on BBC1 and BBC2 for the past 60 years. It is one of the grand slam tournaments and now the only one played on grass.
Wimbledon’s exclusive contract with the BBC has meant it has continued to be held in high regard – most tennis players consider it to be the most prestigious of all tournaments. The BBC shows the matches uninterrupted by advertisement breaks, there is no advertising around the court and the distraction of advertising on the players’ clothing is kept to a minimum.
Dan Maskell was the voice of tennis on the BBC for many tears. His cry of, ‘Oh, I say!’ was familiar to a generation of tennis watchers. Since his retirement, the current presenters are Chris Inverdale and ex-players Sue Barker, John McEnroe and Boris Becker. This year, the former British number one player Tim Henman will be joining the team of pundits.
The lack of commercial exploitation means Wimbledon has kept it sense of history and heritage. The players must wear white, the men are referred to by their surnames and the women by Miss or Mrs and their surname. The ball boys and girls all wear crisp uniforms in the corporate colours of green and purple. The Duke and Duchess of Kent are patrons of the tournament and if they or any other member of the Royal Family are in the Royal Box, the players bow or curtsey.
One problem the viewing public and the BBC have always had is contending with the unpredictable British weather. If there was rain, play could be delayed for hours if not a day. From 2009, this problem has been partially resolved. There is a new roof on the Centre Court which can be closed if the weather is inclement. We must wait and see if this solves the problem
The BBC has rights to show Wimbledon tennis until 2014. Apart from rival broadcasters such as Sky, everyone hope this contract will be extended for many years to come because only the BBC can truly show Wimbledon at its best. And maybe, just maybe , this year we will have the first British men’s champion since 1936 in the shape of Andy Murray – the current world number three. So come on Andy….