OK, So I Was Wrong about the All England Club, but Not about the Tennis. (Sport)

Article excerpt

A couple of weeks ago, this column lamented how predictable

Wimbledon had become as a spectacle and how slow the All England Club had been to embrace change -- by, for instance, introducing retractable roofs to the show courts or replacing those cherished grass courts with a surface more conducive to balanced tennis. So it was something of a surprise when, following the publication of that column, I received an invitation to spend the day at 'Wimbledon as a guest of BBC Resources, which has overall responsibility for the outside broadcast coverage of this year's event.

I chose a good day to be there -- ladies' quarter-final day. As a spectacle, women's tennis as played on grass is preferable to the men's game. Although many of the leading female players of today have the bulk and strength of men, their game is not entirely dominated by power and heavy hitting. They offer touch, guile, grace -- and, in certain instances, other more attractive feminine qualities.

The royal box that afternoon was full not of Windsors but of minor celebrities -- the new royalty of our age. Among them were good old Cliff Richard, Cilla Black, Elaine Page and the former England cricket captain Graham Gooch, turned out in a rather natty, lightweight, cream-coloured suit. Capriati was being cheered on by the American actor Mat thew Perry (from Friends), whom, it is often reported, she first met in rehab, while Serena's devoted father, Richard, whom I later met outside Centre Court, was watching his daughter.

The first quarter-final on Centre Court, however, between Venus Williams and Lindsay Davenport, confirmed most of my anti-Wimbledon prejudices, because here were two giantesses attempting to bludgeon each other into submission. I mean no disrespect to either woman when I say that it was like watching two men. Tedious. But it was a thrill, by contrast, to watch Serena Williams take on Jennifer Capriati in what was surely one of the matches of the tournament. With both women operating from the baseline, the game passed in a rapture of striving, with each player throwing their whole being into every shot. …