Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport: Roger Alton

Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport: Roger Alton

Article excerpt

What a well-behaved Wimbledon. Apart from a bit of racket-smashing (most of the ladies), low-level swearing (Nick Kyrgios), tantrums (Kyrgios), and egregious non-trying (Kyrgios again, of course) it has all gone pretty-smoothly. So whatever happened to top-class gamesmanship? The master of this, you may be surprised to learn, was the greatest British player of all, the three-times Wimbledon champion Fred Perry. With great natural charm and remarkable good looks, Perry --who was from humble origins -- fitted effortlessly into the very upper-crust world of 1930s tennis. His sexual prowess was on an Olympic scale and he bagged some of the most-beautiful women in the world, from-Marlene Dietrich downwards. And few seemed to have a bad word for him.

His tricks for getting one up on his opponents included spinning for who served first by throwing his racket out ahead of him as he came on to court with his opponent, which he felt put him in charge of the situation, athletically leaping the net at the end to show he was fresh, and saying 'Very clevah' when his opponent played a good shot. The great American Jack Kramer said: 'I heard enough from the other guys that that "Very clevah" drove a lot of-opponents crazy.' You can see why too.

When playing German champion Count Gottfried von Cramm, whom he knew was gay and had an obsession with tidiness. Perry would pull the pocket lining out of his long flannels and leave it flapping,-knowing it would irritate the hell out of the German. Von Cramm never won Wimbledon but was a finalist three times, losing twice to Perry -- who is brought marvellously to life by my friend Jon Henderson in his book The Last Champion (Yellow Jersey Press).

Perry was co-owner of the Beverly Hills Tennis Club, which became the ultimate celebrity hangout. In July 1937 the club staged a doubles match with Perry and Charlie Chaplin on one side, and Groucho Marx and the US tennis star Ellsworth Vines on the other. …

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