Clive has fun...at the tennis
PUBLISHED: 01:16 28 July 2012 | UPDATED: 21:40 20 February 2013
Despairing of getting tickets for Wimbledon, Clive Agran heads for sunny Eastbourne
Unless youre a committee member of a smart tennis club, a reasonably high-ranking member of the Royal Family, you have recently won a grand slam title or are the coach, fitness trainer, agent, girlfriend/boyfriend or parent of a player in the top 40 of the world rankings, the chances of securing a ticket to Wimbledon are marginally worse than the odds against British players enjoying a clean sweep of all the titles including the under-14 mixed doubles. Having said that, Britains best chance of securing a Wimbledon title just so happens to be in the under-14s mixed doubles, so Im given to understand.
Although not sure whether I would be able to identify a backhand, cross-court, top-spin lob if one sailed over my balding head, I do enjoy watching tennis, have always been fond of strawberries and cream, love Robinsons lemon barley and the smell of freshly mown grass and consequently feel rather aggrieved at being excluded from this annual jolly volley fest. Not in the least bit snobby, I wouldnt even mind tickets for somewhere other than Centre Court. Court Number One would be perfectly acceptable, especially if the seats were somewhere near the front.
Not an especially principled chap, the only objection I have to corporate hospitality is that no corporation has so far been so enlightened as to see the admittedly hard-to-quantify benefit of inviting an impoverished hack along to join the fun. Just as I was beginning to despair of ever seeing either a let-cord or Maria Sharapova in the flesh, my wife Rose, who incidentally not only can deliver a formidable forehand but can also do so without audio accompaniment, suggested we try Eastbourne. Pah! I snorted, Thats a third-rate tournament exclusively for women who mostly serve under-arm. My dismal attitude improved on learning that men have been participating since 2009 and that the total prize fund this year is around three-quarters of a million pounds. Although neither Maria Sharapova nor Andy Murray is playing, there are enough big names taking part to persuade me to give up the whole of a Monday and wander down to Devonshire Park in Eastbourne.
The big advantage of going on the first day of this week-long Wimbledon warm-up is that the British players are still involved and the first match on Centre Court sees our very own Laura Robson taking on Bojana Jovanovski of Serbia.
What can I tell you about Bojana Jovanovski that you dont already know? Well, shes 20 and the third-highest ranked Serbian woman in the world. What strikes me immediately as I take my seat is that the two players are wearing identical lime green and red tops. Whereas this wouldnt worry a bloke, women are altogether more sensitive about these things and maybe Bojana is more upset about it than Laura as she promptly loses the first set 6-2. As well as the fashion faux pas, Bojana also has to contend with a crowd that is resolutely behind our Laura, who is leading 6-2, 5-3 when the umpire calls for new balls. My suspicion that this is rather wasteful proves spot on as Laura wins the next game and the match. Its even possible that a couple of the new balls havent been used at all. Worrying whether they will be held over for the next match, I go and buy an ice cream and am back in time to see 28-year-old Anne Keothavong, who is Britains number one, warming up for her match against Daniela Hantuchov, who is from Slovakia and ranked 29 in the world.
Perhaps focusing too much on the balls, Im becoming increasingly irritated by the common practice of players asking the ball boys and girls to provide them with more than the two balls they need to serve so that they can examine them closely, select the two they like best and reject the others. Its time-wasting nonsense that, if I were ever appointed chief executive of the International Tennis Federation, I would promptly ban. The most dramatic incident in a rather one-sided match that Hantuchov wins 6-2, 6-3, occurs when Keothavong is foot-faulted twice in succession thereby double-faulting and losing the point. Although it demonstrates a commendable impartiality on the part of the line judge, it clearly upsets Britains number one.
To my considerable delight, men are on next and for some reason theyre changing the net. They need a much stronger and slighter higher one for the men, I unintentionally mis-inform my wife. I think its more to do with the different sponsor wanting to see their name on it, my wife volleys back.
Its Pablo Andujar of Spain versus Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus. With no Brit to root for, this would be a meaningless inter-foreigner affair were it not for the fact that my wifes sister is married to a charming Greek Cypriot called Mihalis. So, out of respect for him and despite the fact that Spain is having a bit of a hard time at the moment, we decide to support Marcos. It proves to be a wise choice as the seeded Cypriot adds to Spains woes by thrashing young Pablo 6-1, 6-1 in 48 minutes.
No problem who to root for in the next match as theres yet another Brit involved (I never realised there were so many who could wield a racquet at this exalted level). Although Ive never heard of young Jamie Baker, Rose has and informs me that hes the third highest ranked British bloke. After ominously dropping his opening service game, Baker goes on to take the first set off Donald Young of the USA 6-1. Could we be looking at the second British win of the day? Not even Rose can remember the last time two British men won singles matches on the same day and I suspect we would have to go back to the 1930s and Fred Perry and his long-trousered friends to find one. Unfazed at the prospect of making history, Baker wins what is undoubtedly the best match of the day so far 6-1, 6-4 and is absolutely delighted, as indeed is the entire Centre Court crowd.
Not only have we witnessed two British victories but, even more freakily in this so-far dreadful summer, its not rained at all. In fact, its gloriously sunny. It seems almost inevitable that the extraordinary run of British success will come to a grinding halt in the next match when Jamie Delgado and Ken Skupski take on the number one seeds in the mens doubles, Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski of Poland. But on this most extraordinary of days, anything can happen and the ecstatic Centre Court celebrates another home win.
The fifth and final match is a womens doubles encounter between the young British pair, Laura Robson and Heather Watson, and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia and Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic. Of course, Laura and Heather comfortably run away with the match 6-2, 6-3 on this unquestionably the greatest day ever in the history of British tennis.
Eight hours of first-class tennis, five quality matches, 10 sets of super tennis and four extraordinary British wins adds up to an unforgettable day. Wimbledon? Who needs it?