Wimbledon 2013 by Dominic Bliss

Murray’s best chance everAndy Murray has his two impostors – triumph and disaster – to deal with. Inscribed menacingly above the entrance to Wimbledon’s Centre Court, as part of a quotation from a Rudyard Kipling poem, they will taunt him at the start of each of his matches this year, reminding him what a fine line there is between winning and losing tennis’s greatest prize.

2013 is his best chance ever of winning the Championships. Aged 26, he is mid-career, lifted by the experience of eight years on the ATP World Tour but not yet weighed down by the physical effort of endless seasons of competition. He is now popular amongst all British fans (south of the border, too), giving him an immense home advantage on the courts of the All England Club. He is expected to marry his long-term girlfriend Kim Sears very soon, so presumably in a good place emotionally. And, most crucially of all, he is playing some of the best tennis of his life. The stars seem to be aligning.

Of course it all hinges on the other three big guns at the top of the men’s rankings. While the tournament’s early rounds shouldn’t pose many problems, come the business end of the draw, Murray is going to have to square up to the likes of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. He appears to have the measure of the Swiss man who is surely now at the closing stages of his career. At the time of writing, their head-to-head record stood at 11-9 in Murray’s favour.
But Nadal and Djokovic are a different matter. Against the Mallorcan, Murray has a record of five wins to 13 losses; against the Serbian it’s 7-11.

Earlier this year the Scot bought himself a huge Victorian mansion in his hometown of Dunblane. So, while he has the aristocratic property, he still needs an aristocratic title to accompany it. In tennis you don’t get more aristocratic than Wimbledon champion.

Double the glory
To give you an idea of what a jackpot Jonny Marray won at Wimbledon last year, consider this: The £130,000 prize money he received for taking the doubles title (with Danish partner Frederik Nielsen) was equal to half the prize money he had won throughout his entire career up until that date. Like a non-league football team winning the FA Cup.

At the time of writing, Marray hadn’t yet confirmed who his 2013 Wimbledon doubles partner would be. In recent months he has been competing alongside fellow Brit Colin Fleming but without any particular success. At Wimbledon he will need a more experienced partner to get anywhere near the title. Given his ATP doubles ranking of 17 in the world, he’s still an attractive other half.

And he has certainly proved he has respect for the Wimbledon doubles trophy. Last year he lent the replica he was awarded to his sister who took it along to a fund-raising event. Jonny was gutted when it was accidentally dropped and damaged. “It was only a little dent and a scratch,” he revealed recently. “But it actually cost a few hundred quid to get it mended."

Girl power
One Wimbledon event that definitely won’t feature a British champion is the women’s. Nevertheless, thanks to Laura Robson and Heather Watson we may witness that rarest of tennis species: a female Briton in the latter stages at Wimbledon. (There’s not been even a semi-finalist from these shores since the 1970s.)

Don’t get too optimistic, however. Neither player has yet progressed beyond the third round at the All England Club, and both have many areas of their game that need improvement. Robson still moves a little sluggishly around the court and lacks variety in her choice of strokes. Watson, on the other hand, must increase the power in her shots. Either player would be happy to reach the fourth round at Wimbledon and will need immense luck to get further.

However, there are promising signs of future greatness. Robson reached the fourth round of the US Open last year. In the autumn, both players reached their first WTA finals; Watson’s win in Osaka made her the first British woman to clinch a WTA title since 1988.

Halcyon days
In the old days, British wins at Wimbledon were so predictable as to be almost tedious. The men’s tournament first started in 1877 and, with so few foreign players taking part, had British champions for the first 30 years.

Then followed a long period of domination by American, Australasian and French players until the arrival of the mighty Fred Perry in the mid-1930s. His three consecutive wins in 1934, 1935 and 1936 have now become part of sporting folklore thanks to the embarrassing fact that no male player from these shores has won since.

The performance of British women at Wimbledon has been less embarrassing. The event started in 1884 and, like the men’s, it was dominated by Britons (except for a couple of hiccups) for the first 30 years. In the 1920s and 1930s there were then homegrown champions in the form of Kitty Godfree and Dorothy Round. But where the British women outshone their male compatriots was in post World War II Wimbledon, with Angela Mortimer winning in 1961, Ann Jones in 1969 and Virginia Wade in 1977. The latter was the last British singles player ever to get hands on a Wimbledon trophy.

The Lawn King
One Briton who deserves a Wimbledon trophy every year is the All England Club head groundsman. 2013 sees 44-year-old Neil Stubley take on this crucial role for the first time. With nineteen Championship courts and twenty-two practice courts to oversee, he is surprisingly unfazed by his responsibilities.

“Remember that we work 365 days a year on these courts,” he says. “It’s not until the Championships start and all the people turn up that you realise it’s such a big deal. For the rest of the year we’re just maintaining rectangular bits of grass.”

Very important rectangular bits of grass, nonetheless. Stubley and his colleagues (sixteen permanent groundsmen rising to twenty-eight during the tournament) work meticulously to produce the club’s pristine courts. Every September they strip off all the grass and replant new seeds so they can ensure only the finest species grows. (It’s a durable 100 per cent perennial ryegrass that they use.)

The four show courts are particularly precious since they feature so much on TV. Outside of the playing season they are ringed by electric fences. “To stop foxes and club members going on the grass,” Stubley explains.

So, come June, it must be heart-breaking for him to see the burly players slipping and sliding all over his precious lawns. “Not really,” he says. “That’s what we’re here for. If they don’t wear them out we’d have nothing to do at the end of the season.”

Stubley says his “biggest nightmare” is when players occasionally smash the court surface with their rackets. The worst culprit he can remember is Novak Djokovic who, in 2011, the year he won, got particularly irate during his semi-final match, slicing a six inch-deep hole into Centre Court with his racket, just inside the baseline, exactly where most of the balls bounce. “I was thinking, ‘What if the ball hits that hole on matchpoint and the Championship is won on a bad bounce?’”

One of Stubley’s colleagues was up late repairing that particular vandalism. Fortunately he was able to fill the hole with a turfing product called cricket loam.

With all the expert gardening involved you’d think Stubley would have a pristine lawn of his own back home. Quite the opposite in fact. “The last thing I want to do is go home from here and get the lawnmower out,” he says. “That would be like a professional carpenter going home and building a shed.”

Thanks to Andy Murray, this year’s Wimbledon could give home fans a victory to really cheer about. There are strong British contenders in the doubles and women’s competition, too. Over the following pages, we explain why 2013 is the year we can finally feel proud to be British fans at the All England Club.