It’s a little odd to write about a sport which I have never played. The closest I have ever come to playing lawn tennis was in Delhi. Right opposite my hostel in IIT-Delhi, there was a clay-court which was jointly maintained by IIT and a private body. The IIT students could play there when the court was not used by the paid patrons from outside. Once I, along with a friend, decided to have a go. But for some reason, which I don’t remember now, we ended up not playing.
I was sent off to a boarding school in 1986. We didn’t have a TV at home at the time. Since I never watched sports on TV before going to the boarding school, the only games I played were soccer and cricket. And I swam, of course! Sometimes like a maniac. In rural Bengal, no one played lawn tennis. I watched my first soccer world cup in 1986. I will never forget watching the live telecast of Maradona playing. It was a life-altering experience.
It was in the boarding school that I first watched lawn tennis. Steffi Graff and Boris Becker were the highest ranking players at the time. I loved watching them play. My point count was a little messed at the time. But I knew the number of sets and the number of games in a set. In my child-like naïveté, I often thought, for some reason, Steffi and Becker would get married some day. And I loved Steffi. Still remember the countless times I will turn the pages of the Sport Star and the Sportsworld (now defunct) magazines to snap up anything on Steffi and, to an extent, on Becker.
Later when Gabriela Sabatini came on the scene, I was often torn in my loyalty between Steffi and Sabatini. In my adolescent hormonal rush, I found the dark haired and stylish Sabatini extremely sexy and appealing. However, I was still ready to die for Steffi. For her power-play, of course!
On the very first day of the Summer Dissertation Workshop at NYU London, we met fellow students, faculty, and administrators. I had a chat with an administrator about the Wimbledon. The timing seemed to be right. I am in London when the Wimbledon was just about to start. Watching a match at the court would have been a life-time experience. Checked the online ticketing system and found them to be beyond my reach. The administrator suggested that I try for an auction ticket. These tickets are sold by people who decide not to watch all the matches in a day. But, he cautioned, one has to reach really early to get hold of one of these tickets.
My fellow researchers were never away from the actions. They regularly followed the updates, watched live match scores, and fed us with the latest goings-on. My office-mate, a Catalan, rooted for Murray and hated Djokovic. She found him too arrogant. She is a Federer fan. When I asked her about Nadal, a fellow Spaniard, she didn’t appear super enthusiastic.
One day, we ended up debating the best looking tennis player – both men and women – on the circuit. The Bartoli debate doesn’t appear very far-fetched. Since my tennis watching days, a discussion about the looks of the tennis players have never been far away from their on-court performance.
One afternoon, I got out of my office for a coffee. I wandered about a bit before finding a Costa outlet in a bookshop. While entering the bookshop, I noticed an elderly lady selling magazines outside. Her hijab was conspicuous. She looked somewhat South Asian. Yet I couldn’t tell where she was from. She wore a red-jacket bearing the name of the magazine.
When I came out of the coffee shop, she waved a magazine to draw my attention. The very next words: ‘Wimbledon Special’. I had no intention of buying one. I walked past her. Almost. She followed me. I looked into her light eyes. She implored, ‘I have four kids at home. They need food.’ I couldn’t ignore her anymore. The magazine cost me £2.50. I gave her £5.00. She asked, ‘Are you Muslim?’ When I answered in the affirmative, she told me she was from Bosnia. As I walked away, I wondered if I could have given her a little more money.
On the day of the Wimbledon final, I decided to visit the London Bridge. I had a High Tea scheduled with my friends at Bea’s of Bloomsbury. After the tea, I walked across Southwark Bridge. I walked past Tate Modern Gallery, Globe Theater, the Prison Museum, Sir Francis Drake’s ship, and ‘Britain at War’ Museum. When I reached the London Bridge, there was a deafening sound of applause. Andy Murray had just won the Wimbledon. The first Brit to do so.
While watching a match in the court would always remain an unfulfilled dream, the Wimbledon was never far from me in my first few weeks in London. I, along with my fellow researchers, seemed to have brought good news for the Brits.
A couple of weeks ago, we had a lunch with an NYU official who had flown in from NYC. In the lunch, we had with us an NYU London administrator. She is of Scottish origin. She told us that the Scots are going for a referendum next year. The referendum will decide if the Scots want to be part of Britain anymore. It appeared that the majority of the Scots would like to sever ties with Britain while applying for a place in the EU.
Andy Murray is of Scottish origin. I wonder what his decision will be. After the 2014 referendum, would Murray still be the first Brit to win the Wimbledon?
A rejoinder: Andy Murray is not the first Brit to win the Wimbledon. But he is the first one to win it after 77 years. Mary Ann Chacko brings to my notice this interesting piece of news. In fact, there was another Brit who won the Wimbledon in 1977. She is Virginia Wade. But she has been conveniently forgotten by the journalists.
In light of these facts, my revised question: After the 2014 referendum in Scotland, would Murray still be the first Brit to win the Wimbledon after 1977?