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British Billy gets excited about Wimbledon Fortnight

Andy Roddick of the USA hits a serve during a first round match at the 2003 Wimbledon Championships held in London, England. (Photo courtesy of Tony Tolley)

Andy Roddick of the USA hits a serve during a first round match at the 2003 Wimbledon Championships held in London, England. (Photo courtesy of Tony Tolley)

Andy Murray of Scotland prepares to hit a shot on the practice courts during the 2005 Wimbledon Championships held in London, England. (Photo courtesy of Tony Tolley)

Andy Murray of Scotland prepares to hit a shot on the practice courts during the 2005 Wimbledon Championships held in London, England. (Photo courtesy of Tony Tolley)

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- I know it's getting near to Wimbledon Fortnight, because I noticed on my daily patrols the strawberries are ripening in the garden. Whether it is scorching sunshine or pouring rain - and both are possible within the same hour in the U.K. - the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships form an essential part of the British summer. For two weeks, I know the lady of the house will be fixated by the fortunes of her favourite tennis players, and I will have to purr ever more loudly for attention.

Most of my American friends are familiar with Wimbledon, but in case you're not, it's the top competitive event in grass court tennis. All the world's top-ranked tennis players compete. Wimbledon itself is a suburb in the southwest of London, and this year the championship begins June 20 and ends on July 3.

Wimbledon is the oldest tennis tournament in the world, and is generally considered the most prestigious. It's one of the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments and the only one still played on the game's original surface, grass, which gave lawn tennis its name. Wimbledon 2011 will be the 125th time that the All England Lawn Tennis Club will have hosted The Championships since the first tournament in 1877.

The only event held in 1877 was the Gentlemen's Singles which was won by Spencer Gore, from a field of 22. About 200 spectators paid one shilling each to watch the final. There were no Championships held between 1915-1918 and 1940-1945 due to World War I and World War II.

There are many great tennis events around the world these days, but every player will tell you Wimbledon is surrounded by its own special mystique: the hush of the crowd, the smack of tennis ball on racket and the contrast of the tennis whites against the immaculate green grass. Proper behaviour, manners and protocol are all part of the atmosphere, with a strict dress code for both competitors and the ball boys and girls, who are hand-picked from local schools.

We haven't had a British winner at Wimbledon for many years, but we get very excited every year at the possibility. Andy Murray, who hails from Scotland, is ranked number four in the world tennis rankings and is our best hope at the moment.

The year 1977 survives in our national memory as one of our times of greatest national tennis joy. It was the Queen's Silver Jubilee year, and Her Majesty the Queen attended the women's singles championship final. It was also Wimbledon's centenary year. Virginia Wade, an English tennis player, was considered an outsider and past her peak at 31. Against the odds, Wade triumphed. As she stood alongside the Queen, clutching her trophy, she was at the epicentre of one of Britain's greatest sporting moments.

Of course, the U.S.A. has provided more than its fair share of tennis champions. Arthur Ashe, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and John McEnroe are just a few of the tennis greats who have flown the American flag at Wimbledon.

The American sisters, Venus and Serena Williams, have dominated the women's side of the championships in this new century. Only twice in the previous 11 years has a Williams failed to walk away with the Venus Rosewater Dish, the trophy awarded to the winner of the women's singles championship. Venus has won Wimbledon five times, Serena four. This season, both Venus and Serena have struggled with illness, injury and adversity, and they are well down the world tennis rankings. But both plan to appear at Wimbledon this year, and the tennis world is quivering with anticipation.

Currently the highest-ranking American men are Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish. Some would say Roddick's match in the 2009 men's final against Roger Federer was one of the greatest matches ever seen on the centre court at Wimbledon. Federer secured a record-breaking fifteenth grand slam in a tense and grueling five-set match that was not only a joy to watch but a fine example of both good manners and sportsmanship - a winning combination on any court, but especially fitting upon the hallowed courts of Wimbledon. As befits my feline nature, I show little emotion, unlike some in our household who squeal and whoop as each point is scored. However, even I have to admit to a frisonne of excitement, such was the tension of the occasion.

I know July 4 is pretty special to Americans, and so, if Andy Roddick or the Williams sisters make it to the final again July 3 this year, you might all be tempted to let off some of your fireworks a day early. I have my place reserved on the sofa for the best Wimbledon has to offer.

I can feel it in my fur - this is going to be another great Wimbledon Fortnight.