Innovative Wimbledon

Wimbledon gets constant criticism, some of it amply merited, for its crusty conservatism. The insult of awarding the women’s champion ever so slightly less than the men’s, the blazered officials (now outfitted by Ralph Lauren), the royal box. Some of the critics, like Peter Bodo, go a bit over the top:

Let’s face it, Wimbledon is simultaneously crucially important and strikingly irrelevant, which is deeply bizarre. Wimbledon is the most prestigious and closely watched of tournaments, yet it is an anachronism on the same order as the typewriter, the propeller driven airplane, or the sock hop.

Consider the basic, towering fact that the way the game is played at Wimbledon – ranging from the dress of the players to the strategic choices they pursue on the grass courts – has almost nothing to do with the way the game is played for the other 50 weeks in the year. Imagine that the British Open, in golf, would be played on a glacial moraine, or in an inch of snow. That’s Wimbledon.

If our other sports were as obligated to, and driven by, tradition as is Wimbledon, the NBA finals would be played on a dirt lot somewhere near Springfield, Mass., with goals made from peach baskets nailed to the sides of two opposing barns. The Super Bowl would be contested on some hard and stony patch of frozen turf, by guys wearing leather helmets without face guards,while baseball players would still be wearing woolen uniforms and sporting mitts that look like big leather sofa pillows.

But there is also truth in Bodo’s hyperbole. As he recognizes, the anachronisms are a major reason why tennis lovers love Wimbledon above all.

There’s another side to the blazered buffoons in SW19, however. They are also among the most innovative of sporting officials. Wimbledon has always had the most useful website of all the tennis grand slams, and this year it offers streaming video from nine courts for $19.95 for the length of the Championships. It’s clearly doing well: when I tried to log on today, I was placed in the “virtual waiting room” because of demand on the server. But it’s a superb service, one that I’m sure other world-class events will soon emulate.

Update There are inestimable bonuses with the streaming video: you can choose your match (so the five-set Safin-Gonzalez that US television will devote 15 seconds to can be yours) and you get the wonderful BBC commentators. Oh, how I wish I could watch the World Cup this way. And more. No ads.

3 thoughts on “Innovative Wimbledon

  1. Mike Clyne

    I am not a major tennis fan but two points about Peter Bodo’s comments.

    The first is that unlike any other sport where both sexes compete is that in tennis the world over they compete over a different distance ie best of 3 sets vs best of 5. Imagine a marathon race of 26.2 miles for men and 19.3 miles for women, it would be laughed at so why does tennis the world over persist with this ridiculous differential.

    The second not tennis related. Its “The Open”, not “The British Open” and has been since 1860 (sort of similar to The Masters…)

    I would however agree with Lance’s comments about the royal box and other buffoonery (ie giving wild cards to British players who otherwise wouldnt make the grade).

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  2. Lance Knobel

    Mike, in tennis circles, as you can imagine, that five versus three sets thing has been endlessly debated. Men, of course, only play five sets at the major championships: most of the year, they do best of three as well.

    What’s so degrading about the non-equal money at Wimbledon isn’t the logic (men do play more and the ratings for men are generally higher than the ratings for women), but the pettiness. The differential is now so small (630k v 600k) that it is clearly just spitefulness.

    On The Open and The Championships (not British Open, not Wimbledon), I lived long enough in Britain that I flinch whenever I see these things presented wrongly. But I fear it’s a losing battle in the rest of the world.

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  3. Lance Knobel

    One other point on the five v three sets. The schedule at the Grand Slam events is so incredibly full that I think there could be no possibility for the women to play best of five. There just isn’t enough time and not enough courts.

    I suppose the US Open and the Aussie Open could do it, since they have night-time play, but at Roland Garros and Wimbledon you’d need a third week of play. All those 51-minute women’s matches are a godsend for the people who have to schedule these events.

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