Paul Oberjuerge header image 2

Wimbledon: The Dreary Fortnight

July 3rd, 2017 · No Comments · Golf, Sports Journalism, Tennis

I was going to do this as a list.

“The five dreariest assignments in sports journalism.”

Down from the normal 10, when I do lists. (And I ought to do some sort of list soon, just cuz.)

Then I realized I would have trouble coming up with even five events that felt like drudgery, while covering them, over the span of a 40-year career.

Five events that had the ability to put me to sleep. While on the clock … which seemed to have stopped an hour ago.

Here are a couple.

–Open-wheel racing on street circuits. That means no passing. Or nearly no passing. Just guys driving around, waiting to see if they break before they finish. Thinking Long Beach Grand Prix here … or just about any Formula One circuit.

–Golf. Yes. It seems slow when you play. It seems nearly motionless when you watch someone else play. When I covered The Masters for a week in 1980, and thought the moment of someone putting on a green jacket would never come … I remember thinking, “Someone who cares about this ought to be here, instead of me.”

But even those two are behind this one. The dreariest “live” event to cover in sports journalism.

Wimbledon tennis. (Which begins today in England.)

I did it twice, and that absolutely was once too many. I should have taken my first shot at it, in 1985, declared victory for getting through one of the world’s great sports events … and never gone back.

In retrospect, I was there because the mid-1980s was an era when it was possible to sell journalism managers on live events you could/would cover, provided you had some basic level of competence to do so.

I pitched Wimbledon, in consecutive years, asking only for a portion of my expenses to be paid … basically to get myself and family members (who spent happy days exploring London, while I was at the tennis) over to England for a summer vacation. Though vacation didn’t start until the gentlemen’s singles final had finished.

It was a Faustian agreement. I liked driving around England, and over to France, after the ’85 Wimby but, my goodness, is Wimbledon interminable.

The British like to call it The Fortnight. To me it seemed The Forty Nights. It just droned on. As I noted in 2008: “Big serve, feeble return, kill.”

I complained about this nine years ago, in the early days of the blog. I will try not to repeat myself too much, in outlining the issues I had with Wimbledon.

–It lasts forever. Two full weeks, which is fine for an Olympics but way too long for a single event. You get there on a Friday, do a preview on Saturday and on Monday you spend Day 1 in the media center, with 14 or 15 matches going at once, and if you also are providing coverage for other newspapers and their own players (which I was doing) … really long days are guaranteed.

–Did I mention rain? In my two years I’m not sure I experienced consecutive days without rain, and tennis was not played in the rain, back then. No indoor courts. Five minutes of rain, and tarps were out all over the All England Club. An hour of rain, and the day’s schedule was shot to hell — while you loitered in the media room and read British newspapers.

–The length of days. Back then, a slate of matches often began at 11 a.m., which was quite civilized. But it was not unusual for someone to be playing, still, at 10 p.m. that night. London is pretty far north, and the courts there have enough natural summer light for people to play until the witching hour is just around the corner. That makes for stretches of time in which it seems you are doing nothing except watch tennis and write about it.

–In the first week, especially, you do not know what the big news is going to be — until you see it. Hence, you write a story at 5:30 that you hope will hold up. Then an upset comes through at 7, and you re-lead it with the latest, including quotes … and then something even bigger and better comes in at 9 because it rained the day before and backed up the schedule, and you start all over again, and you don’t get out of the media room until 11 or something else crazy.

–Unless you are supported by your media organization well enough to have one of the expensive rooms right there in Wimbledon Village (and I did not) … it is very, very difficult to get back to central London. It’s a one-hour commute — and that is if everything goes right. The nearest tube station to Wimbledon was (in 1985-86) most of mile away, and it was necessary to rush, carrying my equipment, because, if I recall correctly, the tube shut down at midnight. And maybe earlier. And try getting a cab in the suburbs at midnight.

–The tennis is often dreary. It’s best-of-five sets for the men, on the fastest surface in the game, and it very, very often turns into a slugfest. I like an ace as much as the next guy, but I don’t need 30 of them in a match, and I don’t need four sets that go to tiebreakers because no one can break anyone else’s serve. And I really don’t need a fifth set in which the tiebreaker is not used. Of course, Wimbledon was the site of the longest match in tennis history — Isner versus Mahut in 2010, which droned on for 11 hours and 5 minutes over the span of three days. Final score? Isner won 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68. Isner had only 14 break points in that entire, 183-game mess because it is so easy to hold serve, on grass.

So, I did Wimbledon twice, and Boris Becker and Martina Navratilova won both years, and then I turned it over to a compatriot, who loved tennis (no matter how long it drones on), and he covered it the next nine years.

That was how it should be: Send someone who appreciates the game, logistical warts and all, and is happy to sit through a zillion three-shot points.

I never, ever wished it were me who was there instead of him. Thirty years later, Wimbledon still stands out in my mind as the Longest Day/Week/Year in sports.





0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment