A tribute to the unsung heroes of Wimbledon

Paul Howarth
nude 300x225 A tribute to the unsung heroes of Wimbledon

Student Melissa Johnson interrupts the pre-match photo shoot by running naked across the court

We all love a bit of Wimbledon, don’t we?  Strawberries and cream.  Pristine white kit against impossibly green turf. The best players in the world serving and volleying or, more likely these days, battling it out from the baseline. Henman Hill.  Murray Mound. Howarth Hump (OK, I made that one up).

What better way to celebrate our national Grand Slam event than by shining a light on some of its less celebrated heroes? People of Britain, I give you a selection of one-time winners followed by some superb examples of Wimbledon sportsmanship.

Once-only winners

We all remember the all-time greats, those giants of grass tennis who have inked their names into the annals by winning multiple Wimbledon crowns. Navratilova, Borg, Evert, Becker, McEnroe, Graf, Sampras, Federer, Williams. They’re part of the fabric of the tournament, embedded in its history. But what of those who tasted victory at the All England Club just the once?

See how many of these ring a bell.

Richard Krajicek – 1996

Tall, elegant and a big server, Richard Krajicek was the only man to defeat Pete Sampras at Wimbledon between 1992 and 2001. This he did in the 1996 quarter-final, sending shock waves through the sport.

In the final, the Dutchman took inspiration from an unlikely source. Student Melissa Johnson interrupted the pre-match photo shoot by running across the court wearing nothing but a flimsy apron and a cheeky grin. Fellow finalist Mal Washington admitted afterwards to being flustered by the streak, whereas Krajicek said, “She put a smile on my face and broke the tension.”  He duly won in straight sets and remains the only Dutchman to hold the title.

Oh for such motivation in the local pub darts league.

Conchita Martínez – 1994

Remember the name? Possibly. What about her full given title of Inmaculada Concepción Martínez Bernat? No, thought not.

The patient baseliner won her sole Grand Slam at the All England Club in 1994, beating none other than Martina Navratilova in the final. Alright, so Navratilova was 37 at the time but no mean feat to take the scalp of the nine-time champ in a gruelling three-setter.

Martínez is still the only Spanish woman to win Wimbledon.

Ann Jones – 1969

While Virginia Wade’s victory in the Silver Jubilee championships of 1977 will always retain a unique place in the British nation’s collective memory, Ann Jones’ achievement eight years before is arguably more impressive.

In her semi, Jones (or Haydon-Jones, to give her her official, double-barrelled married name) defeated Australian top seed Margaret Court. Court had won the first set 12-10 – no tie-breaks back then – but Jones battled back to win in three. She then bested the legendary Billie-Jean King, again in three sets having lost the first, to take the title.

Triumphing over the two best players of the day in consecutive matches under those circumstances? Worthy of a hearty slap on the back, I’d say. Jones was also the first left-handed woman to win the title, years before Navratilova practically made it her own.

Jolly good show – sportsmanship at its best

Wimbledon is quintessentially British, don’t you know? Like the Royal Family or tutting in long queues. And we demand decorum and propriety from those who enter the hallowed grounds at SW19. Here are a few great sports and standard bearers of fair play.

Rafael Nadal – 2013

When the eight-time French Open champ lost in this year’s first round to relative unknown Steve Darcis (now there’s a future famous Belgian), many commentators and analysts were quick to speculate that the Spaniard’s dodgy knee might be partly to blame.

Just what many a sportsman would seize like a rope thrown from a sea rescue helicopter: a ready-made excuse. Not Rafa. He made sure he gave his conqueror all the credit instead of detracting from his moment of glory. Echoing Boris Becker’s “no-one died” sentiments from a few years back, Nadal reminded us that defeat was “not a tragedy” and refused to cite his knee as a factor. What a gent.

Sadly for Darcis, he didn’t get the chance to turn that moment into something more, as he himself pulled out with a shoulder injury 48 hours later. She’s a cruel mistress, is sport.

Caroline Hall – 1995

Before he became the nation’s best-loved nearly man, Tim Henman was a villain. Playing a doubles match in 1995, Henman lost a tie-break point and, in a fit of pique, thwacked the ball towards the net.

Unfortunately, ball girl Caroline Hall, who was collecting another ball, received Henman’s missile right in the side of the face.  92mph, apparently. Ouch. Within minutes, stalwart referee Alan Mills was on court and Henman became the first player in the history of the tournament to be disqualified. Hall, for her part, tried to dissuade the officials from taking this action. Good for her. I for one couldn’t swear to being so charitable if I’d taken a 92mph head shot.

Bizarrely, Hall was also on court a few days later when American Jeff Tarango became just the second player to be defaulted, this time for arguing with the umpire. So, Caroline, good sport or bad omen?

The Centre Court crowd and Cliff’s singing – 1996

According to Cliff Richard himself, he was reluctant to sing to the crowd during a rain break in 1996. When the club secretary floated the idea, Cliff told him he didn’t even have a guitar. But then he did an interview for Radio Wimbledon, at the end of which he was put on the spot. Well, what was he to do? He’s a professional, after all.

An ‘impromptu’ sing-along followed, with Summer Holiday (nice irony, Cliff!), Living Doll and All Shook Up among the numbers that reverberated around the arena as the rain continued to lash down.

Straw boaters off to the crowd. Keeping a stiff upper lip in the face of that aural and meteorological onslaught was a display of true British resolve of which Nelson himself would’ve been proud.

Which other forgotten Wimbledon winners (or losers) and exemplars of sporting behaviour deserve some recognition? Let us know in the comment section below.

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  • Bollins

    If only Cliff had remained unsung…

  • Donalddublin

    Remember Arthur Ash who beat Jimmy Connors in the 1970 final. A great victory for a great sportsman and gentleman

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