There was a memorial service for tennis writer Bud Collins last Friday in Boston on what would have been his 87th birthday.

Collins was universally beloved in the tennis world, a man without pretension, a man who made everyone else feel that they were the one who was special.

He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the game and a desire to popularize tennis and make it fun. In that vein he’s known for creating many colloquialisms such as “moonball,” with one of his best being “The Big W” for Wimbledon.

You won’t ever find that acronym inscribed on the championship trophies – the men’s Challenge Cup or the women’s Venus Rosewater dish – but it’s catchy shorthand for one of most cherished events and places in worldwide sport.

The 130th edition of The Big W begins next Monday, the 27th of June.

There are many amazing things about Wimbledon, and a few that maybe are just a little too rooted in the 20th, or make that the 19th century.

Foremost among the positives is the fact that the event and the site, the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on Church Road in London SW19, do not disappoint. It is probably close to impossible to find anyone who is let down by a visit to Wimbledon, except maybe on one of those days when nothing happens because the finest of rains is falling – not enough to even open umbrellas but enough to make the Wimbledon rye grass courts unplayable. That’s with the exception of Centre Court and its retractable roof, but most people on the grounds during the first eight days don’t have Centre Court tickets.

Wimbledon’s popularity is undiminished despite the fact that the only remaining façade that has been there since the grounds were opened in 1922 is the front face of Centre Court.


The two pictures here, the before and after variety over almost four decades, show a view of the outside courts in the late 1970s and the view today.

Two of the landmarks for decades are gone – the ivy-covered water tower rising against trees in the upper left of the top picture as well as the fabled No. 2 Court and No. 3 Court and the less prominent cozy No. 6 Court and No. 7 Court nestled behind the No. 2 and No. 3 scoreboards and the lookout above them.


Tennis writer Christopher Clarey, like many, was a fervent fan of Courts 2 and 3 and their old-fashioned, flip-the-numbers scoreboards, as well as the observation perch at the top known as the ‘Crow’s Nest,’ where Clarey is shown above in his Twitter picture.

The new No. 3 Court has a seating capacity of 1,980 but traditionalists lament the loss of four distinctive courts for one large circular show court. That includes No. 7 Court behind No. 2 Court and No. 3 where there was a viewing position just 10 feet or so above and directly behind the court. At one time there was a British journalist who annually spent a whole day in that spot and wrote his dispatch about what transpired in the matches played right below him on No. 7.

But progress is progress and one of the reasons for replacing No. 2, No. 3, No. 6, and No. 7 was to help circulation to the outside courts. Still, No. 2 and No. 3 had historical significance including a series of startling losses on No. 2. Dubbed the “Graveyard Court,” it was where second-seed John McEnroe was beaten by American compatriot Tim Gullikson in 1979 and, more remarkably, Pete Sampras ousted by Swiss lucky loser George Bastl in 2002, an ignominious end for the seven-time champion in his final appearance at Wimbledon.

But all is not lost, No. 3 Court and 4,063-seat No. 2 Court at the rear of the south side have provided greater spectator capacity with permanent structures replacing the more ramshackle seating in the past.


And, in terms of courts with character, No. 18 Court on the north side has developed its own lore. Located behind the broadcast centre with its rooftop viewing post, it was the site of the dizzying John Isner – Nicolas Mahut madness (11 hours and five minutes) in 2010.


One of the thrills of being a reporter at Wimbledon is the access to the grounds on the days leading up to the start of the tournament. The only people around are players (like Andy Murray walking back from practice courts above), workers, officials of all kinds, and media. There’s a tranquility to the site that’s simply not available during the hectic activity of the 13 days of competition.


The 14 Aorangi practice courts at the top of the grounds are the gathering spot for everyone during the last few days before play begins – although some of the competition courts are also used for practice but never Centre Court or No. 1 Court.


There’s something special, and completely different, about the grass courts. They create a summer vacation feel for the players – a welcome change in the busy tennis year, a chance to get a sense of the bygone days of the sport.


The players’ entourages often include their parents and two of the more prominent ones are Tomas Berdych’s mother and father, Hana and Martin. They can be seen at many Grand Slams happily wandering around just like a couple of holidaying normal fans.

Wimbledon has a sterling reputation as a global sporting event but some of its rules can be a little heavy-handed. For example, reporters cannot interview players ad hoc as they come from their matches. Everything has to be done through a central interview bureau, which can be tedious and time-consuming when all that a reporter often needs are a few quick quotes.

But maybe the rule that’s the most unnecessarily rigid is the competitors’ dress code. As it’s written in the ultra-comprehensive Wimbledon Compendium, in 1995, “The rule concerning the competitors being dressed predominantly in white throughout was clarified to mean ‘almost entirely in white.’”

That “almost entirely in white” has taken a lot of creativity out of the design of players’ outfits. Sure there are ways of making all-white clothing distinctive but if more colour was added – as it was before 1995 – the individuality of players would be given more opportunity to emerge.


All clothing and footwear is subject to the All England Club approval – items are usually submitted months in advance – so there’s little chance of anything too daring getting onto the courts.

As an aside – in the Compendium there’s a note about 1995 and Patricia Hy-Boulais, who now resides in the Toronto area. In that year of the tightening of dress rules, she played a second-round match against American Chanda Rubin and lost 7-6(4), 6-7(5), 17-15. That’s a total of 58 games and remains the record for the most games in a ladies singles match at The Championships. It lasted three hours and 45 minutes.

Wimbledon would not be Wimbledon without concerns about the weather. Remarkably, the forecast for the next 10 days includes the possibility of precipitation (not more than 50 per cent) on only two of those days. But it won’t be balmy – there’s only one day reaching a high temperature of 23 degrees, every other one is to be cooler.


One thing for sure, there will be long morning line-ups every day to enter the grounds – led in an oh-so orderly manner (no running please!) by the club stewards.

Good grass run for Raonic

epa05377550 Britain's Andy Murray (R) celebrates with the trophy after winning against Canada's Milos Raonic (L) the final match of the Aegon Tennis Championships at the Queen's Club in London, Britain, 19 June 2016. EPA/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA

It ended short of victory, but Milos Raonic’s 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-3 loss to Andy Murray in the final at Queen’s Club on Sunday was almost an ideal preparation for Wimbledon.

First off, he played the full five matches possible – something that was far from assured when he faced a tricky opponent Nick Kyrgios (three sets) in the first round – and secondly he got to measure himself on grass in the final against the world No. 2 and a former (2013) Wimbledon champion.

Raonic was probably millimetres away from winning his first grass-court title when he led 3-1 in the second set of the final and held a game point on his serve. A cross-court backhand volley that landed near the sideline and was called in was challenged by Murray and proved to be fractions out.

If there’s one shot Raonic should probably regret, it was a passive forehand error into the net on the next point, which was followed by a screaming backhand cross-court service return winner to give Murray the break back and reset the competitive equilibrium of the match.

After holding serve 55 times in a row during the tournament, Raonic would proceed to lose four of his last eight service games against Murray.

“There were two very close challenges there,” he said about that pivotal fifth game of the second set, “maybe could make a difference or not. I thought he played well. He stepped up after that. Came up with an incredible return on that first break point chance he had.

“He did a good job getting things going. I started to hesitate a little bit. And these top guys are quite dangerous when they start feeling comfortable. Like I always said, it’s about making them feel as uncomfortable as possible. I did that for quite a bit of time at the start.”

He summed up, “I think overall I did things pretty well.”

The current world No. 7 has clearly made an impression and will definitely not be under the radar when the Wimbledon fortnight begins next Monday.

The leading bookmaking firm in Britain, Ladbrokes, has him as a co-third favourite with none other than seven-time champion Roger Federer.

Here are the numbers:

Djokovic 8/11

Murray 3/1

Federer 12/1

Raonic 12/1

Wawrinka 20/1

Kyrgios 25/1

Nishikori 33/1

Thiem 40/1

Tsonga 40/1

There were a few skeptics when larger-than-life tennis legend John McEnroe was brought on board as a grass-court consultant through to the end of Wimbledon. It’s hard to argue that he hasn’t had a positive impact with Raonic looking more comfortable than ever as a lawn-tennis player.

After Sunday’s final, Raonic confirmed that McEnroe was around for at least the short haul: “He and I agreed that he would help me all the way through this and try to make the most and make a good push in the coming weeks.”

Bouchard finding feet on grass


Genie Bouchard appears to getting into a rhythm on grass after winning her second-round match in Eastbourne on Tuesday – 6-3, 6-1 over No. 27-ranked Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania. That follows a 6-1, 6-2 victory over qualifier Vavara Lepchenko of the U.S. in the first round on Monday.

A year ago, Bouchard won only one match on grass heading into Wimbledon but in 2016 she has a record of 3-2 at the three events she has played.

Next will be an encounter with top seed and world No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska. It will be their third meeting – Bouchard played the 27-year-old Pole in the second round of the Australian Open in January and was beaten 6-4, 6-2 after leading 4-1 in the opening set. Their only other match was in Madrid on clay in 2014 and Radwanska also won that one 7-6(3), 6-2.

There’s a Saturday final at the Eastbourne event, so the round-of-16 match-up with Radwanska or Lucic-Baroni will be on Wednesday.

In WTA action last week, kudos to Gabriela Dabrowski. She earned her third career WTA doubles title, winning the Mallorca Open alongside 33-year-old Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez of Spain. That moved her WTA doubles ranking up to No. 42, two spots below her career-high of No. 40 obtained in May 2015.  

Canada’s best are besties

It was nice to see this tweet from Charlotte Robillard-Millette about Bianca Andreescu. The top two Canadian junior girls are clearly good friends and Robillard-Millette, 17, was wishing Andreescu a happy 16th birthday via Twitter last Thursday.

Vasek and his pop

The ATP website did tributes from several players last Sunday on Father’s Day. Above are the thoughts of Vasek Pospisil about his dad Milos, a slightly ironic name in the context of Canadian men’s tennis these days.

NOTE: Blog this Friday from Wimbledon after the draw is done.

Top photo: Mauricio Paiz