- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 2, 2002

Fred Perry was so flamboyant, so self-assured, that one tennis observer considered him "an American with an English accent and pipe. The accent came naturally, but not the pipe. He carried it around unlit because he thought it would make him seem more British."
Perry was the best amateur player in the world in the mid-'30s, the toast of England. He won three-fourths of the Grand Slam in 1934 and helped Britain capture and keep the Davis Cup for four years.
"He made the game fun for spectators," historian Julius Heldman once wrote, "joshing with the ballboys when he was ahead, dazzling the crowd with his tricky shots and chatting with the boxholders between games." And such poise the man possessed. "When [Bill] Tilden was incensed by a call, he would argue with the linesman or demand his removal. Perry never got as upset, but when he was the victim of a questionable decision he would smile at the linesman, humorously shake his finger at him and remark, 'Naughty boy!'"
Perry's third straight Wimbledon title in 1936 was his most decisive a 6-1, 6-1, 6-0 bashing of Gottfried von Cramm. Two years later, just to prove British tennis wasn't All Fred, Bunny Austin reached the final at the Big W before bowing to the unbeatable Don Budge. Bunny Austin. Who would have believed that the first player to wear shorts at Wimbledon would also be the last British man to reach the final?
But here we are in the year 2002, and the Brits are still waiting for somebody to do what Bunny Austin did never mind win the championship, Their Championship. It has to be one of the strangest circumstances in sports. Wimbledon is, after all, the home of grass-court tennis, and somewhere along the line you'd expect Britain would produce its own Laver of the lawns, its own Boss of the Moss. But it hasn't happened.
Yet. Maybe this year, with all the top seeds being plowed under, Tim Henman or Greg Rusedski will finally break through. Henman has come agonizingly close in recent years, losing three times in the semis. The first two defeats were to Pete Sampras no shame there but the most recent, last July, was a gut-wrenching five-setter to Goran Ivanisevic, who might not have made the field if he hadn't received a wild-card invitation.
In the latter stages of that match, and again in yesterday's duel with Michel Kratochvil, Henman seemed to be carrying the whole of Brittania on his shoulders. The headline in the Daily Mirror last week kind of said it all: "No pressure Timbo, but choke now and we'll never forgive you." Poor chap. It's possible Henman is under more duress than any player since, oh, Arthur Ashe became the first black man to win the U.S. Open in 1968.
Speaking of which the Open, I mean imagine if it had been 66 years since one of our boys had won. Imagine if, like the Brits, we'd had a succession of guys from Australia and Sweden and Germany and Czechoslovakia and Croatia and Spain not to mention the Netherlands, Denmark and Peru walk off with the trophy. Think that might drive us a little batty?
And no country, of course, has had more success at Wimbledon than the U.S., the former Colonies. From Budge and Bobby Riggs to Andre Agassi and Sampras, Americans have had a fine old time at the Big W.
It's odd, you have to admit. Britain has produced some fabulous golfers since World War II Nick Faldo, Tony Jacklin et al. but its racket wielders haven't been nearly as accomplished. Yes, Rusedski was runner-up in the '97 U.S. Open to Pat Rafter, but that only exacerbated the sense of longing, the feeling of:
He can do that in Their Tournament, but he can't do it in Our Tournament?
The efforts of British womanhood have been almost as futile. Gone, long gone, are the days when Lottie Dodd and Blanche Bingley Hillyard would abscond with the silver year after year. Virginia Wade did defend the empire's honor in 1977, but that was a quarter-century ago. (Actually, lightning struck twice in '77. In addition to Wade winning, Wimbledon didn't have a single rain delay something that's occurred only five times in the last 80 years.)
"Our Ginny" isn't just Britain's last singles champ at the Big W, she's Britain's last singles finalist period. But now Henman and Rusedski are stirring. Indeed, Timbo even got some help in one match from the chair umpire, who overruled a crucial call. "I've always said that one day I will win this tournament," he says.
In a year when Canada finally took the hockey gold in the Olympics, a Brit prevailing at Wimbledon would be almost fitting. And if Henman or Rusedski manages to pull it off, well, watch out for the Red Sox, that's all I've got to say.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide