Quirks and Rituals of Wimbledon

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The prize money may not be the biggest, but the yearly Wimbledon tennis tournament is considered by the cognoscenti to be the most prestigious in the world. Billions of words have been written about strawberries and cream or Henman Hill, but few have commented on the quirks and rituals of the game, many being quite risible.

The scoring system: They count in multiples of 15, except when they don’t. The first point is worth a 15–0, called fifteen love. Who is the cynic who decided that love was worth nothing? The second point is either 30–0 or 15–15. The latter is referred to as fifteen all. They probably did not know their 15 times table, for after leading (say) 30–15, if server wins the next point, 30-15 becomes not 45–15, but 40–15. Past 40, the maths is deemed too complicated. A score of 40–40 is called a deuce. A deuce is followed by an “Advantage”.

Let or Net: If on serving the ball grazes the net and land in the serving square, it is called a Let. The people who could not cope with the 15 times table can’t tell between L and N either.

Still on the subject of the Net: If at some point in the game the ball hits the net which deviates its trajectory, and often catches the opponent unawares, giving the point to the hitter, he has to apologise, his body language has to convey the message, “Sorry, I didn’t mean this to happen.”. This is nothing but hypocrisy. Any player would love to win points of this type, hit the net, wrong foots the opposition and earn a point. Sorry, 15 points, sorry perhaps only 10.

New Balls: After being hit at great speed a few hundred times, a tennis ball naturally becomes less bouncy, so new balls are brought into play. Do players react differently to these new projectiles? Do they (he or she) brace themselves differently when they are to receive a new ball? If it’s still an old battered ball, do they relax, telling themselves, “Oh it’s a soft one, I won’t put too much effort in this time.” If this is the case, then the server holding it in their hand to draw the attention of opponent has a meaning.

Challenges: Often the umpire and linemen/ women get a call wrong. A player has a number of challenges, when a camera will replay the move and show clearly whether the ball is on one side or other of the line, or even on it. One of the least reasonable audience reaction is to slow hand-clap the player who has demanded the review. Probably because it is thought to be a lack of sportsmanship. “The referee is always right!” Incidentally the last place you’re likely to see the so-called sportsmanship is on the sports field. Just think of the footballer who seems to be in the throes of death when there’s half a chance of a penalty.

Naming Players: Whilst the spectators ecstatically shout the names of their favourite, Andy! Andy! or Rafa! Rafa!, one can often hear the info: “Mr Murray has two challenges left”, or “Mr Nadal has asked for a review.”

Prizewinning playwright. Mathematician. Teacher. Professional Siesta addict.