Tennis on Tv

RENÉ MACCOLL is the roving correspondent and columnist of the London EXPRESS.

Owing to circumstances beyond my control, I not long since sat watching much of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis championships on British television. Although I could have done with just the normal cries and other incidental sounds of the matches as relayed through the microphones from the center court, I found that viewers were also favored with the comments of a team of experts, whose remarks formed a ceaseless and insistent threnody to the play.

At first I was prepared to accept this bonus in the spirit in which it was offered. Although I have played tennis for many years and understand the rules as well as the next man, there could be, or so I told myself, many little subtleties of which I might remain woefully unaware but for the commentators. Moreover, ensconced in their privileged box right there on court, these experts could in a flash reveal to us what lay behind some otherwise obscure piece of byplay or instruct us authoritatively in what might have struck the distant onlooker as a baffling piece of tactics. I therefore bent a respectful ear.

Two lady players emerge onto court.

Commentator: “And here come the girls!”

The players pause behind the umpire’s chair, and one of them flips a racket into the air.

Commentator: “Now they’re tossing for service. I wonder who has won the service, Ed?”

Ed: “Well, we shall know when the three little lights go up in front of one of those names on the scoreboard, Bob.”

Bob: “Why, that’s right, so we shall, Ed.”

The preliminaries end. The game is about to start.

Bob (dropping his voice to a nearwhisper): “Miss Farago to serve.”

Umpire: “Play!”

Bob: “And its — play!”

Linesman: “Fault!”

Bob: “Fault called.”

Miss F. serves again.

Linesman: “Fault!”

Bob: “Oh — and it’s a double fault! Well, now, Miss Farago won’t be able to afford many of those, will she, Ed?”

Ed: “No, indeed, Bob. That’s the sort of present she just doesn’t want to give her opponent.”

Bob: “A double fault at this stage is not the sort of thing we expect from a class player, is it, Ed?”

Ed: “Certainly not, Bob. I’d say it is the last thing we expect from a class player.”

Bob: “Just a little bit nervous, would you say?”

Ed: “Oh, undoubtedly, Bob. It’s a case of nerves.”

Miss Farago runs for a wide drive. She slips and falls.

Bob: “Hullo, hullo, hullo! Miss Farago has taken a toss!”

Miss Farago rises.

Bob: “But she’s up again in a trice. I wonder if she has hurt herself, Ed?”

Ed: “Hard to tell. Bob. She isn’t limping, I don’t think.”

Bob: “No, she isn’t limping. But she seems to be holding her arm.”

Ed: “No, I think she’s brushing it.”

Bob: “Oh, that’s right. She is brushing her arm.”

Ed: “I think she probably got a little dust on her arm when she fell over.”

Bob: “Oh, that must be it, Ed. Miss Farago is a very dainty little player, isn’t she?”

Ed: “One of the daintiest at this year’s Wimbledon, Bob.”

Miss Farago is footfaulted twice in rapid succession. The camera shows her glaring at the linesman in manifest resentment.

Bob: “Well, now, I don’t think that little Miss Farago is too happy about that decision.”

Ed: “No, not too happy.”

Miss Farago is footfaulted again.

She walks over to the linesman and stands, hands on hips, addressing him.

Bob: “Miss Farago is having a word with the foot-fault judge, Ed. I wonder what she can be saying to him?”

Ed: “She is probably asking him to explain to her what he feels she may be doing wrong, don’t you think, Bob?”

Bob: “Ah, yes, that might well be it.”

Umpire: “Thirty-forty.”

Bob: “And here it is — game point on Miss Farago’s service. How would you sum things up, Ed?”

Ed: “Well, Bob, I would say that this is a girl with a problem.”

Bob: “A girl with a problem. Yes, that’s it, sure enough. And the problem is, can she serve her way out of trouble?”

Ed: “Or not?”

Bob: “Well, we shall see.”

Miss Farago serves an ace.

Bob: “The mark of the class player! Miss Farago pulled an ace out of her sleeve just when it was needed!”

Ed: “You only find that class players are able to do that, Bob.”

Bob: “Yes, and the capacity to break an opponent’s service right after they’ve lost their own, Ed. The quick breakback —”

Ed: “Yes, Bob, the quick breakback. That’s the mark of the class player, right enough.”

The players, crossing over, pause behind the umpire’s chair. They mop their faces with towels.

Bob: “The girls are finding the going rather hot this afternoon.”

Ed: “Yes, Bob, it must be pretty warm down there on the court.”

The players take sips of water out of cardboard cups.

Bob: “And now both girls are taking aboard a little liquid refreshment — strictly innocent, of course.”

Miss Farago wipes the handle of her racket with a towel.

Bob: “It is most important to ensure that you have a firm grip on the racket, isn’t it, Ed?”

Ed: “Well, we’ve got Cyril sitting alongside of us here. Cyril was one of the greatest. Cyril, when you were playing, back in 1908, did you wipe your racket much?”

Umpire: “ Fifteen-love. ”

Cyril: “Well, the grip—”

Bob: “We’ll ask you more about that again later, Cyril.”

Miss Farago muffs an easy volley. The camera lingers on her expressive face as she walks back to the rear of the court, chiding herself in Latin rage as she goes.

Bob: “Well, now, Miss Farago is having a little consultation with herself. Yes, she’s having a word with herself. What do you suppose she’s saying. Ed?”

Ed (guffawing jovially): “Probably reminding herself to try to be more accurate at the net in future, Bob.”

Bob (patently anxious to be objective): “Although of course even some of the all-time greats missed the easy ones at the net when under pressure. Wouldn’t you say so, Cyril?”

Cyril: “Well, I didn’t.”

Umpire: “Thirty-forty!”

Bob (whispering again): “And its — match point!”

Ed (matching whisper for whisper): “Miss Farago is a girl with a problem, Bob.”

Bob (barely audible now): “Can she serve her way out of trouble, Ed?”

Ed (authoritatively): “We shall see.”

But before anyone can see, before Miss Farago can so much as raise her racket, a cloudburst of monumental violence lashes the center court.

Bob: “Oh, dear. I’m afraid it’s raining again.”

A squad of youths and men rushes forward and drags huge tarpaulins over the grass.

Bob: “And there you see them, the well-drilled team which waits in the wings for just such an emergency. What do they remind you of, Ed?”

Ed: “A skilled commando unit, Bob?”

Bob: “Absolutely !”

Ed: “Well, now, since we have a few moments in hand, perhaps we can persuade Cyril here to tell us —”

Cyril: “Well, of course, in my day there were no tarpaulins or anything like that. But I can tell you a very amusing little anecdote. It happened while Mrs. Lambert Chambers was winning her fifth women’s | single championship before the war — World War I. As a sudden and totally unexpected shower came on, the umpire appealed for volunteers from the crowd to —”

Bob: “Oh, grand, the rain has stopped. Thank you, Cyril.”

Just after the Wimbledon gathering ended I had to enter hospital for an operation. One of the first questions they asked me was whether I would like to have a TV set in my room during my sojourn. They seemed quite taken aback when I said no.