Spectator sport

How Kyrgios saved Wimbledon

16 July 2022

9:00 AM

16 July 2022

9:00 AM

What separates this year’s ‘empty seats on centre court’ scandal from every other year’s ‘empty seats on centre court’ scandal? Wimbledon has always been a garden party with some tennis thrown in, attended by the least sports-driven crowd in existence – the matrons of Guildford and Godalming who manage to love Rafa and Andy for a fortnight, but not much longer, and whose need for a punnet of strawberries and cup of tea at around 4 p.m. is eternal. And for whom it’s funny if the ball hits the umpire’s chair.

Wimbledon is half a tennis tournament and half the last redoubt of a disappearing England. Certainly the BBC saw the centenary of the centre court and the departure of Sue Barkeras an excuse to make its coverage more syrupy than ever. Each year Sue has looked more and more as though she has just been helicoptered in from a garden party in the Home Counties.

Some senior honchos at the All England club are known to be slightly anxious about the unchanging, er, demographic of the Wimbledon faithful. So thank heaven for Nick Kyrgios: otherwise it would just have been business as usual – a few good matches and then Novak Djokovic wins. At least with Kyrgios there, Prince George, who is rapidly resembling Britain’s smallest estate agent, expanded his vocabulary.

Were reports of the imminent death of northern hemisphere rugby overblown? After all four home nations scored victories on foreign turf, the scene is set for some stupendous rugby this weekend, with the four series settled on the same day. As long as not too many players are hauled off to the infirmary, that is. After just two games between Australia and England, nine Wallabies and four England squad players have been ruled out because of injury. And then there’s the obsessive yellow carding for deliberate (or not) knock-ons. It defies common sense, as even Eddie Jones barked.

So look at the rugby like this: Georgia beat Italy on Sunday, Italy beat Wales in the Six Nations, Wales beat South Africa last weekend, and South Africa beat the Lions last year. Pick the form line out of that. Every-body has to beat New Zealand, which Ireland did last weekend. But France beat Ireland in the Six Nations, though only just scraped past Japan. It’s impossible to say how good anyone is any more.

The Kiwis looked weirdly poor: they are not well coached or captained. At least on this occasion, thankfully, they were properly refereed, by South Africa’s Jaco Peyper. How will they re-adjust for Saturday’s game? Watch this space.

As only two of rugby’s biggest beasts can go beyond the quarter-finals of the World Cup next year, there’s no room for a flaky performance. Every game is looking pretty compelling.

The England women’s football team may be well on their way to capturing the nation’s hearts, especially after their skilful 8-0 dismantling of Norway. But what is clear is that watching an England team play football is no longer a dispiriting experience featuring fans pushing disabled people down stairs, shoving lighted firecrackers up their backsides and snorting a mountain of cocaine. Unless that’s your thing, of course. The word from Brighton, where the Lionesses played on Monday, was that the celebrations were joyous and the respect between groups of fans wholehearted. Aren’t you dreading the looming return of men’s football?

On that subject, it’s worth knowing that Swindon Town FC have been doing their pre-season work at Marlborough College, proving that private schools have better facilities than pro football teams. They have always had the best cricket pitches; now they have the best gyms too.

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