The latest 'Educating stuff,' news and views from Wimbledon's Education Department, looks ahead to this year's Education Project, which is all about tennis balls...
I have recently been thinking a lot about balls (stop sniggering at the back).
The trouble with tennis is that it is rife with innuendo and for someone that works a lot with Secondary age students you can imagine how on some days it can appear as if I have been left in some sort of purgatory penned by the writers of American Pie. Balls however are to become my life for the next few months so I am afraid I must get used to the barely hidden smirks of those that hear of my plans to turn 54,250 used balls into something more interesting. Yes you read that right, 54,250 used balls.
There are an extraordinary number of balls used for Wimbledon and the numbers quoted already don’t take into account the 20,000 balls used for practice, it seems the elite tennis professional just can’t get enough of them. They hit them back and forth for nine games then demand that a new half dozen are ceremoniously popped from their chilled cans so they can continue their match. It all seems a little too much to many, but then not that many of us are elite tennis players, we can all however appreciate the delight that a fresh can of balls brings to a court (the fizz of the air escaping from the tube, the smell of the clean felt, the ethereal glow of the high vis), so why wish that away from the players at Wimbledon, after all, their pain is your pleasure when a match is underway.
What the Education Department plans to do with the balls will for now remain a mystery, but think on what you could do with all those balls if you weren’t playing tennis and you may find yourself temporarily inside my head.
Recently I was discussing with some University students the future of The Championships and its place within global sport (give me a break, this is my job) and as usual the conversation ran happily somewhere between admiration and scorn. Eventually the students came to the conclusion that Wimbledon was a vintage sporting event, but not vintage in the ‘happy to pay more for vintage’ way of the wine world, but rather vintage in an ‘old gent still persisting in driving around in an open top Bentley, dressed in tweed’ kind of way. This left me with mixed emotions. I like vintage and given the chance would gladly drive an old Bentley dressed in tweed, after all I am English, but is Wimbledon really vintage in that sense? The short answer is no, and the long answer is too long to go into here. If you don’t agree then please see the ‘Master Plan’ which grandiose title aside is a very modern and exciting way of looking at tennis on grass as played in Wimbledon.
However, the idea of vintage tennis has always appealed to me and reignited a long hidden passion I have for a parallel tournament to the modern championships where the ways of the past are embraced. Lots of people love vintage, but everything about sport is better now because of technology improving it, from rackets to clothing through hydration and nutrition, everything is designed to work better for both players and spectators. What the players do on Centre Court today would have been unthinkable 50 years ago, but there are still many around who claim that tennis has lost something of its beauty with the relentless march of the bigger, stronger, faster mentality that underlines all sport. So my answer to this is white balls (I have warned you once and if you continue, I shall move you to the front), white balls and wooden rackets to be precise.
White balls, wooden rackets, flannel trousers, knee length skirts, perhaps a headscarf here and there, a brandy soaked sugar lump at a change of ends, but with no, and I really cannot stress this enough, no, sitting down or towelling down in between each point. In short a return to the heady days of the 1920’s when men were sharp and women were elegant, with a heady sprinkling of ocean travel to really evoke the spirit of the time. Let this tournament run alongside the modern sport, why try to shoehorn the older players into the modern power game and put them out on the senior circuit, give them a Maxply and welcome them back to the glory days of their youth*. So let the modern sports march forward perfecting their stride and join with me as we rewind to, if not a gentler time, then a more spirited time, when all one needed to succeed was a strong stomach and a head for heights. Jean Borotra had the right idea and all he had at his disposal were a wooden racket, a dashing stride and a fanciful beret, yet he managed to wow the crowds of Wimbledon for 42 years without towelling himself down once, nor lest we forget, demanding fresh balls (right that’s it, sit outside and don’t come back until you can contain yourself).
*I should point out for the pedants that none of the current players on the senior circuit played tennis in flannels; I was merely evoking my somewhat dubiously acquired artistic licence.
If you would like to know more about tennis balls and what the players do with them, then why not book your students on an educational tour and enjoy the lost art of sniggering.