Every July, our Commonwealth relations in the U.K. spend a fortnight with their eyes and ears glued to a glorious sporting spectacle.
It’s an event fairly dripping in oh-so-British tradition and pomp.
Royals and rather well-to-do commoners gather in south London, as they have every year since 1877, resplendent in silk suits and colossal hats, breaking fast on strawberries, cream, and champagne, to witness the spectacle played out on the verdant sod of the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.
One speaks, of course, of Wimbledon.
To be proper (and frankly, one must), one means The Championships, Wimbledon.
The spiritual home of the game of tennis, Wimbledon remains an anachronistic yet charming throwback to The Realm in an era of high-speed, hi-def, in one’s face sporting endeavours.
The players must dress in white.
The surface is the finest rye grass, cut to a perfect 8 millimetres.
The draws are Gentlemen’s and Ladies’, rather than Men’s and Women’s.
The chair umpire, when calling out the score, refers to the competitors as Mr. or Ms., regardless of how far Ms. Serena Williams has offered to insert a tennis ball up said official’s back passage after a questionable ruling.
It all harkens to a time of manners, of fair play, and of Very English Britishness, I daresay.
And if one would care to overlook the “exclusivity” of the membership over its history (what was that uniform colour again?), and the since-corrected discrepancy in prize money between genders for the first 129 years, one would be most appreciative indeed.
Contrast that to the modern game of tennis; a display of raw power, skill, timing, and of course grunts and howls heretofore reserved for the songs of James Brown.
Canada’s Milos Raonic has had his serves clocked at over 240 km/h.
Modern equipment and the athleticism of the Williams sisters, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic has consigned the wood-and-catgut racquets and graceful volleys and lobs to the dustbin of sporting history.
In fact, the speed of the game today is so blinding that another of tennis’ quaint traditions, the line judge, is steadily being phased out by laser technology that eliminates the fallibility of the human eye.
The professional game is for the fittest of challengers, in the shortest of shorts.
Young children are taken under the wing of mercurial coaches before their bikes lose training wheels, and developed into steel-spined Tennis Bots at the most intensive, exclusive, and expensive championship tennis instructional facilities around the world.
Impressive stuff, but where does that leave the casual player, eager to have a go at the game and experience first-hand the competitiveness, the fun, and the hilarious scoring system (0, 15, 30, 40…wait, what?)?
Well thankfully, like other sports one has outlined in previous missives, tennis has a reasonable cost of entry for the uninitiated.
Beginner racquets can cost as low as $20, and decent intermediate ones are far less than $100.
Tennis balls are a few bucks per Pringles can, or you can just liberate some from the dog in your neighbour’s back yard.
Regular athletic shoes and shorts will do the job if you don’t feel like ponying up for something from the Maria Sharapova Summer Collection.
What’s the best part of all?
The Sault has dozens of public tennis courts in most neighborhoods.
Granted, the surface isn’t rye grass, or clay, or even hard court.
Well I suppose a pavement court qualifies as hard, maybe even really bloody hard. Still the cost of admission is free, and you weren’t planning on challenging Genie or Milos anytime soon anyway, so play at a leisurely pace and avoid road, um, court rash.
Our fine local university features an indoor facility and instruction if you choose to take your game to the next level as well.
Experience all of the exercise and social competition of the great game of tennis without all of the inconvenience of curtsying and sweating through one’s good whites.
After all, it’s summer.
Get out there and sports!
There’s a good lad.