A Theme of Summer

Friday, October 16, 2009 /by
88754167 by Pete Bodo

Howdy. I'll be working on a post on one of my favorite WTA players today, but I figured I ought to satisfy any longing you may have for the themes of summer - an easy train of thought to fall into, given how here in the Northeastern U.S. we're in the grip of a four-day nor'easter that has sent temperatures plummeting and Manhattanites dashing to find their down parkas. I always wondered why you needed a miniature compass and thermometer on the zipper of your -40 Fahrenheit-rated Arctic parka for that quick trip to the wine bar or Korean deli, but that's New York for you. Land of the Pac boot (rated -60 Fahrenheit) whose soles have never touched snow.

It's pretty nasty, though, with whipping winds, squally showers (up in game-rich Andes, it's snow) and what's going to happen with the baseball playoffs? Personally, I don't much care. I'm indifferent to the New York Yankees.

Wimbledon, of course, is to tennis what the New York Yankees are to baseball, and we have news from the All-England Club for you today. Tim Phillips, the current chairman (he's serving his 11th year) is stepping down. Phillips will be remembered as one of the most visionary and dynamic of the AEC's leaders - among other things, he ended a public relations nightmare when he persuaded the club to award equal prize money to women, and presided over the design and installation of two of Wimbledon's most striking, drop-dead-gorgeous new fixtures: the Millenium Building and the new, retractable roof - a gossamer, airy contraption that transforms the Centre Court into something like the tennis ether. You half expects pixies and Shakespearean characters like Puck to hover above the turf once the roof is closed. And if you can imagine toothy Andy Murray as a pixie in tights, you're a better man than I.

Phillips will be replaced by Philip Brook at the end of next year, rather than after the 2012 Olympic event, an announcement that stunned many Wimbledon watchers. No reason was given for the hastened schedule of succession. Phillips is 67, and just retired from his day job in finance (imagine what he could have done for Wimbledon had the chairmanship been his main occupation). It would seem an ideal time for a man who's still relatively young by power-broker standards to focus on his avocation. I hope there isn't some private reason or challenge driving this withdrawal from public tennis life.

Brook, who's in his early 50s, has an amusing resume to those who appreciate Monty Python and other subversive elements that thrive on poking fun at the British upper crust and its loyalists. Brook was captain of his Cambridge University tennis team (Can you visualize him, dashing to the courts with a book under one arm and an old Dunlop Maxply under the other, dressed in white woollen trousers and a jaunty cabby cap?). He's been on the AEC's Committee of Management, and a member of the International Lawn Tennis Club of Great Britain since 1977, and served a few years as that outfit's treasurer. He also represented Britain against the U.S. in Prentice Cup, which appears to be one of those obscure, "international" competitions known only to those who cooked it up.

I know of such things, having (too many years ago) cooked up something similar, if on a smaller, more egalitarian scale. It was the Montclair-Clifton Challenge Cup (don't bother Googling it), something I invented with help from a few buddies from either of those New Jersey towns. We  decided to establish a Davis Cup-style rivalry between the two towns. Of course, we put ourselves on the teams. My real stroke of genius was getting a local bank to underwrite the cost of some Olympic Games-style medals (ours were not gold, but some kind of aluminum) to award ourselves. Does anything give you, or some event in which you took part, instant credibility as effectively as a trophy?

We also got the local newspaper to do a little write-up and put our picture on the sports page after the event. Unfortunately, once the thrill of the original event was gone and people started to inquire about how to make the teams for next year, we got bored with it all, took our medals, and that was the end of the MCCC.  I'm sure Prentice Cup is a more credible entity, but I suspect that it's not by much. A quick Google search on the name coughed up a lead item that linked to a Canadian baseball tournament. Hey, if Brook actually plays baseball, maybe Andy Roddick gets better scheduling next year (or better yet, a different final-round opponent?)!

So there goes my invite to next year's Wimbledon media party. . .

Seriously, though, I feel okay about poking fun at Brook and Wimbledon because if the past 40-plus years of Open tennis has taught us anything, it's that you can't ever underestimate the judgment,foresight and taste of the people who run Wimbledon. Beneath that nasty whiff of class superiority and reactionary conservatism lies real genius - the consistent ability to make wise decisions that are largely in the best interest of tennis, a laudable resistance to the lure of the dollar (or pound), intelligent planning, and a conjurer's talent for keeping Wimbledon's traditions intact and still vital, while not just keeping pace with the times but staying a discreet nose out in front of the rest of the pack on most fronts and issues. It goes back to Wimbledon's decision to allow pros to play with amateurs before any other Grand Slam took that drastic step - the move that threw open the floodgates on the Open era.

Over to you. Jackie-Oh will have a Deuce Club for you later today as well.

So good luck, Mr. Brook. Keep the tradition of outstanding Wimbledon leadership going, and go get that Maxply re-strung - Prentice Cup is coming up!

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