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Wimbledon’s Endless Rally Between Tradition And Tech

High on grass.

19/07/2017 9:21 AM IST | Updated 19/07/2017 11:03 AM IST
Andrew Couldridge / Reuters

There's something about the colour green and grand slam sport. Golf has four majors. But the Masters at Augusta National in leafy Georgia, epitomized by its iconic Green jacket, is the most coveted of them all. Tennis too has its four "major" grand slams, the Australian Open in the midst of Melbourne Park's magnetic mayhem, the rustic robustness of Roland Garros hosting the French and the US Open at the furiously festive Flushing Meadows, Queens New York. But the green grass of the All England Lawn Tennis Club in the serene SW19 suburb of London town welcomes everyone in the summertime to the slam of all slams. Wimbledon remains the jewel of the tennis world.

It's often been the place where old meets new, and antiquity and modernity coexist seamlessly. Where Hawk-Eye, on the one hand, refers to the fabulous new baseline technology, but also to Rufus the rather regal hawk who does fastidious duty in keeping unwanted feathered friends away from the hallowed turf.

Some traditions at Wimbledon are culinary, others cosmetic and some just rather curious!

Even the results of 2017 saw a battle across generations. On the women's side, veteran Venus succumbed to a sensational Spaniard, 14 years her junior. Garbiñe Muguruza had lost to the younger member of the Williams family at the same stage in 2015, this time she set the record straight. The men's singles saw a reversal of this trend. The young man in his 20s born in Medugorje, Bosnia & Herzegovina and representing Croatia was no match for the silken Swiss touch of a 35-year-old who has made the hallowed court his own. Roger Federer lifted the magnificent trophy (complete with the mysterious pineapple on top) for a record eighth time and pleased not just an army of dedicated fans worldwide but also Muguruza who had made no secret of who she wanted to tango with at the traditional Winners' Ball! The men and women's doubles were poles apart for different reasons: the Russian ladies won the title round 6-0, 6-0 while the gents from Poland/Brazil had to go 13-11 in the fifth, two ends of the scoring spectrum.

So how in this fast-paced Technicolor Instagram world does an apparently old-world tennis tournament that tirelessly touts tradition and magnifies the monarchy survive? Even thrive?

Gautam Bhimani

Some traditions at Wimbledon are culinary, others cosmetic and some just rather curious! On the culinary front look no farther than the delectable strawberries and cream. Without which a day out at the Championships is incomplete. There are times when the scarlet fruit is horribly sour, and while the sweet yellow fresh cream takes away a bit of the sourness, consuming them is not about whether or not it satiated your hunger or tasted good. Just that you ate them!

Then, moving away from yellow and red to the absence of colour on court: i.e. the all-white dress code for players, something that has irked a few individuals over the years, not least of all the flamboyant Andre Agassi who was initially reluctant to even play at Wimbledon given his penchant for neon green spandex shorts and bright shirts, shorts and headbands. Not only did he end up playing in 1992, but also went on to win the title, resplendent in spotless white headband, shirt and spandex!

[W]hat Wimbledon has managed to do is straddle both sides perfectly. Never sacrificing tradition, but keeping up with the times.

In another departure from the norm, even a seat on the umpire's high chair means a quick lesson in etiquette for the ladies and gents in the smart green and purple blazers who adjudicate the matches. All players must be addressed as Mr. Miss or Mrs.! And of course, fans too like to be a part of the trends at Big W, by flocking to Henman Hill (a big screen viewing area) that was briefly named Murray Mountain, until Andy decided to get his name on the trophy rather than a fan zone for the nearly-made-it-but-couldn't-quite Tim Henman!

But despite all these little finicky fads and foibles, what Wimbledon has managed to do is straddle both sides perfectly. Never sacrificing tradition, but keeping up with the times. From retractable roofs (essential for the fickle and often foul British weather) to cutting-edge baseline technology, the modern trappings are all there neatly enmeshed within the finely cut blades of grass.

Also introduced in 2017, to keep Rufus company, is an elaborate artificial intelligence chatbot called "Ask Fred" (named after three-time Wimbledon Champion Fred Perry) that is a new age all-you-need-to-know guide to the Championships. Add to this augmented reality and automated highlights and the next gen package is complete.

Come mid-July (usually earlier; this year Wimbledon ended a fortnight later than normal) the All England Club goes back to being the sleepy English country club for another 10 months before the world descends for the annual extravaganza. Thanks to a one-year stint at the University of Roehampton immediately adjoining the Club, I have had the pleasure and privilege of visiting and playing on the outer courts (all show courts remain closed to everyone but Rufus and the lawnmowers) and while the feel is distinctly different from the buzz and bustle of the tournament fortnight, the charm of a hit on the hallowed grass is undeniable.

But for that fallow period it does bring alive the other traditional phrase oft heard at Wimbledon: QUIET PLEASE!

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