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'Every single day at Wimbledon is like a real pinch-me moment'

As former British champion Andrew Castle returns to the tennis commentary box, he tells Georgia Humphreys why children should be more active - and reveals who he thinks will take home the winners' trophies

When a teenage Andrew Castle laid eyes on Centre Court for the first time, the beauty of it "hit him like a brick".

Decades after that memorable visit to Wimbledon with his mum, the former British tennis champion finds being inside the iconic club still has the same impact as he returns to the BBC commentary box for Wimbledon 2018.

"Every single day it's exactly the same - it's a pinch-me moment," says Surrey-born Castle (54), who has commentated on more than a dozen tennis finals.

"Wimbledon is an amazing event. It's not just the familiarity of it on the television or radio... that court and the whole club, it flowers, it blossoms, and then it goes to sleep. I'm lucky enough to see it go through these phases."

For Castle - also famous for presenting GMTV for 10 years - the story of the summer is the return of Briton Andy Murray following a year out.

The double Wimbledon champion, who has been recovering from an operation on his right hip earlier this year, has been drawn to play Frenchman Benoit Paire in the first round.

Castle can empathise with Murray's injury struggles, having had the same hip surgery when he was younger.

"It's difficult to feel sorry for great sportsmen who are celebrated and are well-off, who have a happy and settled family life and a beautiful new baby," says the commentator, who reached one Grand Slam final, the 1987 Australian Open mixed doubles, in his career.

"It's not a question of feeling sorry for them. It's just that when something is taken away that you love, you mourn it, you grieve, and that's definitely the case with a sports career.

"I think Andy Murray feels that there is still business to be done, and he loves playing."

When it comes to the favourite to win the men's final, which takes place on Sunday, July 15, former British number one Castle says "Federer" without any hesitation.

"But you might want to pick somebody from Croatia," he suggests, "because they had the most phenomenal week last week, with (Marin) Cilic winning at Queen's and (Borna) Coric, he beat Federer in Halle."

Meanwhile, Serena Williams (above right), who is back playing after giving birth to her first child in September, is the first name Castle mentions when we discuss the women's title.

"Take a look at her record... it's going to be really hard for someone to beat her, despite her only playing three tournaments in a whole year," he insists.

Neither of Castle's two daughters, who are in their 20s, have played sport professionally - Georgina has just finished playing Sophie in Mamma Mia! in the West End while her younger sister, Claudia, works in sports administration.

But they always had "great fun" playing tennis as a family while on holiday together.

"We have to get young women active," insists Castle, who married wife Sophia in 1991.

"And young men too. We're so woefully inactive in Britain. I do not understand our attitude towards physical education."

In the past, some people have called tennis out for being elitist (including Murray's mum, tennis coach Judy). When Castle is asked why the sport isn't played more in comprehensives, he quips: "Well, let's be honest, what sports are played in comprehensives?

"I know schools are under pressure, but we've all been children - if you exercise, you perform better in all aspects.

"I just think physical education is part of a balanced upbringing.

"It doesn't have to be drudgery and horrible - it should be joyful just to learn about your body."

We move on to a topic Castle feels more positive about - how tennis is leading the way for gender equality.

"Sport is the most merit-based activity there is," he says. "It's quite simply win or lose. It's nobody's judgement.

"Female athletes in tennis are some of the most celebrated and endorsed sports people in the world, as they should be. You should be paid according to what you achieve, and in tennis men and women are paid the same. That can't be a bad thing."

However, Castle says there are still some questions surrounding the issue of equal pay.

"The commercial aspect of these things has to be looked at as well," he explains.

"Men's tennis does better than women's tennis when it comes to broadcast rights and the amount of money. Yet, the prize money is the same."

What everyone can agree on, though, is this - it's clear Castle relishes his time in the commentary box, where he sits alongside American tennis great John McEnroe.

One of his happiest memories of the job involves him and McEnroe eating sandwiches together in the sunshine before a game featuring Federer.

"We found ourselves with 20 minutes just to relax, and we sat there in silence looking out on centre court. No commentary, no players, we were just waiting. And I looked at him and said, 'I'm having a great time', and he said, 'Me too'.

"To be allowed in the centre court commentary box the first time was amazing to me, and then to sit there for the final, it's such a privilege."

Wimbledon coverage is on BBC One and BBC Two from today onwards, and also on BBC Radio 5 Live, Red Button and online

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