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Annabel Croft: 'Wimbledon is still the ace of all tennis grand slams'

As she resumes her hosting duties, Annabel Croft explains why everyone should give tennis a go. By Taylor Heyman

Annabel Croft is back at Wimbledon as part of the BBC's commentary team this year - and can't wait for it to start: "It's always really exciting."

Of course, she has first-hand experience of what it's like being part of the action too. At just 15, Annabel became the youngest person from the UK to compete in the Championships for 95 years - and, at 18, became a junior champion at the iconic tournament in 1984.

Now aged 50, the mum-of-three is still a member of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club and regularly goes there to play. Here's what she loves most about Wimbledon.

1. The grass courts

"The smell is amazing. I've been playing on the grass courts down there, and it's such a beautiful sight, seeing green grass courts, because there's a lot of concrete and plastic in life, isn't there?

"When you get on a grass court, there's something very pure about it, and very close to nature," says Annabel. "And the way they cut the grass, they've got these pristine lines going down them, which are just perfection."

2. The manicured grounds

"Another thing about Wimbledon, which lots of foreigners who have gone to the other grand slams really notice, is the planting around the grounds. It's all done in the most beautiful flowers, which are all in keeping with the colour scheme - dark green and purple.

"You never see wires hanging out of a building or something looking unpainted or unkempt, everything is absolutely up to scratch. That's how they run the championships, so when you see the outside, the inner workings of the tournament are in the same vein."

3. The all-white dress-code

"I cover the tour from January to November and all-white is rather unusual. I really liked it, but fashion has moved on a lot since the days I played, there's so much more glamour in the women's game now.

"But I think most players would say even though they enjoy wearing what they wear on the tour the rest of the year, and it's all multi-coloured and quite daring, I think they love to wear all-white at Wimbledon. It seems to go with the grass courts. There's something special about it."

4. The fashions

"Fashion has always been an important part of Wimbledon's history and it's nice that it's kept up," says Annabel. "Teddy Tinling was extremely well-known for his designs for Virginia Wade, Billie Jean King, and Gussie Moran's frilly knickers. I think it went through a fairly boring stage after that and now it's come back with a vengeance.

"Venus and Serena Williams almost take evening wear onto a tennis court, with the level of detail and fabrics and design. Venus wore a dress one year which was almost like a Charleston dress, in layers with fringing. It was honestly one of the most beautiful dresses I have ever seen, it was breathtaking."

5. Strawberries and cream

"You can't mention Wimbledon without saying strawberries and cream; I think everybody would feel that it's part of it, you have to have them. Strawberries are one of my most favourite puddings in the world and the cream is really yummy - I can't have it without the cream.

"Even when I'm working at the championship doing the commentary, I usually get some strawberries and cream for lunch. It's hard not to because you see them all there. I know they're expensive, but they are delicious."

6. Centre Court atmosphere

"I always feel like Centre Court is like a cathedral, even when the tournament's not on. It's got this kind of echoey sound of all the epic, five-set thrillers and great gladiators that have been out there on that court. You can almost hear the crowds, the points being played and the score being called.

"It conjures up so many emotions and I think tennis has taken people on a roller coaster ride of emotion over the years. It's had them on the edge of their seats, and that's why people take two weeks off work to go and watch Wimbledon. You can feel the history when you walk out there," adds Annabel. "It's almost like, Oh my God, it's been over 100 years of people playing matches on this court, all the great scenarios and scenes and battles, and winners and losers. It's just an amazing place."

Annabel Croft is part of the BBC Sport team for Wimbledon 2017. Coverage of The Championships is on BBC TV, radio and online everyday until July 16

Belfast Telegraph


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