Belfast Telegraph

Serving up a treat ahead of Wimbledon season

Get the strawberries and cream ready, it’s all about to kick off in London. Ahead of Wimbledon next week, Ed Power has the complete guide to the drama on and off the court

Summer wouldn't be summer without Wimbledon. Some of the world's biggest celebrities - and the occasional tennis star - will descend upon the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in south-west London from Monday for two weeks of racket-based excitement.

But what's that? You're a Wimbledon newbie, unable to tell a flying Federer from a nifty Nadal? Fret not. We've compiled the ultimate guide for those who think Venus and Serena are popular brands of ladies' razors. Allow us to serve up our tips on all the intrigue on and off the court.

The starry guests

Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle have made frequent appearances at Wimbledon. The Duchess of Cambridge is its Patron, and it will be interesting to see if she attends this year.

She is on maternity leave, and has only taken part in two royal engagements since the birth of Prince Louis - the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan, and Trooping the Colour.

It may raise eyebrows if she made it to the royal box but declined to do any further duties - and, besides, after the birth of Princess Charlotte, she made do with watching the tournament on TV.

Wimbledon has long been irresistible to the A-list. Back in the day, Jack Nicholson and Mick Jagger were regulars, and in 1996 Cliff Richard famously entertained the crowd after a quarter-final was suspended because of rain.

Beyonce famously caught one of Serena Williams' games in 2016 before flying to Dublin for her Croke Park show. Sure to be in attendance this year is David Beckham, a Wimbledon regular who often brings his kids. 

If you do happen to be asked to the royal box - relax, the invite is probably still in the post - take care to dress appropriately. In 2015, Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton was denied entry on the grounds that his trilby hat would obscure the views from the row behind.

The contenders

The days of combustible personalties such as John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Boris Becker are long gone. Becker, it is true, is currently in the middle of a controversy over his assertion that he's been appointed to the diplomatic service of the Central African Republic (a surprise to the Central African Republic, apparently). But you won't find that sort of furore anywhere near Centre Court. Instead, the current crop of players is polite and professional.

In contention for the men's title are 2017 champion Roger Federer (nice, a bit boring), Rafael Nadal (nice, a bit boring) and, assuming he recovers from injury, Andy Murray (nice, a bit boring, Scottish).

Favourites among the women competitors, meanwhile, include Garbine Muguruza (winner in 2017), Caroline Wozniacki, and Simona Halep - none of whom you will see staggering out of a club at 3am.

The feuds

Tennis players don't always get along. In 2016 cuddly Andy Murray parted company from his coach Amelie Mauresmo, who described him as "complex" (quite a diss in the understated world of tennis).

The 2013 event, meanwhile, saw a clash between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, the latter taking exception to Williams' assertion that she was "boring". "If Serena wants to talk about something personal, she should talk about her relationship and her boyfriend, who was married, who is getting a divorce and who has kids, and not draw attention to other things," she responded.

The big talking point ahead of the current championship is the manner in which prize money is distributed. The All England Tennis Club has a new restriction aimed at discouraging first round withdrawals in the men's and women's singles. It's all quite technical, yet has sparked a fierce debate within the sport.

In one area, though, the competition is above reproach. With the battle for equal pay ongoing, Wimbledon is to be commended. The winners of the men and women's singles each receive the same sum of £2.2m out of a total prize kitty of approximately £35m.

The style

The playing courts of Wimbledon are no place for the natural-born exhibitionist. All England Tennis Club rules decree players must wear all white (they are also required to bow to the royal box).

Officials thus had their knickers in a twist in 2007 when Tatiana Golovin opted for red underwear. She got off on a technicality as the undies did not go below the hemline.

Golovin shrugged off the fuss. "They say that red is the colour that proves you are strong, and that you are confident. I'm happy with my knickers."

The weather 

Wimbledon will start under blazing blue skies, with opening day temperatures predicted to exceed 26C. Nothing puts a dampener on a carnival of tennis like an unexpected deluge and the terrifying possibility of Cliff Richard bursting into song.  

The Northern Irish/Republic of Ireland connection

Belfast-born Claire Curran (now 40) got her first real taste of the tournament in 1996, when she played at junior Wimbledon. Eight years later Claire (left) made the main draw for the first time.

"I can't even find words to describe how that felt or what it meant to me," she later recalled.

"It was like everything I had worked toward was finally coming together and all the years of hard work had paid off.

"Walking out on to that court was like a dream for me and something I will never forget. Nor will I ever take getting the opportunity to play there for granted - it simply meant the world to me."

Her only regret is that she felt overwhelmed by where she was and it affected her play. Still, she made the draw for the following three years and played against some of the big names, including her idol Martina Navratilova and the Williams sisters.

You have to go back a few years (to 1890) for the last Irish success at the event. That was the year Kildare man Willoughby Hamilton, who had a moustache almost as impressive as his name, won the championship.

Also in 1890, Tipperary's Lena Rice claimed the ladies' title, and Wicklow/Dublin duo Joshua Pim and Frank Stoker (cousin of Bram) the men's doubles.

Hamilton, in particular, was quite the all-rounder. He represented Ireland at soccer and cricket, although he retired from sport aged 25 with suspected blood poisoning. 

The all-time greats

A win at Wimbledon is essential if a player is to be considered part of the tennis pantheon.

Greats include cucumber-cool Bjorn Borg, who won five consecutive titles from 1976 to 1980 before being unseated by great rival - and temperamental opposite - McEnroe in 1981.

In the women's game, meanwhile, Billy Jean King was 22 when she claimed her inaugural Wimbledon title in 1966, finally bowing out in 1983 at age 39. She would later be eclipsed by Steffi Graf, winner of seven titles between 1988 and 1996, and Navratilova, winner of a record nine Wimbledons between 1978 and 1990. 

The upsets

Tennis is a ruthless sport, and plucky hopefuls rarely exceed expectations. Still, Wimbledon has seen its share of surprises. Boris Becker was an unheard-of 17-year-old when he won his first Wimbledon in 1985.

As recently as 2015, high-flyer Rafael Nadal was dumped out by Dustin Brown, a player outside the top 100, while in 2002 all-conquering Pete Sampras was sent packing by George Basti, then ranked 145 in the world.  

The tickets

Tickets for Wimbledon 2018 are available through Ticketmaster. Several hundred are held in reserve for Centre Court and go on sale the day before play. For those who've already made the trek, a limited quantity of tickets also go on sale the day of play at Wimbledon itself, on a first come, first serve basis (hence the queue).

For those who can't afford to spend a fortnight larking about south London, the BBC is covering the tournament. All the major matches up to the men's singles final on July 15 can be watched live or online.

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