Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

'I still get shivers any time I go along to SW19'

Wimbledon is almost here and Sue Barker is back to head up the BBC's 90th spectacular year of coverage. The presenter lets Gemma Dunn in on her fondest memories to date

By Gemma Dunn

From the all-white kits and royal patrons through to the Pimm's, Wimbledon is a stickler for tradition. Every summer, come July, 39,000 spectators flood the grounds at any one time excited to catch the tennis action and, of course, scoff a bowl of its synonymous strawberries and cream (all 28 tonnes of them).

As for the millions of viewers at home, it's game, set and match for the BBC, which will this year celebrate 90 years of Wimbledon coverage. Holding court, the broadcaster will once again serve up an extensive multi-platform offering to ensure fans never miss a minute of the fabled tournament.

For presenter Sue Barker, who will anchor the TV exposure between Monday and July 16, the fixture has been a huge part of her life for the past five decades.

"Wimbledon is a special place for me in so many ways," says the former professional tennis player (61). "I feel privileged to have been such a big part of it over the years.

"I never dreamed when I was competing at the championships that I would one day be interviewing the winners on Centre Court for the BBC.

"I still get the shivers when I walk into the All England Lawn Tennis Club at the start of tournament and that will never change."

And with plenty of memories ready to reel off, Barker, who will also front a special documentary on the love of Wimbledon as part of the package, has no problems rounding up her all-time match highlights.

Murray ends British wait (2013)

"An obvious choice, but I make no apologies for that, because nothing else comes close to the afternoon when Andy Murray ended that 77-year drought for British men.

"I had worked on a documentary with Andy and his team before that year's Wimbledon and knew how much it meant to him, especially after losing in the final the previous year.

"I don't think I've ever felt so nervous watching someone serve out a tennis match. You could see how overwhelmed he was from the emotion - I don't think he knew where he was for a while just after he won.

"Quite simply, it was a privilege to watch."

Her first match on Centre Court (1976)

"I had grown up with Wimbledon and so to play on Centre Court really was a dream come true.

"I played the great Maria Bueno, who had won the title three times years before and was making a comeback.

"Walking onto that famous court and playing such an idol was terrifying and the first set, which I lost 6-2, seemed to go by in a haze.

"But I managed to relax a bit and eventually won in three to cap a very special day."

Goran Ivanisevic wins Monday final (2001)

"The 2001 tournament was the one that everyone felt Tim Henman could win and, who knows, if it hadn't been for the British weather, he might well have done.

"But the compensation for home fans was a truly unique final, played on the Monday in a very exuberant atmosphere.

"It was just destined to go to five sets. After three runners-up finishes, even Goran seemed unsure that he could finally win and, of course, that year he only got into the draw thanks to a wild card.

"He always wore his heart on his sleeve on court and seeing the mental agony etched on his face in the final games was almost too much to bear.

"Happily, the ecstasy soon followed."

Jana Novotna finally wins (1998)

"What most people probably remember about the 1993 final is not that Steffi Graf won, but that Jana Novotna lost.

"Watching the tearful Czech player being comforted by the Duchess of Kent after letting the title slip out of her fingers was heart-breaking and, being honest, most of us probably thought that her chance of winning the title had gone. But not Jana.

"Despite losing another final in 1997, the tears of despair turned to tears of joy when she beat Nathalie Tauziat in 1998. If it was a Hollywood script, you'd say it was implausible, but that's the magic of Wimbledon."

Federer becomes the greatest (2009)

"I could probably pick a dozen great Wimbledon moments involving Roger Federer. Who can forget the final against Rafa Nadal in 2008?

"But the year after that was also truly memorable, when Federer bounced back from that defeat to see off Andy Roddick 16-14 in the final set.

"It was a win that saw him reach 15 Grand Slam titles and move past Pete Sampras to become the most successful male player in history.

"Sampras, who had not been back to the All England Club since he retired five years previously, was watching in the royal box - a lovely touch, which epitomises the spirit of Wimbledon."

Borg v McEnroe tie-break (1980)

"No Wimbledon highlights shortlist could be complete without the epic fourth-set tie-break between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe.

"The ice-cool Swede against the volatile New Yorker, it was 20 minutes of unbelievable drama as McEnroe saved a clutch of match points before eventually taking the tie-break 18-16.

"It must have been such a blow to lose that, but Borg held his composure to take the final set and clinch his fifth title in a row.

"It's no wonder that tie-break became one of the most famous sporting moments of all time."

Sue Barker: Our Wimbledon, BBC1, tomorrow, 5.20pm. BBC coverage of the 2017 Championships starts on Monday

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