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Clare Balding serves up a big loser at Wimbledon

By Billy Weir

If you listen carefully, the muffled guffaws of John Inverdale can still be heard echoing around SW19 in the late evening.

Inverdale, of course, got the heave-ho (or stood down to take up other opportunities) after his less than politically correct views uttered about Marion Bartoli a couple of years ago with the Beeb airlifting in Clare Balding this year and turning the show from Today at Wimbledon to Wimbledon 2Day. Genius.

Balding seemed to be a safer bet at Wimbledon than a daft middle-aged woman from the Home Counties who really should know better than turning up in a Tam O Shanter and yelling manically for Andy Murray, but you can't take anything for granted these days.

However, the flak Balding has received makes Inverdale's look like a drop shot in the ocean, although to be fair she wasn't helped in week one with the producers deciding to decamp the operation to The Gatsby Club, a leafy corporate idyll, which, it turns out, wasn't great.

Perched precariously on stools surrounded by chattering fans and desperately pawing at her iPad for anyone to Tweet in a question while half listening to what the assorted tennis types were saying, for once the darling of the airwaves looked about as comfortable as John Inverdale at a meeting of the Bartoli Club.

By Monday night it was all change, The Gatsby Club was handed back to the toffs, no more lazy, cringeworthy evenings in a lace-lined gazebo, it was back to the future as she was transported to the traditional perch overlooking Wimbledon and a welcome return to the format of allowing tennis folk to tell us about the day's play after some highlights. It'll never catch on.

She has largely been saved by John McEnroe, who, let's face it, could make a BBCNI comedy watchable, but critics are still volleying abuse at Balding for her apparent lack of tennis knowledge.

She hasn't been great but Sue Barker knows loads about tennis, has been there since before strawberries met cream and still giggles like a schoolgirl trapped in a lift with One Direction. And let's not forget Balding used to present rugby league or did I miss the stellar career she had with St Helens?

The problem is that she's suffering from a tradition even more British than Wimbers itself - the girl has done too well and it's time for her to be taken down a peg or two.

It remains to be seen whether, like facing an Ivo Karlovic service game, she can survive this barrage. I have no doubt she can but she hasn't exactly been helped by the Beeb.

"We said from the outset that Wimbledon 2Day would evolve throughout the Championship," said a spokesperson - nice to see Alan Partridge has got a new job. They may evolve but will they revolve and bring back Inverdale to the role?

Doubtful. The Beeb stick to their guns and never, never, never react in a ham-fisted and ill-thought out way when getting rid of one of their biggest TV successes. Expect Chris Evans to take over at Wimbledon any day now.

Belfast Telegraph


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