There has always been something rather special about Wimbledon. After over five decades as President of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, I thought I knew that better than most, and yet, as I arrived at those hallowed courts once more last Monday, I was struck by the electricity in the air, as if it were my very first visit.
Perhaps that is part of the beauty of the Championship; that no matter how many times we take our seats, every visit is as exhilarating, and nerve wracking, as the last. You know what to expect, and yet, anything could happen.
What has become clear over the past fortnight is how much we have all missed shared experiences such as these. The suspension of last year’s tournament was the first of its kind since the Second World War, and so I must applaud all those at the AELTC who have worked so hard to ensure Wimbledon can be enjoyed safely this summer.
It was humbling to be joined in the stands last week by NHS employees and by those who have created the COVID-19 vaccine. Without their tireless efforts, none of us would have had the opportunity to gather as we have done, and we owe all of them our eternal thanks.
When we talk about the spirit of Wimbledon, we say that it is always changing, yet always staying the same. Apart from my time serving overseas, I don’t believe I’ve missed a single Wimbledon. This year, as I prepare to present my last Trophy as President on Sunday, I feel incredibly fortunate to have witnessed its evolution.
Yes, there are new courts, two new roofs, a museum, and certainly far more screens, but those familiar staples remain – the whites, the strawberries, and of course, the unalterably high standards. But the game itself gets more exciting every year, as players reach ever higher levels of excellence and embrace the new technology - even the Hawk-Eye, on which so much can now hinge. It has been enthralling to watch.
For my wife and I to have shared in even a small part of the triumphant highs and agonising lows of Wimbledon’s champions and competitors has been a privilege.
For my wife and I to have shared in even a small part of the triumphant highs and agonising lows of Wimbledon’s champions and competitors has been a privilege. There’s a distinct sense of pride, that this quintessentially British tournament is the grail for athletes young and old, the world over. More than any other Championship, they all want to win Wimbledon, and it’s this determination that has driven those endless hours of solitary practice. You can see it on the face of every competitor, and hear it in the reverent hush as the match begins. As spectators, we are united in our respect for the discipline that has got them this far.
Unlike other sports, where supporting your own country is the norm, any player who graces these courts in this corner of SW can capture the hearts of the crowd. Although, of course, it never hurts to have a British player competing for the title! Few could forget the suspense as we prayed for Sir Andy Murray’s first Wimbledon victory in 2013, and the explosion when he became the first British man to win the Singles title in over seventy years.
As President, I know that every point won is worthy of recognition, but as a fan, even I have my tournament highlights. The first trophy I ever presented as President was to Rod Laver, following his astonishing win in 1969, securing his fourth Wimbledon title. Since then, there have been too many edge-of-seat moments to count. And yet I cannot help but think of 2007, and the then four-time defending champion Federer taking on Nadal – a masterclass on both sides, and some of the best tennis I’ve ever seen. Several sets in, I still could not predict a winner. Federer took the trophy that day, but as we know, Nadal had his moment the next year, and not for the last time.
It has been an honour to serve this remarkable organisation for as long as I have. The Presidency of the Club was held by both of my parents, and the weight of representing an institution that holds such a unique place in our nation’s fabric has not been lost on me. To say I will miss it, is an understatement.
For now, though, we can all look forward to what is already an historic weekend in British sport. Our Wimbledon finalists are ready for one last push, and any of them would be deserving of the prizes they are fighting for. But having previously served as the President of the Football Association for nearly 30 years, my thoughts will also be with the England squad at Wembley, and hoping against hope that it is indeed “coming home”.