The millionaire Arthur Scargills of Wimbledon are sure to lose

Ian Wooldridge

Last updated at 00:00 25 June 2003


OUR ANNUAL summer neurosis about Tim Henman's chances of winning Wimbledon was revived yesterday when the dear boy played frightfully well in the fourth set to beat a Mr Zib from somewhere in the former Czechoslovakia and ranked 154 in the world.

For this, Tim pocketed enough to pay for the family groceries until circa 2005, but the real prize day will be on Sunday week when the winner of the men's singles will pick up Pounds 575,000.

Forget that. If he wins, it will be worth minimally another Pounds 5million in commercial contracts and endorsements.

A few of our courageous firemen, whose pay after a bitter fight has recently been increased from Pounds 23,000 to Pounds 27,000 a year for racing up ladders over terrifying conflagrations, may find this rather irritating, as will some teachers, doctors, nurses, university students and earnest young couples who can't even get a toenail into the home-owning market.

To be realistic, I don't begrudge true sporting superstars their enormous earnings. Among them are wonderful entertainers, dedicating themselves to performances that the rest of us can only dream about, but ever in danger of the catastrophic injury even death in some sports - that can obliterate their careers in a trice.

What tends to irk me is when a bunch of nondescripts latch on to the coattails of their betters to launch a greed campaign. Thus on Monday morning, the opening day of Wimbledon, we awoke to headlines that some 100 male members of the Association of Tennis Professionals were threatening to strike for even more money from the four Grand Slam tournaments.

No show at Wimbledon next year, they warned, if our demands are not met.

We'll run our own tournament simultaneously. Arthur Scargill lives.

All bluster, no result. Why, 70 of the 100 militants are so insignificant that none but the most anorak tennis fans has ever heard of them.

Go ahead, chaps, and try it. Wimbledon survived worse threats than this during the transition from amateurism to professionalism in the 1970s. It won without batting an eyelid.

You have to understand one thing about Wimbledon. If the men's final were to be contested between two chimpanzees, the Centre Court would still be packed to the rafters. If one of them happened to be born British, you'd have to pay Pounds 1,000 for a blackmarket seat.

Run along, gentlemen, and don't get ideas above your station. Wimbledon will still be here long after you have retired to your rocking chairs.

How sad to see the Aussies suffer

LET ME be the first to congratulate our colonial cousins on a superlative three days for Australian sport.

In Melbourne, their rugby team played out of their skulls to restrict England's victory margin to a mere 25-14. At Wimbledon, Lleyton Hewitt needed only 19 minutes to take the first set 6-1 off a Croatian Goliath twice his size before going down three sets to one.

Even these prodigious performances were outshone by a horse. On Saturday, brilliantly ridden by an Irish jockey and dismissing all notions of jet lag after a 32-hour flight from Down Under, Choisir won its second race at the Royal Ascot meeting.

Almost unheard of.

If you detect a faint note of sarcasm here, it is because during 40 years and 27 visits to Australia, I have endured the suffocating patronisation of that hugely patriotic country when Australia have beaten England at anything from Test cricket to darts. I became so exasperated at the self-congratulatory hysteria of Australia's most eminent radio sports commentator during the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane that I wrote a less than flattering column about this oneeyed buffoon.

Regrettably, it was reprinted in Australia. Regrettably because it was swiftly pointed out that the poor chap actually had lost one eye in an accident. Normal relations, as ever in Australia, were repaired over a bottle of scotch.

Be that as it may, Australians take sporting defeat as a personal insult.

It is why, until recent days, it has been, per capita, the most successful sporting nation on earth.

It is also why Clive Woodward, manager of the first England rugby team ever to beat Australia in a Test match on their own soil, has been awarded the highest accolade that its Press can confer.

'Woodward,' they say, 'is the new Jardine.' Douglas Jardine, actually a Scot, remains the most hated sporting opponent ever to declare war, l e t a l o n e z e r o tolerance, on Australia. He was the architect of Bodyline, the brutality of which smashed Australia, Bradman included, to defeat in 1932-33.

It remains the most controversial Test cricket series ever played.

Ironically, the comparison between the two men could not be more incongruous.

Woodward, a mild-looking man with a vituperative tongue, readily engaged Australia's coach, Eddie Jones, in a war of words before last Saturday's match.

Jardine, a Wykehamist, played the role of an aristocrat utterly bored by having to visit a convict colony. Approached by journalists to name England's team before the first Test match, he replied: 'I never speak to the Press. In fact, I never speak to Australians.' Long may this glorious relationship between our two countries prevail.

Bradman's baggy green sold at last for Pounds 32,250

I HAVE received a couple of hate-mail messages implying I have written that Christie's, the London auctioneers, were trying to pull a fast one in selling Sir Donald Bradman's 1946-47 baggy green cricket cap, the provenance of which has caused much controversy.

One actually impugned that I had never spoken to Keith Miller, Bradman's great Australian all-rounder contemporary, who had actually changed caps with Bradman, or that, if I had, I deliberately distorted what Miller, a long-time friend, told me.

Be off, sir, unless you want to become entangled in further and potentially expensive discussions.

My friend at Christie's rang me yesterday to say that the cap had been sold to an Australian collector for a perfectly

satisfactory Pounds 35,250.

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