The problem with being a 13-time Grand Slam winner

Over the last five years it has been unthinkable, but could the final day of Wimbledon this year not feature Roger Federer? Here’s five reasons that suggest Rog may be watching the final like the rest of us this year.

1.    The tennis world has caught up

It’s April and Roger Federer hasn’t won a trophy yet. Most players would give their right arm to reach three semi-finals and a Grand Slam final before the clay court season has even begun but for Roger the bar is set higher. In 2009 he hasn’t been able to beat any of the three players  most likely to end his Wimbledon ambitions: Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. Murray in particular has been a thorn in Federer’s side, beating him twice this year.

2.    Roger doesn’t look like his cool  self

When Roger walked onto Centre Court at the start of last year’s Championships wearing a retro cardigan it spoke of a player comfortable in his position at the top of the game. Players unsure of themselves don’t invite attention by dressing in such a fashion. Fast forward to the player who couldn’t control his tears after losing the 2009 Australian Open final and fast forward again to the player who smashed his racket after losing in Miami and the one word you wouldn’t use to describe that player as “cool”.

3.    History is against him

In 2009 Federer will be chasing his seventh consecutive Wimbledon singles final. No player, ever, has reached the final that consistently since the challenger round was abolished. Pete Sampras’s seven titles were separated in 1996 when he failed to reach the final, and many would argue there were fewer challengers to Pistol Pete’s hegemony back then. Bjorn Borg, like Federer, lost his sixth Wimbledon final and never made a final again, losing his passion for the game and retiring.

4. Roger’s becoming a dad

Federer has announced that he and partner Mirka Vavrinec are expecting a baby “sometime” in the summer. If the baby is due at any stage during Wimbledon then nobody could expect the five-time winner to have his mind on the Championships but, more broadly, history suggests that fatherhood dulls a champion’s edge. Tennis dads have won only 10 of the last 115 Grand Slam titles. John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl and Stefan Edberg did not collect a major after becoming a father and only Jimmy Connors, who won three majors after the birth of his son, offers hope to Federer on the fatherhood front.

5.    He has no coach

Roger has been spectacularly successful without a traditional coach. But everything is easier when you’re winning and now an experienced coach could offer three things: he could help shoulder the burden of Federer’s lacklustre year, he could tell the world No.2 some uncomfortable truths about what parts of his game need improving and he could help devise some strategies to counter his opponents.

Kim Clijster’s comeback

(Bob Martin - Sports Illustrated)

Kim Clijsters at Wimbledon (Bob Martin - Sports Illustrated)

“I didn’t understand fully how tricky retirement would be. Every athlete will tell you, when they stop at a young age it is tough to find the kind of fulfilment you want. Some need to come out of retirement to find it, people get bored, they want to play at the level they once enjoyed - but that wasn’t me. I was never in it for the money, or the limelight. I played to win.” Pete Sampras

Sampras was 31 when he retired, with 14 Grand Slam titles to his name and nothing left to prove. Kim Clijsters is 25 and planning her comeback after a two-year retirement.

Despite the best wishes of the tennis world, the odds are monumentally stacked against her. Success has been elusive for tennis fathers, who have won just 10 of the last 115 Grand Slams, but for women it’s been about as common as Hailey’s comet. Evonne Goolagong was the last mother to win a Grand Slam when she collected the Wimbledon title in 1980; go back 66 years to find the previous Grand Slam-winning mother in Mrs R.L Chambers, also a Wimbledon winner.

Since Googalong, successful mothers on the women’s tour have been about as common as a grand slam-winner at your kid’s playgroup. We could find record of three mothers winning on tour: Sybille Bammer of Austria, Laura Arraya from Peru and 1999 Wimbledon Champion, Lindsay Davenport.

Clijsters said when she announced her return: “I am curious to see if life on tour with a family is possible. I think it is possible. I think I can make it as good for my daughter as it is for me. I think I can be successful.”

It depends on course on how you judge success. History suggests Clijsters has an uphill battle to win that elusive Wimbledon title, not impossible, but near to it.

“‘It is so much different this time around,” Davenport said on her return in 2008. “It seems like a second career and I think I enjoy it way much more than I used to.

“There is an incredible amount of down time but because I am so occupied with my son and taking care of him, there is no time to get bored. It is a lot more enriching and I have a lot more things to worry about than my tennis.”

Davenport is pregnant again and says she has no plans for a second comeback. She does, however, believe Clijsters will become a grand slam-winning mother. “Our games relied on two vastly different strengths. Mine was ballstriking and hitting winners,” Davenport told Espn. “I could play through not being as fit because I never relied on my foot speed, whereas she is so athletic and she’s so fast. I think she’ll be in a great position 18 months after her daughter’s born.”

Clijsters will be making her Wimbledon return at the Centre Court Celebration on May 17.

Inside the ball boy training camp

(© AELTC)

A ball boy in action at Wimbledon © AELTC

Every year in its Wimbledon montage, the BBC has a slow motion shot of the ‘ball change’ where the ball boy/girl opens a new can of tennis balls, upturns it, then pours the three balls onto the court and rolls them to another member of the team. It’s a simple yet beautiful movement, part of the theatre of The Championships. And like a Federer forehand or a Venus Williams serve, it’s easy to forget the practice that goes into making things look simple.

At the All England Club’s covered courts, Anne Rundle puts another group of potential ball boys and girls through their paces. In the office, Anne is the sweet lady who runs the ball boy/girl program. On court, she is the drill sergeant whipping into shape another batch of recruits.

Standing at attention, running on the spot, juggling to improve hand-eye co-ordination, marching practice, shuttle runs through cones, long rolling practice and theory exams. This is the unglamorous side to being a ball boy/girl. Once a week for two-and-a-half hours these 13 and 14 year olds are put their paces, learning the ball boy craft. In total 250 kids will be used during the two weeks.

Anne, and her surprisingly large support staff, are constantly assessing the kids, noting down their times and scores. Nothing is left to guesswork.

Anne and I talk while the kids are put through their paces. One girl is practicing her long rolls causing Anne to wince. “If that girl doesn’t start rolling them straight I’m going to have to yell at her myself”.

Barbara Richardson, on the Wimbledon facebook page, says “the thing that makes them stand out above other ball girls/boys is their stance, rather like dancers.” Presentation is something Anne works hard on. “They are the first thing people see, so they set the scene”.

A lot of people, from all over the world, contact Anne wanting to be a ball boy or girl. They may have second thoughts if they had to do the training. Like being a player on the grass at Wimbledon, being a ball boy/girl is a dream for most and, for the few who actually do it, it has been a lot of hard work to get there.

Follow this link for all the information about becoming becoming a ball boy or girl and the history of the role at Wimbledon can be found at

The new roof on Centre Court

Centre Court Retractable Roof

Centre Court Retractable Roof

Roofs aren’t things you think about very often. They do their job largely unnoticed and if they do their job properly you don’t even know they are there. Today I have spent a lot of time thinking about roofs, particularly the one over the four walls of Centre Court.

The first thing that struck me as the journalists were taken for the first time onto Centre Court with the roof closed, was the noise. Aside from a few hushed whispers there was no noise, but it was easy to imagine the rain pelting the fabric roof as 15,000 fans yell, scream and clap themselves into a frenzy.

Somehow Centre Court is bigger yet it feels smaller and more intimate. I think with the roof on, the place will really give fans goose bumps.

My other favourite moment from today’s press launch involved All England Lawn Tennis Club chairman Tim Phillips answering a question about whether Wimbledon will ever be played on a surface other than grass.

“The game is lawn tennis. We have got the inclination, the time and the resources to prepare the grass properly. I think it is extremely important we remember our heritage and support grass,” Phillips said. “Players are complaining about wear and tear on hard courts and there are already a load of tournaments on clay.”

The other fifty weeks

What happens at Wimbledon when there’s no tennis?

It’s a question I’m often asked. Wimbledon only lasts for two weeks during the summer but we’re here all year round. The day after the men’s final we’re back working towards the next year’s tournament.

This is a blog that will give you an insight into the other 50 weeks of the year when there’s no Wimbledon. We’ll be posting about what goes on behind the scenes at the All England Club, as well as discussing latest news about Wimbledon, talking about the history of The Championships and discussing what’s happening in the world of tennis.

We’ll be here during The Championships as well, but for up-to-date scores, news and information during the tournament, visit www.wimbledon.org.