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Donkin's World: Tennis At The Grass Roots - While It Lasts

Richard Donkin harbours gloomy thoughts about the future of Wimbledon tennis.

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If I was a blade of grass at Wimbledon I would be worried about something a little more radical than a haircut in a year or two. In fact Iíd be quaking right down to my shallow root system.

That big sliding roof that blotted out the sun during this year's championship after a few droplets of rain must have been as welcome as a nuclear winter to those pampered, tightly packed little sods that comprise the last lawn tennis venue on the grand slam circuit.

The roof is great if itís keeping off the rain. That is what it was built for at a cost of £80m. I have to repeat that - £80m. Thatís £80m for a roof the size of a tennis court. If I had been quoted £100,000 I would have blanched, but £80m. You could get.....well you could get Ronaldo for that. Roof/Ronaldo/roof/Ronaldo.....not an easy one.

Or you could buy a good sized island somewhere warm with sandy beaches and frigate birds. Eighty million quid for a bloody roof? Theyíre having us on. The more I say it, the less I can see it. I mean, what would have been wrong with a big ridge pole with a tarpaulin slung over and a couple of gutters? Wouldnít that have done the trick? I wonder how the All England Club did the deal? I suspect it was with a few arms twisted behind backs after the TV networks sent in the heavy mob. There must have been coercion somewhere along the line.

"You buy that roof, OK? And the first time you get the chance, if thereís so much as a gnatís whoopsy falls out of the sky, you close it and you keep it closed."

I donít like the roof one bit, but then Iím an old curmudgeon who still has his wooden Slazenger racquet and who has never quite got over the day-glow tennis balls. But this roof is the slippery slope, not to mention a slippery court that is bound to handicap our man more than theirís. It always does.

You just wait; a few more wet evenings and the grass will begin to cut up, just as it did at Wembley. Then they will fire the groundsman just like they did at Wembley and, when that fails to improve anything, the players will complain. Finally the unthinkable will happen and the grass will go, replaced by clay, and some will say; ďWhy didnít we do this years ago?

Advertising will crowd the court, the military ushers will be replaced by nightclub bouncers and the Royal Box will be stuffed with rappers and DJs sporting a constellation of bling, blinding the servers under the floodlights. The ball boys and girls will be issued with skateboards and scoops and Cliff Richard will be shunted deep in to the stands, safely out of sight of the cameras.

Theyíll hire a man in a Womble suit to tour the court and when Andy Murray enters, a kilted piper will play him on to the court as the crowd hum through their noses, flap their elbows and sing the words to the Scotts Porridge Oats advert. Roger Federer meanwhile will glide on to the court like Fred Astaire in a fancy white designer suit. Sorry, Iím running away with myself now. Itís not going to happen.


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