Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Wimbledon: 1980s A to Z

With the start of Wimbledon this week, I turned my attentions to the tournament I grew up watching in the 1980s. There were so many great players, matches and highlights in this particular decade, that my indecision over which year to cover in my blog led me to compiling my very own 1980s A to Z of Wimbledon.

You may not agree with some or all of my choices, there are bound to be entries that I have missed out, but below are my personal memories of the tournament from 1980-1989:

A is for Alan Mills

Appointed tournament referee in 1983, summers did not feel complete until Alan Mills had been spotted peering anxiously at the heavens during the Wimbledon fortnight. If the weather didn't give Mills enough headaches, then the sight of a simmering McEnroe beckoning him on to court at random intervals must have made him wonder why he had taken on the job in the first place. But come rain and shine, Mills remained in his role for over twenty years, and was an integral part of the tournament.

B is for Borg/McEnroe

One of the defining sporting rivalries of all time, the beginning of the decade witnessed a couple of classic battles between the cool Swede and the hot-headed American, including their classic fourth set tie break in 1980, won 18-16 by McEnroe after 22 minutes of nerve-shredding drama. Borg would have the final say in that first final, McEnroe prevailing in the second a year later, his victory spelling the end of Borg's 41-match unbeaten run at Wimbledon, and with it the end of an era.

C is for Connors

When people often bemoan the lack of characters in modern sport, then one name often cited from a halcyon era is Jimmy Connors. Coupled with his undoubted X-Factor, Connors was a formidable player in the early 1980s in particular, beating McEnroe in the 1982 final, losing to the same man in 1984, and reaching four semi-finals in all during a decade in which he entertained us all royally.

However, perhaps one of his greatest achievements occurred in 1987: trailing by two sets and 4-1 in the third, a 34-year-old Connors looked down and out against Sweden's Mikael Pernfors. But through both an indomitable spirit and his force of personality, Connors ground his way back into the match, taking the third set 7-5, and putting us through it once more by falling 3-0 down in the fourth, before pulling off an amazing five-set victory. It was a win that showed the size of the Connors' heart as much as anything else, and a match that will live long in my memory.

D is for Doubles

Even from a very young age I knew that British tennis was not in a very healthy state, hardly ideal for a child searching for a hero to latch on to in the sport. Year after year the likes of John Lloyd, Jo Durie, Annabel Croft, and Jeremy Bates would struggle to keep the British end up, so when any chance of glory hunting came my way, I wasn't particularly fussy about how it arrived.

Three times in the eighties I celebrated British wins at Wimbledon in doubles events. Firstly, Lloyd helped Wendy Turnbull win the mixed doubles in 1983 and 1984, and in 1987 came my Wimbledon highlight of the decade, when Bates and Durie also claimed the title. Yes, that is how desperate I was for any British success, and I will be forever grateful for those few crumbs of comfort dished out during a disappointing period for the sport in my homeland.

E is for Evert/Evert-Lloyd

The darling of the centre court, Chris Evert (or Chris Evert-Lloyd after her marriage to British player John Lloyd) was in many ways the polar opposite of her great rival Martina Navratilova. By 1988, Evert must have been sick and tired of Navratilova's reign at Wimbledon, losing five times in their singles clashes during the eighties - including three finals and two semis - and in any other era she would have added plenty of titles to her CV. Even when Evert did manage to get one over on Navratilova in the 1980 semi-final, she then proceeded to lose the final to Evonne Goolagong Cawley. How unfair.

F is for Fashion

Of course we all know now that the 1980s was not the greatest decade in terms of fashion. But what could go wrong on a tennis court at SW19? Quite a lot.

Anne White's first round match against fellow American Pam Shriver in 1985 would not ordinarily have gained much media attention, but as soon as White took her tracksuit off to reveal an all-in-one white bodysuit, the sound of cameras clicking started to get louder and louder. Worn originally to keep her body warm and to restrict any air resistance, White was later surprised at the fuss her outfit caused: "I had no idea it would be so controversial." During an inevitable rain delay, referee Alan Mills metamorphosed into the parent of a teenage daughter, telling White that she had to change into something more appropriate.

White didn't go out wearing the Lycra suit again, but she did exit the tournament, losing to Shriver in three sets.

G is for Germans

You know what it is like. You wait a lifetime for your country to win a Wimbledon singles title, and then five titles come along at once. West Germany had never won the men's trophy, and the last time they had won the women's silver salver was in 1931 (Cilly Aussem, since you ask), until the mid to late eighties were upon us, and a couple of youngsters arrived on the scene.

Boris Becker's 1985 win as a 17-year-old unseeded player was a breath of fresh air to the sport, and he proved it was no fluke, as he successfully defended his title. Peter Doohan would do for Becker in 1987, but German hopes were carried all the way to the women's final, where an 18-year-old Steffi Graf narrowly lost to Martina Navratilova. Graf gained revenge in 1988 however, one part of her golden slam that year, yet in 1989 things got even better for Germany, as the duo won their respective titles at Wimbledon, the Berlin Wall came down, and David Hasselhoff sung to mark this historic occasion. You can't have it all I guess.

H is for Here comes the rain again

Believe it or not, it used to rain just as much in the 1980s. The 1988 men's final - won by Stefan Edberg - was the first in 66 years to finish on a Monday, due to yet another fine British summer, and in 1989 both the men's and women's finals were both played on the Sunday because of the same reason.

And just look at the weather in this BBC montage of the 1985 event.

I is for Ivan Lendl

Seven of Lendl's eight grand slam titles were won in the eighties, but infamously the one that always alluded him was the Wimbledon singles. Runner-up to Becker in 1986, the path to glory seemed open the following year when the German made an early exit, only for an inspired Pat Cash to prevent the Czech from losing the tag of one of the best players never to have won Wimbledon.

J is for Johnny Come Latelys

You know the score; after watching a few matches at the start of the tournament, you get the urge to dust off the racquet, buy some tennis balls, and pop down to your local concrete court - smashed glass and all - in an attempt to become the superstar of British tennis. The only problems are that a) the rest of the world has had the same idea and it takes two hours to get on a court and b) you slowly begin to realise that Becker, McEnroe, Navratilova and Graf make this game look easy, and you're a poor player at best.

Then mysteriously, the craze fades, and the racquet goes back into the shed for another year....

K is for Kids

Not the youngsters, such as Cash and Edberg who won both the juniors and men's singles at Wimbledon, I am talking about those lucky few that were chosen to be ball boys and ball girls at Wimbledon. I wanted to be dashing around in a smart purple and green kit, rubbing shoulders with the tennis stars of the day. Of course, when you get older, you realise that a lot of training is involved, and it isn't as glamorous as you first imagined, and you don't even go to school in the local area, so you turn your attentions to becoming a tennis legend instead.

Of course, when you get older, you realise that a lot of training is involved, and you're not actually any good at tennis....

L is for Loud

Unfortunately we now take it for granted that if we watch a tennis match at Wimbledon then you might have to expect a little bit of background noise from the participants. But in 1989, the arrival of 15-year-old Monica Seles, was a shock to the ear drums. The Daily Mirror's Nigel Clarke described her noise against Steffi Graf as " a child receiving a public chastising", Andrew Longmore in The Times stating that "Seles does not just squeak, she is a concerto of grunts, groans and squeaks". It seemed such an unusual issue back then, and now look at the sorry mess we're in.

M is for Maskell

I'll say this until the cows come home, but we were spoilt for commentators in the eighties. Carpenter, Alliss, Motson, Davies, French, McLaren, Lowe, Coleman, Benaud, Waddell, O'Sullevan, Walker to name more than a few. In this regard, tennis was no different, with the soft tones of Dan Maskell part of the soundtrack accompanying the action unfolding in front of us.

Complete with his "Oh, I say" catchphrase, Maskell commentated in a calm and reassuring manner, and was the 'Voice of Wimbledon' until his retirement in 1991. And I used to love the way he would give you a quick score check, in his own unique style: five-two, thirty-all, first set. In a decade of commentary legends, Dan Maskell rightly takes his place amongst the finest.

N is for Navratilova

For a period of domination in one event, look no further than Martina Navratilova at Wimbledon. A winner of six consecutive singles finals between 1982-1987, twice runner-up, and two-time semi-finalist, the decade belonged to the left-hander from Czechoslovakia (who became a US citizen in 1981). She also found time to win five women's doubles titles with Pam Shriver, and a mixed doubles with Paul McNamee. I was much more of a Chris Evert fan, but with hindsight and a little more maturity (just a little), you can only admire and fully respect the relentless nature of Martina's desire for Wimbledon titles.

O is for Old School

Now I will apologise beforehand about how old I am about to sound, but here goes; there are certain aspects of Wimbledon during the eighties that I miss. Wooden racquets, serve and volley, Cyclops bleeping at random intervals, net cord judges sitting in eager anticipation of the merest of vibrations. I sound like the tennis equivalent of Ron Manager.

P is for Prize Money

In 1980, the winner of the men's singles pocketed £20,000 (£72,748 in today's money, if this calculator is to be believed) and the women's champion £18,000 (£65,473). By 1989, these figures had progressed to £190,000 (£400,558) and £171,000 (£360,502) respectively. Now they both sit at £1.6 million. Even allowing for inflation, it shows that the players of today are rewarded richly for their work, and not just the winners, as the earnings of a first round loser in 2013 had grown by 62% from the 2012 figure.

Going off on a slight tangent, with so much money swilling about in the All England Club coffers in terms of profits, is it too simplistic of me to ask why Britain cannot (with the obvious exception) dine at the top table of world tennis?

Q is for Queen's

OK, this is admittedly not strictly Wimbledon related, but as soon as the Queen's tournament began, you knew what was just waiting around the corner. A curtain-raiser, much like the Charity/Community Shield, the Queen's Club Championship would often give a good indication of who to back in the big one; in 1981 and 1984, McEnroe would win at Queen's and then Wimbledon, as did Connors in 1982 and Becker in 1985. And what an impressive trophy.

R is for Robinsons Barley Water

Other drinks were available - as a child I would eagerly eye up the Coca-Cola in the fridge between the players - but Robinsons Barley Water was, and still is synonymous with Wimbledon. 'Anything else just isn't tennis' proclaimed the adverts of the time, and such was the power of advertising, and my love of sport, that I always pestered my mum to buy Robinsons during the championships. Or perhaps I was just plain stupid? The intervening years have done little for my intelligence, but Robinsons still have a presence at Wimbledon, and I for one find that slightly comforting.

S is for Sabatini

Gabriela Sabatini was a media dream during Wimbledon fortnight. Often on the front pages as well as the back, her appeal to many, including teenagers up and down the country (including this blogger) was obvious. I am trying my best not to make this sound like some sexist nonsense, but you always remember your first crush with fondness, and I am sure I am not alone in listing Sabatini in this category. The Argentine did manage to combine substance with style though, much more Sharapova than Kournikova, but was unlucky to play in an era of Navratilova and Graf dominance.

T is for Theme Music

Two classic sporting tunes were used during the 1980s: the opening theme (Light and Tuneful) and the closing music (Sporting Occasion). The former would make me bounce around the living room pretending I was in the middle of a gruelling rally (yes, I know this is making me sound sad), the latter would often be played out over the top of a significant moment of the day. The fact that the opening theme is still used to this day emphasises the timeless quality of this track, although to my disgust I noticed that Today at Wimbledon have started playing
out to a song chosen by a current player (get over it grandad).

U is for Upsets

There were very few shocks in the women's singles during the decade - Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1980 the only player to win the title who was not seeded number one - yet it was a different tale in the men's game. Kevin Curren would upset both Connors and McEnroe in 1983 and 1985 (Curren was a fine player, but these were still shocks), Connors would again suffer an unexpected defeat to Robert Seguso in the first round of 1986, and possibly the biggest shock of all occurred in 1987, when double-champion Boris Becker suffered a second round shocker at the hands of the little known world number 70 Peter Doohan.

V is for Victory celebration

Pat Cash had promised himself that if he won the Wimbledon men's singles in 1987 that he would try to share the moment with his family, coach and friends. So after his triumph over Ivan Lendl, Cash realised that he had better keep that promise. After initially struggling to plot a route through the crowd to the players' box, Cash was given a helping hand by a priest on to the top of a flimsy looking commentary box, before eventually embracing those close to him. Brilliant.

W is for White balls

It took until 1986 for the All England Club to finally bow down to TV pressure and switch from the traditional white tennis balls. The decision, brought about due to the fact that it was easier for the viewer to follow the flight of a yellow ball, was not universally popular, some in the press claiming that the last brick in the
Wimbledon wall of tradition had been removed. "There's only the ivy and the strawberries and cream left," complained the Mirror's Nigel Clarke. Startling stuff indeed.

X is for XXXX

Linked to the outburst below, John McEnroe's four-letter insults directed at tournament referee Fred Hoyles, led to a £750 fine, and made front page headlines throughout the UK. "I can't repeat what McEnroe said to me," said Hoyles, "but it was a four-letter word. If he had gone on the next violation would have cost him the game, and the one after that a disqualification. I would have had no hesitation in doing it."

Y is for You cannot be serious

John McEnroe was famous for many an outburst, but his "you cannot be serious" rant in a 1981 match against Tom Gullikson became so renowned that it nearly developed into his very own catchphrase. Such was McEnroe's notoriety, that he was given the Spitting Image treatment on British television, and also parodied by Griff Rhys-Jones in this Not the Nine O'Clock News sketch.

Z is for Zivojinovic

Above all I loved Bobo's name, and had great pride in being able to impress my friends by pronouncing this correctly - my mates were easily entertained - and pretending to be Slobodan Zivojinovic in the playground tennis sessions that inevitably broke out during Wimbledon. Not forgetting what a fine player he was too, taking Lendl to five sets in the 1986 semis, which meant more pronunciation nightmares for commentators and newsreaders alike. They should have asked me for some advice.


  1. Another terrific blog, I can honestly say every post from A to Z brought back memories.

    I remember a McEnroe inspired song on Top of The Pops ...

    1. That is a brilliant link, thanks for posting it in the comments.

      Just checked, and that song peaked at number 19 in the charts.

  2. Surely any reflection on 1980s Wimbledon fashion must include the extraordinary array of exotic (for the time) labels that featured - Sergio Tacchini, Fila, Lacoste - and their impact on football casual culture in this country. Maybe not the impact the manufacturers hoped for, but those logos are still familiar sights at British football grounds today.

    PS - Must confess I was another teenager who had a crush on Miss Sabatini in the 80s - though I saw a picture of her recently and she still looks fabulous (she's got a better haircut too).

  3. Thanks for highlighting the achievement of players belonging to the bygone era of 1980s. The information made me search for the video recording of such gamed online.

  4. Tennis was ace in the eighties...

  5. Great stuff. It's a travesty that 'Sporting Occasion' has effectively been thrown out in favour of the players picking modern trendy rubbish. It's also strange watching back and seeing Harry Carpenter presenting Wimbledon when he was so associated with boxing.

  6. Chrissie Not-Evert1 July 2015 at 00:17

    I was trying to remind myself of the name of the lovely BBC commentator who appeared on the Wimbledon today round-up programme in the 1980s-90s, I think with Des Lynam. He always looked a bit ill, and may have been called Jonny?? A highlight was when he and (Des?) incongruously donned Pat Cash headbands to mark that particular fashion fixation, to top off their 'sports casuals'. Loved him! Any idea who he was?

    Very much enjoyed the nostalgia trip of your blog. One aspect of Wimbledon-watching now also gone was the crowd of heads squished into the tiny viewing gap in the glazed corridor above/alongside number one (?) Court, for the plebs who couldn't afford tickets but could thus get a glimpse of their heroes (got to be Macenroe). It always caught my attention, and I even made it there in 1981!

    1. Thanks for your comments. I think the commentator was Gerald Williams. I always remember him and Des having a bit of banter: