There might not be “A Britisher’s View” if it wasn’t for Wimbledon.
The world’s most famous tennis championships — currently underway across the pond — gave this hack a start way back when the players wore all-white, Swedish icicle Bjorn Borg ruled the courts, and 14-year-old pigtailed American Tracy Austin became its youngest competitor ever, enchanting us with her mouthful of orthodontic stainless steel, her ferocious two-fisted backhands, and her knack for storing balls in her knickers.
I was an ardent tennis fan. I followed each Grand Slam tournament and spent my pocket money buying up every tennis rag on the newsstands. I also entered the annual Wimbledon ticket lottery each year for a coveted court-side seat, without much luck. No worries there. The standing-only section — a pen of bobbing, squawking fans whose heads were synchronized to sway with each stroke — was good enough for me.
The schlep to the All-England Club was part of the fun. I’d awaken before dawn, hop on a bus and two trains, and then walk half a mile for the privilege of standing for hours on a queue that snaked far back in the distance like a giddy giant anaconda.
One summer I struck tennis paydirt. My high school teacher suggested we seek summer internships. Most of my classmates chose corporate companies, one soccer fan enlisted with Football Weekly, and I landed a gig with a glossy called Tennis World.
My first day in the cramped and cluttered office on the outskirts of London was a hoot. It was scarcely bigger than a Port-o-San and littered with tennis memorabilia, including a poster scrawled with “Best, Martina Navratilova” and a ball on a stand signed by Jimmy Connors, which the editor — a stately bloke with a platinum coif who called his parents “mater” and “pater” — used as a paperweight.
I made coffee, sharpened pencils, replaced the toilet paper, twiddled my thumbs, and basked in the knowledge that I had “arrived.” The next day, the editor casually handed me a press card and informed me of my assignment: I was to spend the next 10 days at Wimbledon (oh joy!) interviewing six British tennis writers in the press club for an article, entitled aptly, “So, You Want To Be a Tennis Writer” (oh no!).
I wondered how a 17-year-old peon like me was going to even approach heavyweights like Lance Tingay of the Daily Telegraph, Laurie Pignon of the Daily Mail, and other Fleet Street titans, much less corral them for an interview. Seated in the press club — an antique reeking of pipe tobacco and leather — I held up my pinkie and thought of England.
What would I ask them? How would they respond? Would they ignore me? Gulpingly, I found myself face to face with my first subject — the venerable Mr. Tingay. He was known as “The Dean” of tennis scribes whose reports, which he typed up furiously after a match and dictated over a pay phone, were famous for being as good as a court-side seat.
I must have done better than I thought because my first article ever appeared with creative, ink-splotched art, and a glorious byline in the August issue, iced with a sweet check for 65 pounds. It convinced me that I had indeed “arrived.” Game, set, match — and glass of Pimm’s! — for that goes to Wimbledon.
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Reach reporter Shavana Abruzzo at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (718) 260-2529.