We’re certainly at the business end of the Championships now, but for one group of competitors the winner has already triumphed through the rounds and lifted the trophy.
Congratulations to Maxim Davidov who, in between sending daily despatches back to Moscow for Russian newspaper Rossija, has hoisted the Roy McKelvie Trophy in the annual Wimbledon Press Tournament.
Davidov was one of the 20 entrants who contested the 19th annual tournament on the courts of Wimbledon Park between 9am and 11.30am this past middle Sunday. According to tournament director Rob Castorri, he won it by dint of being ‘a big, strong Russian’.
The tournament, which was initiated in 1995 to stave off restlessness on the one day off, is now an established part of Wimbledon culture for domestic and international press and broadcasters. Castorri is a former player and a renowned coach and stroke analyst who is the Executive Director of the Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy in South Carolina, so it’s safe to deduce from his analysis of the 2013 victor's winning quality that the prime impulse behind it is simply to have fun.
“The main idea is to get people together and to create fellowship,” he concurs. “In its first year, 72 players came out and the event was covered by Radio Wimbledon and a local TV crew. It’s become a bit smaller year by year, but the ratio of core players (roughly 50: 50) and newcomers has stayed the same.”
Players range from veterans to interns, from skilled players to near novices, from the ultra-fit to those who have been off the training court for a while. This year they originated from Russia, Bulgaria, Spain, Great Britain, the United States, China and Australia. In the event’s early years the pool came mainly from Europe and the United States. In the last five years, the nationality of the competitors has reflected the emergence of the newer tennis nations, such as Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Informality is the mark of the trophy ceremony. “We’re on a limited budget,” says Castorri. “Everyone keeps their own scores. They hand them in, I add them up, make an announcement and give out the trophy. There’s no fanfare...” Only a light-hearted tussle when the winner wants to take the silver cup home, not realising that the trophy is kept within the All England Club year-round.
The mix traditionally throws up some interesting results. The winner is not always the best ‘player’. One year a British intern beat Luke Jensen [a former world No.1 junior as well as doubles maestro with brother Murphy]. Luke fought back to win it in another year.
It is the best kind of contest in that almost all entrants win a prize. Businesses associated with The Championships are generous with their offerings – candles, hats and clothing from Ralph Lauren, free stringing services from the racket stringers, a bottle of champagne, a limited edition of Wimbledon: The Official History by former player and BBC commentator John Barrett, signed by Serena Williams and Andy Murray.
The tournament also holds one distinctive record, as its founder is proud to declare: “The Press Tournament has never been rained out in 19 years! A feat that is pretty incredible considering, after all, this is Wimbledon.”