Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic will leave the All England Club today with very different mementos for their trophy cabinets. Andy will treasure a three-quarter size replica of the 18.5-inch silver gilt Challenge Cup. Novak, feisty competitor that he is, might take a few days at least to learn to love his inscribed silver plate.
It’s a little-known tradition, however, that 12 months down the line both champion and runner-up receive a prize of equal stature – a large bronze sculpture created from pictures taken of them in action during their Centre Court contest.
The story behind this informal ritual is quintessentially Wimbledon. It lies in the Queue and stems from a passion for tennis. In 2001, Louise Simson, who lives in south London, had queued with her daughter on the third Monday to see the final between Goran Ivanisevic and Pat Rafter. She’d brought her camera and was so riveted by the seesaw five-setter that she went home inspired to make a wax sculpture of the Australian runner-up – even though she hadn’t sculpted since school.
The following year a friend gave her a ticket to watch Lleyton Hewitt’s final against David Nalbandian. She made a statue for Hewitt, which he greatly appreciated. Then Federer started his winning streak and he loved each of his...
Twelve years on – with Federer, Hewitt, Andy Roddick and Djokovic among a growing group of happy recipients of weighty bronze statues - Simson is now granted a seat on Centre Court to take pictures during the final. With the help of a professional tennis coach, she chooses an image that combines good aesthetics with the players’ trademark shot or memorable stance, and then begins the sculpting process.
“It takes about six weeks from start to finish,” she said, poised with her camera before today’s history-making occasion. “I make a wire skeleton, then build up the body shape with silicon wax. I’m capturing movement which is all about subtleties – a huge challenge when my photographs obviously show just one dimension, so I allow myself a slight element of ‘interpretation’ to convey the emotion.”
Last year she commemorated Federer falling to his knees in victory and captured Murray pivoting to execute his trademark backhand down the line. This year, well, what would you suggest for champion and runner-up? Answers in the comment box below!
Federer, with eight Wimbledon final appearances, has earned the largest collection of art. Roddick, who has three, said: “It’s great. Anything we have to document our memories is something that we as players can certainly appreciate.”
As for considering today’s finalists as artist’s models, Simson has previous experience of both. While she is proud to have ‘dealt with’ Djokovic’s distinctive hair in bronze, she waxes lyrical about Murray’s physiognomy. “I went to see the film Lincoln while I was working on his last year and it struck me that Andy has a similar long face and chiselled features to Daniel Day Lewis. And Murray’s better looking. He’s beautiful, actually.”
Simson presents her statues to the players during practice the following year, taking them to the Aorangi courts to make sure they are happy before they take it home. What an extra psychological boost that moment will be for the ‘beautiful’ defending champion on the eve of the 2014 Championships.
Fred Perry’s statue has long served as meeting point and photo opportunity for the fans who come to SW19. Now Murray’s broken his long-standing reign as the last British man to win Wimbledon perhaps it’s time to update the grounds with a statue of Murray, wrought by Louise Simson?