The Green Green Greener Grass of … Wimbledon

Monday 4 July 2011: 4 years 10 months on … Game ED

Happy 235th Birthday United States of America from your proud Honorary Oklahoman and African American son!

Thirty five years ago, in 1975 / 1976, I had just finished my schooling in the USA when she was celebrating her 200th birthday! Upon returning to South Africa in January 1976, I found something here that was not here before and had never been here before I left.

A television set now graced our lounge at home!

Every night, just before six, the family closed the curtains and waited for the orange, white and blue TV logo (to us it looked like a toilet seat) to appear on the 51cm colour PAL TV set. Then came the Bible reading and prayer, the kiddies’ programmes, the magazine programme, the sport show, the 8 o’clock news bulletin, the adventure programme and the serial. At 11pm, the orange, white and blue (old) South African flag fluttered in the breeze while the symphony orchestra played the (old) National Anthem, the Call of South Africa.  Thereafter, the test pattern would grace the screen until six pm the following night, when the whole process would repeat itself.

With one difference!

On Monday night, the programme would commence in English and remain in English until after the News at 8:30pm. Then the language would swap over to Afrikaans until the test pattern appeared at 11:00pm. Tuesday night would start in Afrikaans and change over to English at 8:30pm.

Strictly two and a half hours of each language every night. We were, after all, a bilingual nation of 3 million white people and, in those days, we chose to forget about the 30 million black Xhosas, Zulus, Ndebeles, Sotho’s , …!  All that was about to start changing when Hector Pieterson and the children of SOWETO started the Soweto Riots on 16 June 1976 (which we commemorated two weeks ago on what we now call Youth Day) and which would alter the history of this country forever.

TV programmes such as Haas Das, Wielie Walie, Dallas, Longstreet, The World at War, High Chapperal, Bonanza, The Avengers became household names in a nation that had never experienced television before.

And on Saturday afternoons (and never on Sundays, because God said that mankind should rest on the Sabbath!) we watched strictly bilingual sport, too. There was tennis from Tarkastad, bowls from Benoni, darts from Durban, jukskei vanaf  Johannesburgbrug  vanaf Bloemfontein, cricket from Cape Town, chess from Carnarvon, netball vanaf Nelspruit and rugby van Reg oor die Land.

Maar niks van die buiteland nie! (“But nothing from overseas!”)  

Because of our apartheid policies, we were the skunks of the world and banned from international sport – participation therein and watching thereof!

Banned from everything – all, except for whatever reason I can’t remember, the Wimbledon tennis championships.

So, our annual dose of international sport became the All Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships held each year in June and July. Armed with champagne and strawberries and cream, we would curl up in our winter woollies watching, on Sunday afternoon, televised directly and live from that favourite city of mine, LONDRES, the men’s final match of the tournament.

And then on Sunday 7 July 1985, I was in England with the sanctions-busting Grey Touring Cricket team, and we eagerly watched the final at Seaford College in Petworth, West Sussex. South African born (and just two-month then naturalised American citizen) Kevin Curren took on the 17-year old unseeded German Boris Becker in the final. Unfortunately for us, but fortunately for the Germans, he would become the youngest and first German and unseeded player to win at Wimbledon and it would be the first of Boris’s 3 Wimbledon championship titles.

In 1999, Pera and I were in Wimbledon, staying with John (an ex-teaching colleague) and Sue Galloway at King’s College. John dropped us off at the tennis grounds, and we watched, with thousands of others, the final on the big screen attached to the outside of centre court from the Terraces which we had seen so often on TV! We rubbed shoulders with Ernie Els and ate our strawberries and cream and Magnums.

And, after Pete Sampras had beaten Andre Agassi in the All-American final, exactly 12 years ago to the day on Sunday 4 July 1999 (6 – 3, 6 – 4, 7 – 5 ) , we walked back in the bright evening English sunshine to the Galloway’s house, across the Wimbledon Common and past the pubs, the Crooked Billet and the Hand in Hand, where we had spent the previous evening, sitting outside drinking our ales in the fading sunlight at 10pm!


Now, with the advent of the New South Africa, we are back on the world stage. In a world moved on from restful God-forsaken Sundays and a one-channel SABC TV (Thank God!) to digital and satellite technology, tennis barely competes with the international rugby, cricket, athletics and football.

But, yesterday, in a cold and rainy Port Elizabeth, we watched, sans champagne, strawberries and cream, as Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal  4 sets to 1 to become the newest Wimbledon champion.

Ironically, the 2011 Grey Touring Cricket team was playing against an Old Grey side at King’s College in Wimbledon at the same time!  And in a new South Africa, Wimbledon and Raynes Park in London have become the home to so many South Africans who have emigrated to the United Kingdom in search of that greener grass.

But, the grand slam of life is like tennis: it’s not always strawberries and cream, and the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. People move from one side to the other in search of the perfect sweet spot.

And It it’s not always love all. There are good serves and there are bad. There are many break points. And one often has to come from behind to beat the challenges. We win some and we lose some. We take the game but lose the set, or lose the game and win the set. Sometimes, we do get the break.

As the world watches your every move, sometimes you are wide off the mark. Sometimes it’s a let; sometimes you are out and sometimes in; sometimes you make forced errors and sometimes unforced errors; sometimes you are in the net! You make good shots and you make poor shots. Sometimes it’s your advantage, sometimes it’s theirs.

There are times, when the tension builds, that you need the “Quiet Please”!

The bounce is not always to your advantage and when the rains come, you need to be inventive: adapt and build your roofs to avoid delays. You need a team effort.

But we also have our faults. We may think “it’s just a lot of balls” and a “pain in the bum”! We let ourselves go. We don’t always know where the lines are; we grunt and we groan.

All the time, we need our dream to win; and we need to live our dream. We have to concentrate. We must control our mind. We must keep our eye on the ball We need to say “What a shot!”

In the rallies of Life, we have to make sacrifices to get to the top. To be a Champion, we also sometimes need to stop and smell the roses, and, like Djokovic, taste the grass.

Yes, for all of us, there comes the call of the Great Umpire: “Time!” And this life is not a practice or the test pattern – it’s the real thing and the only one we will ever have!