Monday, 10 July 2017

BBC Wimbledon: please replace Andrew Castle and Boris Becker with Simon Reed and Frew McMillan

I'm sure the BBC's main Wimbledon commentator, the former player Andrew Castle, is a very nice man. But he makes my flesh crawl. As for the bankrupt former champion Boris Becker - I'm sure he's an extremely entertaining dinner companion, but the Gert Frobe-lookalike is a dreadful commentator. My preference would be for Simon Reed and Frew McMillan - a really superb double-act on Eurosport - to commentate on important matches, with John McEnroe filling in for McMillan when he's available.  McEnroe works well with Simon Reed, but can't stand McMillan, according to the champion South African doubles specialist. This antipathy presumably stems from their playing days, when McMillan partnered Bob Hewitt, a spectacularly nasty piece of work, whom the British No. 1 player Roger Taylor once punched to the ground after a match during which words had been exchanged...

I've no doubt moaned about Castle before, so I'll keep this brief. He has a tendency to lapse into creepy sentimentality - his voice becomes honeyed and he sounds like he's smiling indulgently. I despise the way he always refers to Nadal as "Rafa", as if they're great mates. And he has a tendency to add an unnecessary sub-clause or qualifier (I'm not sure what the correct term is) to the end of sentences, does Andrew. To fill in the gap between every other game, when the players have a 90-second sit-down (something commercial television commentators don't have to worry about), Castle almost invariably treats us to little history lessons, the content of which anybody who isn't watching televised tennis for the first time in their lives will be all too familiar with:

"Roger Federer. He's won seven Wimbledon. The first one was in 2003 against the Australian player, Mark Philippoussis. (Gives a warm laugh). Remember how he cried when our very own Sue Barker interviewed him afterwards? The crowd fell in love with him at that moment - and they've been in love with him ever since. He's added another six titles since then, matching the great American player Pete Sampras - "Pistol Pete" they called him. He made the world sit up and take notice when he beat Sampras here at Wimbledon in the second round in 2002, did Roger... beaten by Rafa in 2008... one of the greatest tennis matches in history... married to Mirka...two sets of twins (another warm laugh) amazing... loves touring... 123 years old now, yet playing as well as ever. Better, some would argue... perhaps the greatest player of all time... joy to watch...zzzzzzzzzzzz..."


Boris Becker should be a good commentator. He was a great player, and achieved marvels as Djokovic's coach. He's articulate, has an ebullient personality, and he's that rare thing - a German with a self-deprecating sense of humour. He must know all there is to know about grass court tennis - and yet he literally never says anything interesting or illuminating. Instead of providing technical insights, he divides his time between stating the bleeding obvious ("If Murray holds his serve, he'll have won the match") and piercing psychological analysis: "Two points away from his first Wimbledon title. He'll be excited, but he has to control his nerves." Oh, really? We'd never have guessed. To be fair, McEnroe indulges in his fair share of this sort of tosh - but, in amongst all the "He's trying to get the crowd on his side" boilerplate, there's a fair smattering of informational gems about what's gone wrong with this player's backhand, or why that player keeps having to hurry his shots. I understand what's happening on court better when McEnroe is commentating - Becker adds nothing to my appreciation of the match. (Another former British tennis player, Mark Petchey also provides genuine technical insights, but suffers from a tendency to say things like "He pudda lorra effort inna that last game," "He's godda be maygin' those shods", and "Cludge [clutch] serving from the giant Argendine there." )

Perhaps Reed and Hewitt's age works against them. Reed (the brother of Oliver) is 69, but sounds at least 20 years younger. Hewitt is 75 - but remains as sharp as a Federer forehand, is utterly unsentimental, and displays a delightfully waspish sense of humour.

Still and all, I don't want to sound as if I think the BBC does a bad job covering Wimbledon. They do a brilliant job - and most of the commentators are top-hole. It's just Castle and Becker I have a problem with.

Two Wimbledon asides:

Nadal is about to claw his way back to parity after losing the first two sets to Gilles Muller. He will go on to win this one, and is my odds-on favourite to win the tournament. This will make me very depressed - there is literally not one other player left in the draw that I wouldn't prefer to see win it. My reasons for not wanting Nadal to win are simple - I don't appreciate his playing style, I don't like watching him play because it all seems so strangely desperate and joyless, and he doesn't give the impression he cares about the game itself - I doubt whether he'd bother to watch it if he weren't involved. But he is probably the greatest competitor in the game's history - unfortunately. I'll give him that.

What the hell is wrong with Australian players? Kyrgios and Tomic - what a bloody ghastly shower. I grew up in the era of Laver, Hoad, Rosewall, Newcombe, Roche and Emerson: tough as old boots, every one of them. You know - Aussies! What happened?


  1. There - I told you Nadal would win against Muller and go on to win the tournament.

    I should have been a bookie, I really should.

    I think we're going to have to write off Dimitrov as a future grand slam contender. A real shame - great talent, but lacks that one big, crushing shot, and something between the ears.

    It's a pity that Thiem and Zverev both got beaten today - and typical of the way tennis has changed over the past 10 - 20 years that the thrusting young hopeful who dumped Nadal out of Wimbledon is 35 years old. As McEnroe remarked to Tracy Austin, they were both over the hill at 25!

    Still, I'm looking forward to enjoying the men's quarter finals, semis and final without the gnawing fear (a feeling of absolute certainty this year, for the very first time) that Nadal might win. Obviously, I hope it's Federer or Murray - but I could live with any of the others winning (although preferably not Berdych or Cilic, for different reasons).

  2. There is something rather unsavoury about Nadal, from his rutting hamster grimace to his constant fossicking in his posterior. He is just too sweaty.

    1. Spot on, MartinD. You wouldn't find Federer vigorously exploring Satan's Alley during a match. Time and a place, etc. In the unlikely event I'm ever introduced to Nadal, I'll have to think carefully about whether to shake his hand - after all, I know where it's been.

  3. Three things have put me off Wimbledon in the past:

    !. The braying crowd. The great waves of spastic tittering are quite intolerable. Like opera audiences waiting for the humorous bits.

    2. The match when Jimmy Connors started pulling out a letter between games and reading it with such intensity that his whole body shook with emotion. It was from his mother, apparently. Who reads their correspondence in the middle of a major tennis tournament unless he is a posturing berk?

    3. Pat Cash's self-conscious and embarrassing clambering up the stand to greet his friends and family after his victory in 1987 [the tittering brigade collectively wet their pants]. That seemed to mark the change-over from great Australian players to a generation of flashy yobs.

    [Yes, Andy Murray. Some of us have not forgotten.]

    But Federer is something else. A great sportsman who demands to be watched.