Simon Hoggart

Compelling viewing

Last Saturday. BBC1 was showing the most exciting women’s Wimbledon tennis final for many years and Sky Sports had what turned out to be a thrilling tied one-day cricket final between England and Australia. On BBC2 you could catch the Live8 concert. In all cases — whatever the loss in atmosphere or the excitement at being present at ‘historic’ occasions (in fact, I suspect most of them will have faded from the memory quite fast) — you got a much better view on television.

Those of us who recall fuzzy white players knocking a fuzzy grey ball over a dark grey tennis court can only marvel at the superb images from Wimbledon. The close-ups of the players mean they emerge as real characters and personalities in a way they never did before. The replays are so compelling that, when you are in the court, you are annoyed at being deprived of them.

Best of all is the expert commentary. John McEnroe is very, very good: sympathetic, ready to give criticism where it’s due, rarely overexcited yet always aware of the flow, the rhythms and the tension of a match. Dan Maskell, who commented on Wimbledon for around a thousand years, was famous for uttering the words ‘Oh, I say!’ at important moments. He was part of the old, Alan Week-style, ‘and this is absolutely marvellous!’ school of commentary, which had its own amateurish charm. It was certainly better than the overload of unnecessary and unwanted information that some commentators poured on top of you, like nutty slack down a coal hole. But it didn’t tell you an awful lot.

These days even the rain delays are worth watching. On Friday last week they filled in with a reprise of the 1980 men’s final between Borg and McEnroe, usually judged the greatest of all time, with McEnroe talking us through it.

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