Tennis romance that doesn’t contain much tennis: Challengers reviewed

It sounds straightforward enough: a tennis romance starring Zendaya, idol of the mid-teen demographic and last seen riding a sandworm in Dune: Part Two. She plays Tashi Duncan, a junior player tipped for greatness, who finds herself in a love triangle with two other juniors: spoilt-but-roguish Patrick (Josh O’Connor) and nice-but-needy Art (Mike Faist). You might anticipate a girl-power version of Richard Loncraine’s Wimbledon (2004), with white skirts fluttering in summer breezes, coy glances at a face in the crowd, and a dramatic climax featuring a net rally in a final-set tie-break. Despite the lengthy game sequences, it’s not a film about tennis But Challengers is a very different kettle

How sport helped shape the British character

Faith in state planning was central to Harold Wilson’s pledge to modernise Britain. It was his rhetorical vision of a country guided by strategic foresight and ‘forged in the white heat of technology’ that helped him win the 1964 election. But Wilson also displayed the same attachment to planning in his personal life. Back in 1934 he joined the Port Sunlight tennis club, not because he was interested in the sport but because he felt it would provide the right environment to approach one of its young female members, a shorthand-typist called Gladys Baldwin. Unlike his ‘white heat’ agenda, the policy worked. After a lengthy courtship, during which Gladys dropped

Does tennis have a doping problem?

Is it more remarkable that Romanian two-time Grand Slam tennis champion Simona Halep took performance enhancing drugs, or that she was caught? I ask only because the sport’s authorities seem to catch vanishingly few dopers, which surely means either they’re very bad at it, or elite players rarely cheat to win enormous sums of money.   Certainly, it’s easy to be cynical about tennis. When in 2017 I interviewed legendary doping chemist Angel ‘Memo’ Hernandez – who during the nineties and 2000s was the world’s leading illicit sports chemist, providing undetectable super-stimulants to a wide range of household name athletes – he burst out laughing when I asked about doping in tennis.   ‘Tennis was paradise for a long time. No testing

I knew I was right about private schools

The Hunstanton Lawn Tennis Tournament has become an annual fixture in the Young household. Known as ‘Wimbledon-on-Sea’, the week-long competition takes place on the Norfolk coast in August and attracts hundreds of entrants. I’m not a contestant myself, but my two youngest are and five years ago my wife won the ladies’ doubles, meaning she’s now much in demand with the Norfolk silver foxes hoping to enlist her as their mixed doubles partner in the junior vets. This year she got as far as the semi-finals, which pleased the 59-year-old KC she was playing with, and was the runner-up in the women’s round robin. Don’t be fooled into thinking Caroline

I sledged Steve Smith for England

In this summer of sporting dramas, every patriotic sports fan likes to think he’s done his bit to help. I went up to Manchester with my brother last Thursday and in the evening we found ourselves in an Indian restaurant with the England wicket-keeper Jonny Bairstow at the next table. I feel sure it was Edward’s and my manly cries of ‘Good luck, Jonny’ as he left that helped him bat so brilliantly for his 99 not out. Though I suppose it could have been the vindaloo that fired him up. My major influence on the Ashes series came a few days earlier, when I bumped into the Australian all-time-great batsman

Cricket, tennis and the Women’s World Cup: what a summer 

Great sport needs great rivalries, and that is why anyone with a pulse must celebrate being in the throes of an unrivalled confluence of extraordinary sporting occasions right now. As commentators grind on about what a bad place the world is in – ignoring the far worse places the world has been in over the years – a few hours spent watching the magnificent Wimbledon final between Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic is just the sort of high-octane thriller we all need, as well as a ringing endorsement of the qualities of man. And now there is the fourth Ashes Test of a brutally close series, and the closing stages

In defence of ‘Mickey Mouse’ degrees

When someone asks ‘How are you?’ you have to assume your interlocutor is only being polite.Anyone who returns a ball-by-ball commentary about their aches and pains, work-life balance and reduced chances of summer fun thanks to the heat storm should immediately be sent to Coventry for the rest of time. That said, I am just back from wintry New Zealand where I have been in a Channel 4 series called Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins. Despite my pledge that I’d never do any more shows with the word ‘celebrity’ in the title, this one brought out the Bond Girl manquée in me and I couldn’t resist. I can’t say any

The death of sportsmanship

Now that Wimbledon is over, a few thoughts about youthful brains showing traces of horse tranquillisers, angel dust and cannabis, the ingredients that spell ‘moron’. I mean those sporting idiots who booed Victoria Azarenka after she lost the tiebreak 11 to 9 in the third set to the charming Ukrainian Elina Svitolina. Here’s Vica – a woman, a mother, a wonderful player and, through no fault of her own, a Belarusian – being booed for going along with the decision of Ukrainian players not to shake hands with Russian or Belarusian opponents. When a Ukrainian player refused to shake hands during the French Open last month, the public booed her,

Barbie’s world: the normalisation of cosmetic surgery

If Barbie were a real woman, she wouldn’t be able to walk. Her enormous head would loll forward on her spindly neck, her tiny ankles would buckle under her elongated legs, and she would be forced to move about on all fours. In the upcoming Barbie film, Margot Robbie nails her character’s toothy smile and blonde bouffant, but even she cannot come close to imitating Barbie’s monstrous proportions. More adventurous imitators have tried. It’s rumoured that the so-called ‘Eastern Bloc Barbie’ – a 37-year-old Moldovan by the name of Valeria Lukyanova, one of several plastic surgery addicts dubbed ‘human Barbies’ – had ribs removed and her eyelids trimmed in her

Watch out Wimbledon: padel is taking over

For the past 15 years, I’ve had an entirely healthy compulsion – my wife, I suspect, would disagree – to play tennis at least twice a week. I assumed this habit was so ingrained that nothing short of a calamitous injury could ever keep me from my fix. Spain is where the craze took hold. Now it’s the country’s second most popular sport, after football I think I may have been mistaken. Recently, I’ve discovered a new sport which is proving, if anything, more addictive. Time will tell if this is a fleeting crush, or the start of something more enduring – but I am beginning to wonder whether my

Anyone for tennis – on film?

With Wimbledon fortnight upon us, what better time to explore tennis on the silver screen? Even more fortuitous is that Aidan Turner’s raunchy Amazon Prime series Fifteen Love will debut this summer, in which the Poldark star plays a tennis coach with a chequered past. Turner also features as moustachioed TV presenter Declan O’Hara (shades of Des Lynam as was) in Disney+’s upcoming adaptation of Jilly Cooper’s Rivals, a show apparently so steamy it needed two intimacy coaches. As an aspirational, largely middle-class game, tennis when depicted in the movies is largely free of the pile-ons, punch-ups and bad language of films about football, rugby and other contact sports. But,

Shame on those who abandoned Peng Shuai

No one really expects much in the way of principles or morality from those charged with running international sport. The Qatar World Cup was merely the latest, most blatant example of the iron rule that money and greed conquers all in sport. But for a brief moment — 16 months to be precise — the Women’s Tennis Association appeared to offer hope of something better. The WTA announced to the world in December 2021 that it would indefinitely boycott all tournaments in China over the regime’s treatment of tennis star, Peng Shuai, who vanished after making allegations of sexual assault against a senior politician. The WTA was widely praised at

Drama at Lord’s: Stumped is a treat for cricket fans

So farewell to cricket’s The Hundred tournament, or what seemed by the end to be beefy South Africans in ‘Butterkist’ shirts belting sixes over cow corner off some fairly inoffensive county seamers. Does anyone remember a single result? Or really have any loyalty? Fine, have it as a marketing exercise to raise a few quid for the game, but there aren’t enough great players. It felt a bit like some upgraded pub cricket – and it’s going to be with us for years. What could be massively more significant for the game in the long term is over the Atlantic, where the former England star Liam Plunkett is one of

I fancy Emma Raducanu’s chances at Flushing Meadows

British tennis fans famously only acknowledge the sport exists for a couple of weeks in the middle of summer in SW19. But they ought to think about changing the habit of a lifetime over the next couple of weeks, as Emma Raducanu prepares to defend her US Open title at Flushing Meadows. It’s been a dizzying year for Bromley’s best. Her journey from star-struck ingenue when she went to New York a year ago to her arrival back there this week as the champion and the face of a thousand magazine covers must have felt like a rocket ride to the Milky Way. But now she has to prove herself

How Kyrgios saved Wimbledon

What separates this year’s ‘empty seats on centre court’ scandal from every other year’s ‘empty seats on centre court’ scandal? Wimbledon has always been a garden party with some tennis thrown in, attended by the least sports-driven crowd in existence – the matrons of Guildford and Godalming who manage to love Rafa and Andy for a fortnight, but not much longer, and whose need for a punnet of strawberries and cup of tea at around 4 p.m. is eternal. And for whom it’s funny if the ball hits the umpire’s chair. Wimbledon is half a tennis tournament and half the last redoubt of a disappearing England. Certainly the BBC saw

The Oprah-fication of Wimbledon

Now that the weakest Wimbledon since 1973 – the year of the boycott – is over, a few thoughts about Pam Shriver’s recent revelations that her coach Don Candy, deceased, was also her lover. Candy was 50 at the time, while Pam was 17, which in my book made Candy a lucky guy, assuming it was legal. The age of consent varies from place to place, and the only time I had to defend myself was when an irate father, whose 28-year-old daughter I had dated, rang me early in the morning and complained about me being 72. ‘There is no age limit as far as being too old,’ I

The only thing stopping Nick Kyrgios is himself

It’s hard to watch Nick Kyrgios for long without the sense he wants the world to know he considers everything beneath him. Clearly, journalists are beneath him and he treats them with open contempt at every opportunity, but so too are the officials he abuses, the opponents he mocks and even tennis itself. ‘I don’t really like the sport of tennis that much. I don’t love it’, he has stated publicly, claiming instead that his real affection is for basketball. To say Kyrgios has failed to realise his talent for tennis is one of sport’s great understatements, and something he seems to accept. ‘I thought my ship had sailed,’ he

What Wimbledon gets wrong about tennis fans

Brace yourself for the unmistakable sound of a tennis ball thwacking away in the background of your living room for two weeks – Wimbledon is finally upon us. As skilled as the players on the court are, it’s the delightful spectacle of my family’s amateur commentary that I enjoy the most. ‘Who on earth is that?’ my grandmother used to ask, unfailingly, when anyone unseeded dared to play against her beloved Steffi Graff. ‘The Spaniard is touching his bum again’ is the refrain in our house when Nadal prepares to serve. For the casual spectator, it’s our lack of true tennis expertise that makes the tournament such a delight to

What do Beethoven, D.H. Lawrence and George Best have in common?

This is not a book about tennis. Roger Federer appears early on, trailed by the obligatory question ‘When will he retire?’ He figures more prominently in the final 80 pages – still looking, despite the imminence of hanging up his racquet, as if he moves ‘within a different, more accommodating dimension of time’. There are cameos from some of the game’s other stars at various points on the way to the exit: the young Bjorn Borg (‘heir to some non-specific Scandinavian malaise’), the often crocked Andy Murray (‘a mumble-core Hamlet’) and the middle-aged, disgraced Boris Becker (afflicted by a ‘hitherto unseen condition called testicular elbow’). But the title is a

My one to watch at the French Open

The timing of Brendon McCullum’s appointment as England’s Test match coach couldn’t be better for him, or for the matey but very canny Rob Key, cricket’s managing director. Had they taken over their jobs when England were at or near the top of the world rankings, things would have been a lot tougher. Getting to the top might be hard, but staying there is a nightmare. Now, with England well and truly in the basement, McCullum’s only way is up. And he kicks off with a Test against his homeland, New Zealand, at Lord’s next month. You hope that sooner or later he finds room for the wonderfully talented if