Why do Russian tennis stars need to condemn Putin?

Nigel Huddleston is Under-Secretary of State for Sport, Tourism, Heritage and Civil Society, hardly the biggest job in government. Yet he seems a little inebriated on what little authority he has – at least if his latest remarks to the Department for the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee are anything to go by. Huddleston has taken on board the mood of the moment. He appreciates that sport must make a stand against Vlad the Invader and the invasion of Ukraine, and which sensible person would disagree? But boycotting Russia from major competitions and clamping down on dodgy oligarch football owners isn’t sufficient, apparently. Huddleston wants more. He suggested to the

Will Australia ever let Novak Djokovic in again?

With Russia playing a deadly cat-and-mouse game with Ukraine, this week the world number one tennis player, Novak Djokovic, must have thought we needed a distraction. Following his charm offensive with the BBC’s Amol Rajan earlier this week, Djokovic has announced that he would like to play the Australian Open again, despite the minor complication of his having been banned from entering Australia for three years, following his deportation last month. Djokovic told Serbia’s national TV, ‘I want to come back to Australia in the future and to play on Rod Laver Arena again… A lot of professional and personal beautiful things happened to me there. Despite all this, I

The heroism of Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic’s readiness to walk away from tennis on a point of principle is an act of sporting heroism on a par with Muhammad Ali’s refusal to fight in the Vietnam war. Like Ali was when he said he had ‘no quarrel with them Viet Cong’, Djokovic is widely accepted to be the greatest master of his sport of all time. Ali, then at the height of his powers, was banned from boxing for three years for his stance. For refusing to take a Covid vaccination — a matter of conscience — we don’t yet know for how long Djokovic will be prevented from playing tennis at the highest level.

The year sport and politics became inseparable

Sport and politics have always been intertwined, but this was the year they became joined at the hip. Yorkshire racism; the growing protests about China’s sportwashing at the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022; anger about the Saudi takeover of Newcastle United; and the long-simmering anxiety about the Qatar World Cup. And with it, growing and very welcome, activism from sports-people: Lewis Hamilton’s rainbow helmet for gay rights in Saudi Arabia, Marcus Rashford’s indefatigable campaigning over child deprivation, and Michael Holding’s powerful interventions over everyday racism. But the gutless performance of the year should go to men’s professional tennis, which has resolutely failed to join the Women’s Tennis Association in boycotting

Lord Lucan, Joan Collins and the greatest dinner ever

There’s a narrow stretch of Chelsea, south of the King’s Road from Oakley Street to Ormonde Gate, that reminds me of post-war London when I first came here with my dad. Names such as Margaretta Terrace, St Loo Avenue, Alpha Place and Robinson Street bring back sweet memories of youthful innocence and desire. London back then was big on rep but ranked last on comfort. Much later, towards the end of the 1950s, Queen’s Club held the second biggest tennis tournament in the land and had just one shower in the men’s locker room. (With a dirty white curtain.) It is often said that schoolboys derive no benefit from fine

Why the Reds have got the blues

Not so much the hair dryer: more a gentle home perm. Contemplating the increasingly less youthful visage of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as he looked on powerlessly while his very expensive Manchester United side were dismembered by Liverpool, you couldn’t help wonder what Sir Alex Ferguson, glowering and irascible in the stands above, would have done with those players. He would certainly have got something more out of the infantile and malicious Paul Pogba, sent off for a mean tackle which betrayed his manager and his teammates. But as Solskjaer was clearly a Ferguson appointment, shouldn’t the old bully take a share of the responsibility? With a weak board and a

I’d pick the Vero Beach retirement home for old ladies over Annabel’s

Around 20 or so years ago I had a point for match point on a perfect grass court at Fort Belvedere. We’d been playing for close to two hours. I remember hitting a topspin backhand down the line, going to the net and seeing my ball just miss the tramline. I was perfectly positioned to call the ball out. My opponent, thinking I would approach with a crosscourt, was covering his backhand side. He called my ball in. ‘Ball was out,’ said I. ‘I saw it in and it was in,’ said Galen Weston, my host at the Fort and a very good tennis player. It verged on the parodic,

Can we talk about Emma Raducanu’s Christianity?

I’ve just been looking at photographs of Emma Raducanu again, this time focusing on her upper chest. She usually wears a pendant cross, which suggests that she is a Christian. Yes I know that some people wear crosses for fashion reasons, but I don’t think she’s in that camp. Maybe it’s more a sign of cultural than religious allegiance, maybe a treasured gift from a grandparent? Or maybe a sign of solidarity with China’s persecuted Christians. To what extent is it legitimate to inquire into this? The orthodoxy is, not at all, you meddling creep. It’s her business, and it’s utterly irrelevant to her tennis success. But it is not

Emma Raducanu’s victory is being spoiled by the usual suspects

How do you take the pleasure out of something so marvellous and joyful as Emma Raducanu’s US open victory last night? Easy — turn on Twitter, which spoils everything including sport. Raducanu’s victory is truly a great triumph; the most breathtaking sporting feat by a female British athlete in our lifetimes. Emma is 18 and beautiful, just did her A-levels and got A* marks, had been 400/1 to win the tournament, never dropped a set — all these facts make her achievement even more delightful. I’ll stop the adulation there, because an entire industry of sports commentators already exists to make these points over and over. We don’t all need

Emma Raducanu can save tennis

Something perfect at the death of summer: Emma Raducanu in full flight, smoking winners up the lines and progressing without dropping a set into the last eight of the US Open at the improbable age of 18. The very best, in tennis as in all sports, almost without exception, make it look beautiful – it’s why we can’t take our eyes off them (because beauty is an element-bending superpower). Raducanu makes playing tennis look beautiful. As she waits to receive serve, poised and utterly focused, it can appear as if she has arrived on court straight from the pages of a fashion magazine. There is an unmistakeable Hollywood quality, too,

The rise of Emma Raducanu

British teenager Emma Raducanu’s straight set victory (6-1, 6-2) at the US Open last night was exciting. Exciting for all the reasons we love to watch tennis; the thrill of the underdog triumph, the inevitable comparisons with other, prodigal, teenage stars like Becker, and of course, the very fact of her Britishness. In this, our Brexit era, Raducanu took her best to the world stage and outperformed all expectations. Virginia Wade, the last British woman to win the title at Flushing Meadows in 1968 and grand dowager of the British women’s game, rose to her feet in the stands applauding the guts of the 18-year old as she won 12

The absurdity of tennis players’ toilet breaks

Forgive the personal question, but how long does it take you to, you know, go to the gents, ladies, non-binary? Quite what Stefanos Tsitsipas was doing in there in any of his numerous toilet breaks during the epic first-round US Open encounter with Andy Murray at Flushing (geddit?) Meadows is anybody’s guess. It clearly riled Murray — never the hardest thing to do — who was playing as well as ever, and is the ironman, quite literally, of Grand Slam tennis. He has also rather wittily pointed out that Jeff Bezos can get into space and back again more quickly than Tsitsipas can go to the loo. There is something

In defence of Novak Djokovic

Why does no one like Novak Djokovic? If Roger Federer is the player that even non-tennis fans can’t help but fawn over, Djokovic has few admirers. The world number one smashed two racquets during his defeat to Pablo Carreno Busta in the semi-finals of the Tokyo Olympics yesterday. The game marked the end of Djokovic’s dream of achieving the Golden Slam by winning four grand slams and Olympic gold in the same year.  While Djokovic still had a phenomenal year, even champions have bad days. But despite his many achievements, there is a palpable sense that a lot of fans were happy to see him lose – both the game itself and his temper. It’s fair

Why do the Japanese still seem so ambivalent about Naomi Osaka?

It had all started so well for Naomi Osaka. Dressed in the colours of the Japanese flag, the tennis star was given the signal honour of lighting the cauldron in Friday’s opening ceremony at the Tokyo Olympics. She was presented as a symbol not only of Japan, but also of the Olympic movement’s self-proclaimed diverse and progressive philosophy. Yet her hopes of glory were extinguished just four days later after an error-strewn performance against world number 42 Markéta Vondroušová. Her underwhelming Olympic adventure prompted words of sympathy from many. US gymnast Simone Biles, who had her own disappointment to deal with, cited Osaka as an ‘inspiration’, and the novelist Yuji Taida

The dying art of sports commentary

Wimbledon is here at last, after its absence in 2020. What struck me watching the French Open on television a couple of weeks before was just how much rubbish I had to listen to if I kept the sound on. There are now too many matches broadcast, which means more and more commentators spouting off about the game in the middle of rallies. I don’t know why viewers don’t raise hell with the networks about these non-stop blabbermouths who interrupt our viewing. We’ve become a nation of sheep, accepting everything so-called experts throw at us. Televised sport needs commentators only before and after the event. Although the Wimbledon lot spout

Forget football – rugby is the real beautiful game

The question is surely destined to become a pub quiz staple: ‘Who moved a bottle 18 inches across a table and was said by the media to have wiped millions from the share price of a major corporation?’ Cristiano Ronaldo’s casual dismissal of a product-placed bottle of Coca-Cola — and Paul Pogba’s subsequent pushing aside of a bottle of Heineken — during Euro 2020 press conferences earned them nearly as much attention as any sleight of foot they performed on the pitch. For years the corporations have been mightier than the players but this isn’t the case any longer. There has even been some talk of legal action against Ronaldo

In praise of chastity

New York It’s party time in the Bagel, or at least private party time. Yours truly is an extra man nowadays as my wife and I have been separated by pandemic restrictions for six months. Alexandra is in London, quarantining after visiting two little blond things in Austria for my fourth grandchild Theodora’s first birthday. I am doing dinner parties non-stop in the Bagel, as if I were a gaywalker back in the 1970s. Actually, I’ve been seeing a lot of old friends who have thrown dinners for Lita and George Livanos. We have mostly been the same crowd, as New York society types have gone the way of wooden

Have tennis players always been expected to give interviews?

Game, set, chat Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open after being fined $15,000 for failing to appear for a post-match press conference. Have players always been expected to give interviews? — Wimbledon was first televised live in 1937, the year of Fred Perry’s third and final victory against Gottfried von Cramm. A photo from 1938, when Bunny Austin was beaten by the US player Donald Budge in the final, shows that the post-match interview was already part of the coverage. Vaccine clots How many people in the UK have died from blood clots related to the AstraZeneca vaccine? Up to 27 May the Medical and Healthcare

In defence of Naomi Osaka

‘Kawaisou’ or ‘wagamama’ (poor thing or spoiled brat)? That’s the question Japanese tennis fans have been asking ever since world number two Naomi Osaka quit the French Open, having refused to fulfil her post-match press conference obligations. The tennis superstar cited mental health problems for her reluctance to be quizzed by journalists, after which she was censored sharply, and handed a $15,000 (£11,000) fine. She was told to comply, but has chosen not to, packing her bags and leaving instead.  Osaka has said that she suffers ‘bouts of depression’ and has confessed to a chronic shyness that prompts her to wear headphones to shut out the world whenever she is at a tournament.

Dear Mary: How can we use our neighbour’s tennis court without inviting him to play?

Q. Our neighbours have a tennis court which, under the property’s previous owner, we enjoyed playing men’s fours on. The new owner is very welcoming and friendly. The problem (without sounding conceited, I hope) is that he is not up to the standard of the rest of us in the village who would like to play on his court. How do we politely say that we want to play — but not with him? — Name and address withheld A. What about one of your number inviting him to play golf? He will thereby have the opportunity to introduce the new court owner to lots of locals, or businessmen, or