There we were, thinking that all fun and fripperies had been cancelled for 2012. Since Ivan Lendl joined Andy Murray’s entourage, the games of tennis-football on the practice court have been stopped, and there haven’t been too many pranks in the camp. The thinking went something like this: you weren’t going to catch Lendl wearing a pink velour tracksuit or choosing Hannah Montana film as his in-flight movie, just because he had lost a game of tennis-football with his twenty-something employer.
And anyway, the argument went, when did professional tennis suddenly turn into a Judd Apatow production?
But Lendl is not as austere or as joyless as people think. He tells the dirtiest jokes in tennis. And now this: Murray has disclosed that he and Lendl are going to be playing a doubles match against the British pair of Ross Hutchins and Colin Fleming with the most extraordinary of forfeits. If Murray and Lendl lose the match, which could be played on the clay at Barcelona next month, Lendl will rollerblade into Wimbledon this summer, wearing his white spandex.
During his playing days, Lendl would occasionally rollerblade around the practice court, but the sight of him on his skates, speeding down the hill from Wimbledon Village, and through the wrought-iron gates of the All England Club, would be in anyone’s list of the sport’s most shocking moments. Lendl never won Wimbledon, but he could achieve an even rarer feat: turning The Championships into a David Walliams sketch.
There will be English tennis fans who haven’t updated their view of Lendl since the 1980s, when he was a mechanical figure who had supposedly left any creativity or personality behind the Iron Curtain. A pair of skates and some spandex will change all that.
“Ivan and I are going to play against Ross and Colin on clay. We’re going to play a doubles match for a forfeit, which hasn’t been set yet. Ivan rollerblades a lot and one of the potential forfeits if we lose is him rollerblading into Wimbledon, wearing his white spandex,” Murray said, and anyone who thinks that tennis suffers from being po-faced will be cheering for Fleming and Hutchins. Even if Murray and Lendl win, that they are even playing for these stakes shows that that no one has lost their sense of humour.
American tennis fans, promoters and tournament directors are sometimes accused of being too one-eyed, of caring only for those who play for the Stars and Stripes. So there was something refreshing about Mardy Fish’s gripes that, in both Indian Wells and Miami, he has been kept away from centre stage. Being the American number one is no longer any guarantee of playing on the stadium court, and that’s surely a positive development for the sport.