The Observer Magazine would summon the supremely sarcastic talents of Clive James when it needed funny captions to go with its photo stories, and Wimbledon 1981 was as ripe as a massively overpriced punnet of strawberries (‘Clive James on the Wild Men of Wimbledon’).
‘Wimbledon is here again,’ said the intro slightly wearily, ‘time for tantrums and loutish behaviour beamed right into our living rooms to give us that familiar frisson of embarrassment at the sight of grown men behaving like petulant five-year-olds.’
Step forward, the prince of petulance John McEnroe. ‘Prepatory to losing at Wimbledon,’ snarked James, ‘McEnroe digs a fox-hole from which to shout abuse at the umpire, linesman, ballboys, the audience and visiting royalty. Grass courts are comparatively easy to dig holes in but hard courts make him angry.’
Accompanying a photo of Ilie Nastase, the original bad boy of tennis, ‘jokingly’ hiding under the canvas at the side of the court, James wrote: ’Sure of a warm reception from his admiring public, Nastase makes a triumphant entry on to the centre court at Wimbledon for the final of the Clowns’ Consolation Cup, which he subsequently lost in straight sets to Dick Emery.’
To offset this machismo, there was also an interview with Virginia Wade. Ronald Atkin wrote: ‘She used to blame anything or anyone in sight for a defeat: bad line calls, poor bounces, opponents’ luck and she still retains the tendency to offer slighting remarks about someone who has just beaten her.’
Martin Amis mocked the call for more ‘personalities’ in tennis – a synonym he said for ‘assholes’ – and the behaviour of ‘complete personalities’ such as Nastase, Jimmy Connors, McEnroe and Andre Agassi.
But the difference was – as with McEnroe, Connors and Agassi and not with, say, Nick Kyrgios – that Wade was a winner.