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You probably noticed two big announcements by the promoter of Wimbledon, the All England Club (formally, it's the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, but I'm always worried that if I say those magic words I'll be transformed into someone named Laurence and hold my pinkie in the air when I drink my coffee!), that the tournament will feature Hawk-Eye electronic line-calling technology this year, and that it will offer the richest purse in tournament tennis history (equally distributed between men and women in the main draws, thank you very much). OK, the U.S. dollar is weak at the moment; still, can you say $22-and-a-half million dollars?
I can't hardly wait to see Hawk-Eye in action at Wimbledon, although the Centre Court experience is apt to be a little weird this year. The club is installing a roof (due date: 2009), so the most famous venue in tennis will no longer have its customary, Elizabethan (that means "ye olde style") atmosphere. In reading reports on these doings, I see writers using constructions like, "Wimbledon is joining the 21st Century " or "Keeping pace with the changes in tennis "
The wordings always make me smile, because Wimbledon has not only kept up, it has remained ahead of the curve in the pro era, consistently and predictably. The trend goes all the way back to when Wimbledon became the first of the Grand Slams to decide it would embrace "Open" tennis, with pros and amateurs competing against each other on a level playing field. That, of course, was the critical step that launched the tennis boom and made the game the popular spectator sport it is today.
In the big picture, no tournament (it's not even close) has been as successful in answering the challenge of change without sacrificing or renouncing its past. That's partly because the A-E Club has always operated on the premise that it is Sui Generis. Turns out those suits who run the place knew all along that as grass court tournaments were mowed down for practical and financial reasons, keeping Wimbledon on grass would enhance their event's unique status (not to mention its charm). They knew that resisting the urge to surround the court with sponsor placards would heighten the sense the Wimbledon is "pure" and "traditional." The All-England Club is the tennis version of Augusta National Golf Club, right down to the fact the name of each tournament transcends all the "Open" or "classic" stuff.
Maybe the powers that be should take a look at dividing the tennis year in two: The winter-spring tour in hard courts and clay, and the summer-fall tour on hard and indoor. In between, you would have Wimbledon, a month-long week celebration of the game, comparable to baseball's All-Star break. That's already true, why not acknowledge and trade on it?Join Peter Bodo's next chat on Wednesday, May 2 at 1 p.m. ET.