WIMBLEDON, England — The authorities are making underwear checks at Wimbledon. But only for the women, of course. “It’s creepy,” said Caroline Wozniacki, one of the top female players and social media targets. The ladies get equal pay at The Championships, but very unequal scrutiny.
It’s still the 19th Century around here. Eugenie Bouchard, the Canadian, reportedly was fined the other day for wearing a black bra under the obligatory white blouse, causing Claire Cohen of the Telegraph to write, “It’s 2015 and we’re still discussing female tennis players’ lingerie over their performance on court.”
What are we going to discuss, forehands? Male entrants are listed as gentlemen — try that reference for an NFL lineup. Female entrants often curtsy as they walk past the royal box. Wimbledon is Victoria’s Unsecret, where players challenge tradition as much as they do each other.
Greater London is newspaper heaven — broadsheets, tabloids, the Times, Telegraph, Independent, Mirror, Express, Sun, Mail, Evening Standard. Wimbledon stories get into the juicy stuff, and that doesn’t mean the strawberries and cream symbolic of the tournament.
Any hint of scandal or disrespect, whether it was the lace panties worn by Gussie Moran in 1949 or the fiery outbursts of John McEnroe 30 years later, made headlines. And made the Wimbledon authorities bristle.
When a few years back Ana Ivanovic, the Serb, walked into the interview room, she was met with the remark, “How do you feel when people say you are the prettiest girl ever to play at Wimbledon?” She said she was flattered.
The Wimbledon folks quickly decided to put a stop to such nonsense, and when Ivanovic next appeared, the grump in charge issued a warning. “As a preamble,” he announced sternly, “can I remind everyone that we’re here to talk about tennis, its relationships and Ana’s match?”
The Championships are a bit like the Super Bowl and World Series combined. The soccer season — Premier League, Arsenal, ManU, Chelsea, those guys — doesn’t start for another month. Wimbledon has the spotlight, and everybody from organizers to players to fans to media know it. We also know the rules and do our best to circumvent them.
This business of white attire? The standard used to be “predominantly white” or “almost entirely in white.” Then a year ago it was changed to “white does not include off-white or cream” and allowing only “a single trim of color no wider than one centimeter.” When Roger Federer showed up with white shoes that had red soles, he was told to knock off the monkey-business, not caring about his seven Wimbledon wins.
The lack of color is a leftover from the 1800s, when those in charge of social mores thought it unbecoming to see women perspire. Sweat didn’t show as clearly, if at all, on white as on blues and greens. That anti-perspirants have been in vogue for a while makes no difference to Wimbledon.
Stephanie Mattek-Sands, the American who won a couple matches this time, tried to get around the rule. “I think it’s gotten a little excessive,” she contended. “I missed last year. I actually packed my bag with some of the skirts and colored underwear. That’s a no-go this year. I’m upset about that.”
But then there’s Venus Williams, a former champion, who Monday in the fourth round faces younger sister Serena, the defending champion. “I think it’s a nice change,” she said of Wimbledon’s lack of color. “I think everyone just kind of glows in white.”
There are other ways of getting attention, such as swearing at chair umpires or tossing forth obscene words which, unlike in America, are heard not only by fans on the grounds but those watching the BBC.
Greg Rusedski was born in Canada, but because his mother spent something like five minutes in England, he switched citizenship 20 years ago. He believed that he might be the first Brit to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936 and reap the benefits. That this was accomplished by a native-born Scot, Andy Murray, in 2013, became incidental.
Rusedski gained his recognition forevermore. After Swedish umpire Lars Graff didn’t allow a point to be replayed in a 2003 match against America’s Andy Roddick — after a spectator had called the ball out — Rusedski used the “F” word repeatedly. And the BBC carried each loud, clear syllable through the land. These days, you see Australian Nick Krygios — same guy who said he can’t stand the Golden State Warriors, for unexplained reasons — mouthing up a storm and pulling stunts like bouncing his racket into the stands. Oh, and he was told Friday to turn his headband inside-out so the green-and-purple stripes weren’t visible.
You can check for a black bra and a green-and-purple headband, but not necessarily for blue language. Unless you’re Serena Williams, who was fined last week for an outburst.
Wimbledon — so great, so complicated.