It’s not so long since we were discussing the notion that Anglo-Danish cultural relations were at a high-water mark; in a sporting context at least, it’s difficult on this Sunday morning to think how they could be bettered following the victory of wildcards Jonny Marray and Freddie Nielsen in the men’s doubles tournament at Wimbledon. For tennis fans and suitably partisan Brits (the two are not mutually exclusive) that’s an extraordinary aperitif to today’s men’s singles final between Andy Murray and Roger Federer, and an aperitif that landed out of nowhere – although it would have probably taken Shakespeare to script the improbable drama that has unfolded at SW19 in the last two weeks.
Which takes us to some understandable concerns that the BBC had to shift some programming in its Shakespeare season (this season in itself a shrewd piece of scheduling and cultural reasoning as Britain gets ready for the Summer Olympics) in order to (partially) accommodate the Marray-Nielsen triumph. From a Worldly Scandifriend perspective, we’d like to offer some perspective on this one:
1) It’s 76 years since a Briton won in the men’s doubles at SW19. In other words, just before BBC television (and therefore, to all intents and purposes, public service television worldwide full stop) started. In that time there’s been plenty of Shakespeare on the box. We don’t think it’s too much to ask that the denouement of a very live and unpredictable drama on Centre Court takes precedence here. Worldly Scandifriend doesn’t have a television and would happily watch Shakespeare on iPlayer; that option does exist for everyone else.
2) Shakespeare is the most eclectic writer of all time; without even needing to Google it, we recalled the line from Much Ado About Nothing about how the ‘ornament of (Benedick’s) cheek hath stuffed tennis balls’ (and then remembered Henry V shortly afterwards). We find it difficult to believe that a man with such an open mind would have thrown a star wobbler if he had known that one of his dramas had been trumped by the goings-on in south-west London yesterday. Amid the dreadful English weather, the roof on Centre Court has fatefully enhanced the awesome sense of drama and brought late-night tennis to the masses coming home from their day jobs. Rosol v Nadal and Murray v Baghdatis are just two extraordinary matches that served as a prelude to yesterday. The noise of the crowd after Marray and Nielsen sealed victory yesterday was like a flood of uncaged delirium ‘neath the sealed firmament that detained crazy, marsh’d summer England-turned-Floodland itself. We hope Shakespeare would appreciate our attempts at poetic tribute; we feel he would have loved the tennis.
3) At least Brits have occasionally picked up a singles and doubles title at SW19 since the Challenge Round was abolished in the 1920s. No Dane had ever won a senior title there before yesterday. Nope, not ever. And Wimbledon started in 1877, only thirteen years after the Second Schleswig War. Short of showing Hamlet live from Elsinore Castle (which, again, has happened before), we don’t know what would have deterred Danske Radio and its fellow broadcasters from putting this pretty high up the broadcasting agenda (we’d love to know in case we’re missing out on a belter of a programme as good as The Killing or The Bridge). Berlingske Tidende is leading with this story in Denmark today; it’s not just Brits thrilled by this accomplishment.
4) The fact that very few people had any idea who Marray and Nielsen were a fortnight ago takes the dramatic biscuit. Goran Ivanisevic won Wimbledon as a wildcard in 2001, but was very familiar to the public after his harrowing losses in three previous finals. This story eleven years later is such stuff as dreams are made of (and we are consciously quoting Shakespeare there). I for one am tired of overpaid, over-exposed, over-hubristic footballers hoovering up the public limelight when there must be a plethora of human interest sports stories at grass-roots level and in other sporting disciplines. Let’s hear it for Marray and Nielsen for giving us a breath of fresh air and restoring a little bit of balance on this occasion.
5) It is possible to like Shakespeare and tennis. We can’t think of a better writer in history; we can’t think of any era in any men’s sport that is obviously better than the one which has unfolded in men’s tennis since Roger Federer first won Wimbledon in 2003 (and yes, we are aware of the achievements of Muhammad Ali in the 1960s and 1970s and Don Bradman in the 1930s and 1940s, to name but two others). We suggest that if Andy Murray prevails today, there should be an exhibition of real tennis (presumably the kind of tennis Shakespeare was referring to) on a suitably-tailored Centre Court (or failing that, Hampton Court) to mark the occasion. And, to mark the achievements of Marray and Nielsen, let’s have Sofie Gråbøl and Søren Malling from The Killing reunited and put alongside a British supporting cast for some Shakespeare as the main event. Benedick and Beatrice? Claudius and Gertrude? Isabella and Angelo? We’re getting excited thinking about it right now. As if today’s Murray v Federer showdown wasn’t exciting enough.
PS 6) BUT – with the above point in mind (that it’s possible to like Shakespeare and tennis), we have to be fair to those people who realised the significance of the Marray/Nielsen match but who were not best pleased that Henry IV Part One was completely shifted to a later date in order to accommodate the women’s doubles finals (with Casualty apparently throwing a spanner in the scheduling works too). We don’t belittle the achievements of the Williams sisters for one moment; nor do we underestimate the pulling power of Casualty after nearly thirty years. Shakespeare isn’t on the box that often compared to Casualty. We don’t see what was wrong with showing Jeremy Irons on one channel and Venus and Serena on the other. The BBC got the scheduling mostly right; maybe it needs to show Federeresque fleet of foot and stop scheduling Casualty against the sport so often?