Wimbledon’s magic moments

David Butcher laments the feeble commentary at the 2008 men's singles final match between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal

Has there ever been such a classic sporting event with such feeble commentary? More than 12 million people were gripped by the climax of the men’s Wimbledon final (6 July, BBC1), one of the best tennis matches ever played. But all commentators Andrew Castle and Tim Henman could manage, when they bothered to speak at all, was the occasional limp platitude or hesitant aside.


As one exquisite rally followed another we got revelatory insights from Castle along the lines of “This is top tennis now,” or “You have to take your hat off to Federer.” Or my own favourite: “They wouldn’t have had a rain delay if this was taking place next year.” I’m sorry, what?

Yes, Andrew, that’s right – next year, Centre Court will have a roof. But conjecturing a parallel universe in which the 2008 men’s final takes place in 2009 doesn’t add much to our enjoyment. If that’s your line of thinking, stop doing TV commentary and start writing episodes of Doctor Who.

Some people will have been grateful for the commentators’ mostly self-effacing blandness. But when you’ve been exposed to what John McEnroe in the right mood can offer in the way of analysis, there’s no going back.

As if to taunt us, the cameras kept showing us shots of McEnroe speaking in a different commentary box, doing his bit for a US network. The third time they did this, I started to get cross. It was like visiting the Sistine Chapel and finding yourself in a tour party led by Norman Wisdom, while just out of earshot you can see another group who have got Brian Sewell as guide.

Still, the commentary, or lack of it, couldn’t spoil a gleaming gem of televised sport. Afterwards, we got the dream-like post-match ceremony, too, with Roger Federer in his suave 1920s cardigan, from which you half expected him to produce a briar pipe or a Turkish cigarette, while Rafael Nadal clambered around the stands in the fading light.


The final’s unprecedented length may have wrecked the Sunday-night television schedules (so long, George Gently), but boy, was it worth it.