Football fans finally have a date for the recommencement of the Premier League, with kick off scheduled for 17th June, albeit without spectators.
But for tennis fans the wait is more agonising. Two summer slams have been cancelled, including everyone’s favourite tournament, Wimbledon, and while the US Open clings on by its fingernails, it’s unclear how many of the major players will show up and what the matches will look like.
A glimmer of hope has appeared on the horizon though, as Jamie Murray launches a new ‘behind closed doors’ charity tournament for June, Battle of the Brits. There’ll be nobody to give a standing ovation at the announcement of “game, set and match”, but we’ll have the chance to watch the UK’s top male players battle it out on an indoor court, hoping to be named singles and doubles champions.
Much like a bride during lockdown, forced to pretend she’s happy getting married with only two guests, the tournament comes as sort-of-welcome news to tennis fans. Of course, if you love the Murray brothers, it’s a fun chance to see them play again, and a nice opportunity to see the progress Andy has made recovering from his debilitating hip injury. But will it really be any more than a knock-about? Without the roar of the crowd, the promise of a meaningful victory and, let’s face it, world-class opponents, is it worth tuning into?
The first point to make is that tennis isn’t really a nationalistic sport. Sorry, but there are plenty of Brits who support Roger Federer as passionately as Andy Murray, so long was the wait for a homegrown champion. There’s an affection for Brits gone by – I’d be excited about a doubles match with Andy and Sue Barker vs Jamie and Virginia Wade – but beyond the Murrays, Dan Evans and Kyle Edmund haven’t inspired much support. Unlike Johanna Konta and Heather Watson, but it’s also a male-only event, a slightly odd look for Andy Murray, well-known as the male player who is most consistently supportive of the women’s game.
We all know that Wimbledon isn’t just for tennis people. You can be allergic to physical exercise, indifferent to televised sport and ignorant to the rules of the game, but still sucked into the drama, elegance and tradition of such a special event. We can get over the lack of strawberries and cream of course, but what about the gasps of the sunburned crowd as an epic five setter edges into the fifth hour of play? What about the ability for childhood dreams to come true on pristine green lawns as royalty watches on? And the fact that the whole nation can lose an evening to an endless sway between deuce and advantage as the sun sets…
Let’s be fair to Jamie, he never promised a substitute for Wimbledon, that’s just us pining for a particularly beloved slice of summer. His tournament is a port in the storm for tennis fans, and we’re grateful for some matches to watch, plus it promises to raise at least £100,000 for NHS charities. Maybe we just need to get into the spirit a little more, focussing on what we have, rather than what we miss. Pour a Pimms, stick on a straw hat and let the Murrays entertain you, even if it’s not tennis at its most riveting.
Schroders Battle of the Brits will run on Amazon Prime Video for six days from 23rd to 28th June. To find out what else is on TV, check out our TV Guide.