The Quest is one of the world’s favourite stories and every year we retell it at Wimbledon. As always, a series of ever-escalating challenges faces the hero. Naturally, the last task – the last chapter – is the hardest of all.
The final at Wimbledon is Odysseus arriving at Ithaca to find his home taken over by the dreadful suitors. It’s Frodo Baggins arriving at the Cracks of Doom with the dreadful ring of power around his neck. It’s the final assault on the rabbits of Watership Down led by the dreadful General Woundwort.
The singles championships at Wimbledon are the epic tale of the Quest told in seven chapters (there being seven rounds), and chapter seven is, every single year, a devastating revelation of the nature of the champion: their beauties, their glories, their vulnerabilities.
It follows that finals weekend is always special. And for those who have spent the past fortnight scarcely leaving the grounds for anything other than sleep, the very last day of all has a joyous school’s-out, Last Night of the Proms feel.
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It’s always accompanied by the certainty that something special will take place that day. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have taken my place on Centre Court on the final day, but I can tell you for a fact that not one single day has been a disappointment.
It’s all in the gradual ratcheting-up of the tension. You thought the last match mattered? Now try this. And then the next… and each turn of the screw reveals more and more of the contenders. The ever-increasing demands overwhelm some players – while the great ones find only inspiration in the ever-greater difficulties.
But I shouldn’t boast about being on Centre Court. We’re all on Centre Court these days. That’s what television does for us.
Play! The umpire’s call stills the buzz of conversation. From the top of the stands – on some occasions I’ve been close to the roof – you can still hear the sound of a tennis ball bouncing on the grass, grass now bald along the baseline.
And then the whop of racket against ball, and the day’s first grunt, and if you thought that was tense, stick around, for it’ll only get worse…
My favourite final day final? All of them. Following Wimbledon is a cumulative experience: every tournament you have ever watched adds to the meaning of the one going on right now. But let’s have just three.
In 1999 Pete Sampras faced Andre Agassi. Agassi played perfect tennis that day, so Pete… somehow went beyond perfection and won in three devastating sets. Then, in 2006, Roger Federer lost the third set to Rafael Nadal, raised his game yet again and it was too much for Rafa, too much for anyone. And of course, in 2013, a certain Scot – the one who chose to be a great player in the era of the three gods – still managed an unforgettable victory.
Oh, but I’ve missed out your favourite. That’s because there are too many to choose from – like 1980, the year Bjorn Borg came back to win after losing that fourth-set tiebreak 18-16 to John (whatever happened to him?) McEnroe.
Sport is impossible to predict, but one thing about the final day at Wimbledon is certain. It’s great. The Quest will be completed.
The Wimbledon women’s singles finals are on Saturday at 1pm on BBC1 and the men’s singles finals are on Sunday at 1.50pm on BBC1. The new actor to play The Doctor in Doctor Who will be announced after the match.