Martin Rogers

Wimbledon Slice, Day 5: Media wars

Busted Racquet

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FIRST SERVE

In a modern building sandwiched among the stately lawns of the All England Club, an annual battle of creativity and cunning takes place.

Just yards away but a world removed from Wimbledon's cultured image of strawberries and cream, straw hats and striped jackets, the media center is where the infamous London press corps works to a time-honored formula.

The British capital is home to the world's most competitive media market, and Wimbledon is a ceaseless struggle between rival newspapers to outdo each other with the most, ahem, imaginative portrayal of the tournament's daily events.

Think the hype and bluster and printed topspin that the English newspapers impart is merely a sideshow to what happens on court?

Think again.

Over time there have been countless occurrences when a media story at these championships has had a critical effect on a player's mindset.

This year there are only two players the tabloids are interested in: Andy Murray and Roger Federer.

Given that a war of words is ideal headline fodder, the two favorites for the men's singles can expect plenty of leading questioning every time they step into a press conference.

Murray and Federer are skilled exponents of giving deadpan answers, but in many cases, it doesn't matter.

Early in the tournament, Murray's calm assertion that he was disappointed not to be joined by any other British men in the second round was turned into a damning indictment of his fellow countrymen, under a screaming headline of ‘Shame On You.'

And before his next match against Ernests Gulbis of Latvia, a minor incident that occurred during a match between the pair more than 12 months ago made backpage news in several publications.

Given that Murray and Federer don't particularly like each other anyway, expect talk of a fractious personal rivalry to become staple fare heading into the second week.

Whatever your opinion of the London tabloids and their reputation in the United States, those newspapers still boast some of the finest enterprising story-getters in the business.

Often, the mischief making is concocted by headline makers and editors back at head office.

A good friend and colleague from the newspaper I used to work for was once given the unenviable order from his sports editor to enquire about "that thing on Jelena Dokic's lip" (it was a birthmark).

Given the short temper of Dokic's father Damir, now in a Serbian jail for making death threats against an Australian dignitary, the reporter was fortunate that Mr. Dokic's response to the remark was merely verbal.

The start of the sport's sensationalist era was the 1970s, when larger-than-life characters such as John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors burst on to the scene.

Borg admitted in a BBC interview on Friday that the way in which he was hounded by press photographers while in London played a major role in him cutting short his career.

A McEnroe press conference in 1981 even erupted into a full-blown fistfight, when American correspondent Charlie Steiner objected to the way McEnroe had been treated by English reporters.

Murray and Federer, and those around them, will try to ignore the whirlwind of activity around them – but there will be plenty of reminders.

Whoever handles this unique sporting circus the better could end up with his hands on the trophy.

DROP SHOT

The bottom half of the women's draw was again weakened on Friday, as seventh seed Vera Zvonareva was forced to pull out with an ankle injury. The Russian had been scheduled to meet Virginie Razzano, but her absence opens up a path for Elena Dementieva, who must now be fancied to reach the semifinals.

CLEAN WINNER

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's ears must have been ringing as he headed out of the All England Club. Tsonga was sent packing by an incredible serving display from Ivo Karlovic, who smashed 46 aces and conceded just a single point on his own serve in the fourth set.

Karlovic, the 6-10 Croatian who faces Fernando Verdasco next, is a player no one wants to meet.

RAISING THE ROOF

Threats of thunderstorms and heavy showers and gloomy predictions from pink-shirted BBC weather experts all came to nothing and the Centre Court roof again remained resolutely wedged in its open state.

PARTY HOUSE

Injury victim Rafael Nadal is back in Mallorca recuperating while the men's field fights it out for his Wimbledon title.

However, the Spaniard generously decided not to cancel the luxury $18,000-a-week house he had booked for championship fortnight, meaning other Spanish players like Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco, and some of Nadal's personal friends, have been able to use the residence for partying and relaxation.

GAME OF THE DAY

It was a fairly routine session for much of the day – until Marin Cilic and Tommy Haas became locked in an absolute blockbuster on Court One. Haas raced into a two-set lead before the Croatian youngster fought back magnificently in a match laced with thrilling rallies. With darkness closing in, referee Andrew Jarrett called a halt to proceedings at 6-6 in the fifth set. The players will resume on Saturday.

UPSET ALERT

Former world No.1 Juan Carlos Ferrero is on the comeback trail after a bleak run of injuries and loss of form. He is in with a shout against Fernando Gonzalez, the No.10 seed, in a third-round match on Court One.

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