July 15, 2020
In all its long and illustrious history, Wimbledon has never looked classier or been more loved.
And yet there was no live tennis this year. Nothing to cheer on those sumptuous grass courts.
Wimbledon fortnight is over for now. Not an ace served, nor hard-fought rally won. No trophy lifted by a living legend.
And yet we still hear applause. And that applause comes from around the world.
Tennis is united in its adulation for the All England Lawn Tennis Club.
So what has happened? How can 2020 possibly be Wimbledon’s finest hour?
And why are so many leading figures in tennis expressing their heartfelt desire to be there for Wimbledon 2021?
Simple. Wimbledon has shown class from start to finish during the pandemic in the UK.
It feels like we all want to show our appreciation now and give something back next year.
As Kim Clijsters recently said: ‘Always a class act and leader of our sport…can’t wait to be back next year.’
This also begs the question: what is class?
It isn’t necessarily history, aristocratic breeding or sartorial elegance, though Wimbledon isn’t short of such things.
It isn’t swashbuckling style or mountains of money either.
Class is surely how you conduct yourself, how you humbly make a difference when it would be easier to do nothing.
This is a truth Wimbledon has underlined for us so superbly in the last few months.
If class is the way you use your position to make a positive impact on those around you, Wimbledon has plenty.
Let’s not get too moralistic. The Championships are usually about spending quite a lot of money to have enormous amounts of fun and make memories to last a lifetime.
The experience can be luxurious, a wonderful self-indulgence, a very special treat indeed.
We don’t shy away from that. We embrace it.
We all know life is for living and Wimbledon is a natural celebration of our love for all the good things in sport and all the good things in life itself.
But just look at the way the All England Club has conducted itself during the crisis.
They understood the very essence of class and they put that into practice from the start.
As AELTC chairman Ian Hewitt said: ‘We strongly believe that Wimbledon has the responsibility and capacity to act as a force for good, using our resources to help those in need, particularly in a crisis such as this.’
That’s why they were soon pumping £1.2 million into the Wimbledon Foundation and helping to care for the homeless and mentally ill, both locally and throughout London.
That’s why St John Ambulance received a generous donation. Wimbledon 2021 will be their 103rd year on duty at the Championships.
The British Red Cross and local hospitals also received support. But the All England Club didn’t just hand money out.
An AELTC kitchen opened up to prepare 200 meals per day for three months at the height of the crisis. Those meals were taken from the Grand Slam venue into the local community.
Ambulance drivers could park their vehicles at Wimbledon and use the toilets whenever they wanted.
But the generosity didn’t end there. Even during the fortnight of what should have been the 2020 Championships, we were still cheering.
Think Wimbledon, think strawberries.
The AELTC didn’t want to let their suppliers down. So they bought strawberries anyway. Enough to make 750kg worth of jam.
They also sent 26,000 strawberries to National Health Service frontline staff as a thank you for their life-saving heroics during the pandemic.
And as Wimbledon fortnight neared its end, we heard of even more mind-blowing generosity.
The AELTC chose to pay out some £10 million in prize money to players most in need.
They remembered that the lesser-known players need to survive until Wimbledon 2021.
So 224 players who would have competed in this year’s qualifying received £12,500. And 256 players who would have competed in the main draw received £25,000 each.
The doubles players were not forgotten. Those who would have made the main draw received £6,250 each to keep them going.
The sixteen wheelchair tennis stars who would have competed at Wimbledon were given £6,000 each. Four quad-event wheelchair players each received £5,000 too.
All this money was vital to sustain those who aren’t among the millionaire superstars at the top of the game.
But some of the biggest names in tennis were quick to applaud Wimbledon.
Billie Jean King called it ‘a very generous and thoughtful decision.’
Nick Kyrgios said: ‘Wimbledon thank you, an amazing gesture. You will always be our favourite tournament.’
Somehow Clijsters put it best by calling Wimbledon ‘a class act.’
Not for the history, the elegance or wealth. Just the way the All England Club behaved when people needed them.
Boy, did they step up and deliver during a crisis! Chairman Ian Hewitt, chief executive Richard Lewis and all their staff “played a blinder,” as we say in England.
Sure, we’re biased because we love everything about this English slam. We can’t wait for Wimbledon 2021.
It’s just that we love the dear old place and the people who run it even more now. Don’t you?