I am here this morning to save tennis (or, rather, to save Wimbledon, which is what we Englishmen mean when we say “tennis”) because, thanks to Andy Murray, I have found myself watching the US Open this year for the first time in my life and: Oh. My. God.
The court was blue! And when they bounced the ball before serving it made this horrible “pock, pock, pock” noise like a postman knocking on the door of a Portakabin. That was when you could hear anything at all, what with the courts apparently having been built in the car park at JFK, so that there was rarely more than a minute's peace between the passing overhead of each aeroplane. I SAID: “RARELY MORE THAN A MINUTE'S...”
And the clothes, ye Gods. Freed from the Wimbledon dress code, Murray wore the black trainers of an urban mugger and an old T-shirt the colour of a Possil towerblock. And I don't know what in the world Federer thought he had come as, with his brown shorts and red blouse. He looked like Minnie Mouse.
The line judges, in their blue jogging pants and comfy white trainers, looked like elderly Floridians dressed for a power walk around the buffet table. And the umpire wore a baseball cap and a bomber jacket, sitting there watching the kids play tennis like a suburban paedophile. No wonder the crowd (spread out like collapsing soufflés in their giant seats) whistled and hooted through the rallies - no authority. No sense of occasion.
The ball boys were incongruously tall, tanned and chunky - they must feed them well at Barnardo's over there. And they threw the balls overarm. Where's the respect?
The changeovers were ten minutes long to make room for commercials, so that the players spent more time sitting down than they did playing, and the courtside was covered in bank logos. Then, when it was over, all they talked about was money.
They asked Federer how it felt to win $1.5 million, like he was some slack-jawed lottery punter who got lucky. Like it was polite to talk about money in public. And then they handed him the keys to his free Lexus right there on court. I tried to imagine the Duchess of Kent doing something similar, perhaps sprawled across the bonnet in a bikini.
Who knows, maybe the free executive saloon with its capacious boot was the most exciting thing for Federer. Now that he won't have to schlep his kit around on the bus any more, who knows how far he can go in the game?
Every year they push the boundaries in SW19: a flash of colour here, a logo there. But I have seen the ghost of Wimbledon future. And it must be prevented.