Despite theplayers (who come from all over the world) and the game they play (which isinternational) there is a flavor distinctively British in the tennischampionships held each year at this time by the All-England Lawn Tennis andCroquet Club in Wimbledon, just outside London. Last year as the tournament,founded in 1877 and once known as the world championships, got under way forthe 75th time, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED invited Satirist André Fran√ßois, a Frenchartist with a sharply pointed style and uninhibited palette, to cross theChannel and have a look at it through sympathetic but alien eyes. He respondedto the challenge with the paintings on the following pages and a notebook fullof sly comment to go with them.
The Wimbledonlandscape," notes André Fran√ßois, "consists of trees, meadows, housesburied in the trees, and hills and hills of cars. The newspaper vendors lookvery fierce. In certain sections distinguished people under distinguishedumbrellas are being served distinguished tea. In other areas undistinguishedpeople serve themselves tea cakes and ice cream—and look. The only realextraverts in England are the aristocracy watchers. They don't even pretend notto look. They look and look. They get on their toes and look. There goes themost distinguished person of all. The sunset and the Wimbledon flag arereflected in the bonnet of his Rolls-Royce."
Everything inWimbledon is green," adds Artist Fran√ßois, "but the grass tenniscourts. Green ivy, green canopies, green chairs, green doors, greenbalconies—blue-green, black-green, green-green. But the tennis courts areyellowish, like the green velvet of a Victorian armchair which has faded away.In the midst of it sits the umpire wearing a straw hat and, definitely, acarnation. He is a little smug and seems to have been sitting there since the19th century. All of a sudden the sky gets dark and it begins to rain. The lawnis covered up, and in the unsheltered parts of the grounds there is ablossoming of umbrellas. People are used to rain in England."
You have to callthem hats," notes Wimbledon's visiting Frenchman, "because ladies wearthem on their heads. If you had not been to Wimbledon you would not believe it.This is London's open-air flower and vegetable market. Women walk about withpink cabbages, turquoise roses, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms and game birdscaught in Portuguese fishnets all on the top of their heads. You see very fewmen here. All you see are hats. The best show of all is that of the ball boys.Pointers and retrievers combined, they communicate with each other in silenttelegraphy. They scoop up a ball, duck and become suddenly immobile like churchfigures."
The rewards forthe players," concludes Fran√ßois, "seem an anticlimax after themagnificence of the hats, the splendor of the pas de deux on the courts and theballets of the ball boys. Two canvas rugs are placed on the lawn. A small tableis covered with a Union Jack, and a small silvery bucket is placed on top ofit. Amid breathless silence a tiny old lady walks out over the rugs to thebucket. One day she may be a little old duchess; another day she may be a duke.As she presents the bucket, the winners will bow deeply, the photographers willsnap their shutters and the reporters, ball boys and television men will watchclosely."