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Gaurav Bhatt, Hindustan Times, New Delhi | Updated: Jul 09, 2016 15:10 IST

 

To call the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club a stickler for tradition would be an understatement. Till 2002, players were required to curtsey to the Royal Box on the Centre Court. The Duke of Kent, who is also the club’s president, discontinued the ritual, deeming it anachronistic.

The pristine white outfits are a different story altogether. The strict rules (failing which a player can be disqualified) make the Wimbledon whiter than this year’s Oscars.

The archaic custom is rooted in the Victorian era when tennis was a sport for the cultured, to be played at social gatherings. Now, sport equals sweat equals inappropriate patches on coloured clothing. Enter the ‘tennis whites’.

The archaic custom is rooted in the Victorian era when tennis was a sport for the cultured.

Cut to 2014, when a 10-part decree was introduced in the rulebook which states that “white does not include off-white or cream” and allows only “a single trim of colour no wider than one centimetre.” The rule now covers caps, headbands, bandanas, wristbands, shoes and even “any undergarments that either are or can be visible during play (including due to perspiration).”

Players have to send sample of their clothing to the club for approval at least 90 days in advance.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands, the resident Lady Gaga of tennis expectedly has had trouble following the code. The colourful American – what with the dyed hair, tattooed arm and black warpaint – said that the “rules have become ridiculously strict.”

“I mean, you can’t even wear off white or cream. I was going to joke about that. I was like, man, if you wash your whites too many times, they will be illegal. Better be washing it in cold water.”

But Mattek-Sands, who “didn’t even get married in white”, isn’t one to give up easy.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands said that the “rules have become ridiculously strict”. (AP Photo)

Eugenie Bouchard, the 2014 finalist, was cautioned for wearing a black bra.

 

There’s no leeway for tennis royalties either. Seven-time champion Roger Federer was banned from wearing orange-soled shoes in 2014.

Roger Federer was banned from wearing orange-soled shoes in 2014. (Getty Images)

“I just find it quite extreme to what extent it’s gotten to white. We’re talking white like it was in the ‘50s,” said Federer last year. “The thing is, when I was watching on TV, I still have the pictures in my mind where Edberg and Becker and all those guys, they had more colour.”

Strangely, former greats Boris Becker, Bjorn Borg and Stefan Edberg got away with more colour on centre court. (Getty Images)

The colourful yesteryears were courtesy of a relaxation in rules in 1963, when the players were asked to wear ‘predominantly in white’ clothing.

Predominantly, however, didn’t cut it for the rebel that was Andre Agassi, who famously skipped Wimbledon from 1988 to 1990 because his signature denim shorts weren’t allowed. The American ultimately came around and won the tournament in 1992.

One would think that the All England Club would further relax the rules, right? Nope. In 1995, the rule was updated (read: tightened) to allow “almost entirely white” clothes.

And two years back, the “predominantly” and “almost entirely” were quantified as 1 centimetre.

For both designers and players alike, the 1cm coloured strip is room enough for experimentation. It might be all-white, but over the years Wimbledon has seen more than just the regular collars, pleats and classic cuts. There have been designs aplenty – both good (Federer’s gold man bag and military style jacket from 2009) and bad (this year’s disastrous ‘baby-doll’ kit.)

For both designers and players alike, the 1cm coloured strip is room enough for experimentation.

Read: Nike’s revealing ‘baby doll’ dress for Wimbledon draws flak from players

Thankfully, save for Anne White’s cat-suit, there has been no true ‘ugly’ fashion moment at Wimbledon.

Same can’t be said for the French Open though. Zebra tops, anyone?

 

Old-style fruit cordial holds hallowed place at Centre Court; players take a bye

Robinsons squash is provided on all the courts at Wimbledon. Most players prefer modern sports drinks. PHOTO: JORDAN MANSFIELD/GETTY IMAGES

By

TOM PERROTTA

July 8, 2016 10:45 a.m. ET

10 COMMENTS

LONDON—At the Wimbledon tennis finals this weekend, four bottles of a fruit-flavored drink commonly known as “squash” will stand on a shelf beneath the chair umpire’s seat in Centre Court. No one will touch them.

Robinsons squash is a prewar-era British cordial, a concoction of fruit juice, sweeteners and, occasionally, barley flour that, when diluted with water, makes a slightly sticky drink that tastes like childhood. It’s on every court and in locker rooms, and can be found for sale on the grounds of the All England Club, where Wimbledon is held.

Robinsons lemon barley water

HC-GU531_Drawin_G_20160706183515“I’ve never, in eight years at Wimbledon, seen a player open one,” said Justin Sands, the husband of American tennis pro Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

Chris Evert, a three-time Wimbledon singles champion and ESPN commentator, drank Robinsons during matches in the 1970s, but didn’t know it was still available until earlier this week, when she peered out the window of the network’s lounge, which overlooks Court 18. There the bottles stood, untouched. “I liked the yellow,” she said. “I don’t like it now, I liked it back then.”

Bob Bryan, the American doubles star who has played at Wimbledon every year since 1999, had never heard of it. “Robinsons barley water—what’s that?” he asked. “It’s on the court?”

Robinsons, in fact, was created at Wimbledon. Matthias Robinson patented it in 1823, but the modern version was introduced at the tournament to give tired players a boost. Today’s flavors include orange, summer fruits, lemon, apple and blackcurrant, and pink grapefruit. Robinsons is also sold in super-concentrated, pocket-size containers called Squash’d that mix up to 20 drinks. A sponsor since 1935, Robinsons is one of just six brands displayed, in discreet lettering, inside Centre Court, along with Slazenger, Rolex,IBM, Evian and Jaguar.

“We used to sip it and swill it around, sometimes you’d drink it and sometimes you’d spit it out,” said Fred Stolle, the Australian who played in three Wimbledon singles finals in the 1960s. “There was no Gatorade.”

For Billie Jean King, who won six Wimbledon singles titles, Robinsons had foreign allure. “I drank it because it was British,” she said. “I wanted to learn their customs, see what they like.”

For today’s players, Robinsons has gone the way of wooden rackets and flannel trousers. They pack their own carefully calibrated pick-me-ups that contain electrolytes, sodium or other nutrients. They suck down energy gels from pouches. Mike Bryan, Bob’s twin brother and doubles partner, recently started sipping a half-and-half mixture of coffee and water during matches.

No one drinks Robinsons on court. Those who try it in the locker rooms usually don’t come back for seconds.

“It was too sweet,” said Jelena Jankovic, the former No. 1 ranked player from Serbia. “This drink is for when you’re just sitting around doing nothing. But when you have to run around, you’re not going to get anything from that.”

A stand at Wimbledon’s Queue offering free samples of Robinsons this week. PHOTO: TOM PERROTTA

France’s Caroline Garcia, whose team won the women’s doubles title at the French Open, nearly took a sip of undiluted Robinsons in the locker room last year. An attendant intervened and told her that she needed to add water.

“I was curious, there were so many bottles, so many colors!” Ms. Garcia said. “It was OK, nothing special. I didn’t have it again.”

Ms. Mattek-Sands had warned her husband not to try it, but he didn’t listen. “It’s disgusting,” Mr. Sands said. “I don’t want to even call it juice—that’d be a slap in the face to other juices.”

Brits, Aussies and South Africans who grew up with cordials can’t agree. For them, Robinsons brings back sweet memories of bygone days. Retired British tennis pro Tim Henman has starred in Robinsons commercials, including one with a young Andy Murray.Robinsons said British people drink three million glasses a day.

“We grew up with it,” said Leon Smith, the captain of Great Britain’s Davis Cup tennis team. “I still buy it for my children, it’s still in my cupboards at home.”

Jonathan Marray, a Wimbledon men’s doubles winner in 2012, doesn’t drink Robinsons while he is competing, but at home he prefers it to soda. “If you don’t want an alcoholic beverage, and you don’t want a really sugary drink, it’s nice to have just a bit of water with a bit of something in it,” he said.

Pimm’s, a gin-based drink served with garnishes, is the champion of Wimbledon’s beverages among spectators. Last year the tournament sold 320,000 servings, almost as much as tea and coffee combined (330,000 cups). Fans bought 230,000 bottles of water, 110,000 pints of beer and 29,000 bottles of Champagne.

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Bottles of Robinsons on an umpire’s chair at Wimbledon. PHOTO: ANDY RAIN/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

The All England Club and Britvic PLC, which owns Robinsons, declined to provide Wimbledon sales figures. Mick Desmond, the All England Club’s commercial and media director, said the partnership wasn’t about on-site sales, or even what Robinsons pays to appear on Centre Court.

“It’s not always about money,” he said. “Robinsons is synonymous with the championships.”

On a drizzly day early in the tournament, a crowd gathered at Henman Hill, the grassy slope where those who don’t have Centre Court tickets eat, drink and watch tennis on a giant television screen. From 1:30 p.m. to 2 p.m., the Hill’s refreshment stand sold 50 large cups of Pimm’s (£8.30 each, or about $11), one small cup of strawberry Pimm’s “with a hint of mint” (£6.20), three bottles of Champagne and one bottle of white wine. The cashier gave away one free cup of ice. Those who asked for beer were directed to another stand. No one bought a “Robinsons Squashy,” a slushy cup of crushed ice flavored with orange or lemon (£3.50).

Robinsons is more popular when it is free, as it is at a stand in the golf course across the street from Wimbledon, where fans camp out and queue up for tickets. Analette Abesamis, in from Manila, drank a sample cup of orange squash on Tuesday on her way to the tennis.

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“I’m from a tropical country and this is really close to the real thing,” she said. “Western juices tend to be more thick.”

Occasionally, even a player is convinced. When Bob Bryan was brought a cup earlier this week, he took a tentative sip—then another.

“That’s pretty good,” he said. “It’s like a melted orange Skittle.”

Bethanie Mattek-Sands, a nine-year Phoenix resident, is virtually assured of a U.S. tennis berth at the Rio Olympics by virtue of her No. 9 world doubles ranking at the deadline for direct Olympic acceptance. Video: Jeff Metcalfe/azcentral sports Wochit

31-year-old is ranked No. 9 in the world in doubles

The U.S. Tennis Association won’t make it official until after July 4, but Bethanie Mattek-Sands already is among the American tennis nominees for the Rio Olympics.

Because of her No. 9 world ranking in women’s doubles through a June 6 deadline for direct Olympic acceptance, Mattek-Sands, who has lived in metro Phoenix for nine years, is virtually assured of playing in her first Olympics at age 31. She was in Olympic contention in 2008 and 2012 only for injuries and competition to intervene. Now two years after a second hip surgery, she is perhaps playing the best tennis of her career.

“I’m just in a better place right now,” Mattek-Sands said during a training stop at home before leaving for Wimbledon. “I think I’ve really evolved as a player and an athlete and honed in on what the best plans are for me” in training, nutrition and recovery. “It’s a accumulation of everything. It’s really been a progression. I feel the best I’ve ever felt.”

MORE: Rio Olympics coverage from azcentral sports and USA TODAY Sports

Mattek-Sands will be one of the few  tennis Olympian with Arizona ties since the sport rejoined the Olympic program in 1988. Sargis Sargsian, who played at Arizona State in 1994-95, represented Armenia at the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympics. Victoria Azarenka, who trained in Scottsdale when she was a teen, won two medals at the 2012 Olympics,

For Mattek-Sands, who embraces the state even during the summer heat, representing it and the U.S. at an Olympics trumps even her 2015 Grand Slam doubles titles at the Australian and French opens.

“There’s so many things about Phoenix that I love coming home to,” Mattek-Sands said. “I’ve traveled around the world, been a lot of places and I don’t see myself moving anywhere else. I feel like I’m in workout clothes all day anyway so I don’t mind sweating. The nights here in the summer are amazing to me. I’ve bragged to all my friends on the tour about coming and visiting me. I feel like I fit in Phoenix. I love it here.”

Mattek-Sands has won seven WTA double titles since 2015, five with Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic, also her partner for Wimbledon, where play begins Monday. An abdominal strain followed by bacterial infection sidelined Safarova from the 2015 U.S. Open through early 2016 so Mattek-Sands teamed with Coco Vandeweghe to win at Indian Wells, Calif., in March, perhaps a prelude to Rio.

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“They ask me who I want to play with,” said Mattek-Sands, also 2-0 with Vandeweghe in Federation Cup matches. “It’s hard to choose sometimes, but Coco and I have had the best record and experience playing together and chemistry. I think that’s going to be the choice, but nothing is set in stone so I’ll wait and see.”

It’s also likely that Mattek-Sands will play in Olympic mixed doubles with Mike Bryan (her 2015 French Open title partner) or Bob Bryan; the other Bryan twin probably teaming with Serena Williams. The Williams sisters, both ranked in the singles top 10, likely will play singles and doubles in Rio with Venus going to her fifth Olympics and Serena to her fourth.

“Everyone I’ve talked to that has played the Olympics said it’s really one of those memorable moments of their career so I’m really looking forward to it,” Mattek-Sands said. “I think it’s more special because it’s not every year. Even less people get the chance to go. What really brings it home is the emotional side of playing for your country.”

Growing up in Neenah, Wis., Mattek-Sands remembers watching Olympic gymnastics including Kerri Strug in 1996.

“Gymnastics was actually the first sport I started with,” she said. “It’s probably better I didn’t get involved because I’m not very flexible. It’s really inspiring and with the coverage now you get a chance to see all these athletes and how they’ve managed to get to the top level in sports I’ve never even tried.”

With major U.S. Olympic Trials still to come in gymnastics, swimming and track, the number of athletes, coaches and staff with Arizona ties in Rio is expected to surpass 50, covering at least 12 sports.

Eighteen-time swim gold medalist Michael Phelps, who trains at Arizona State, is looking to qualify for his fifth Olympics. Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi and U.S. men’s volleyball player Reid Priddy, who went to Mountain Pointe High School, will be playing in their fourth.