|The Ian Ritchie Talk
Like some religious relics, we passed round the memorabilia which Ian Ritchie, the chief executive of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, had brought along for his talk in Wootton. Here it was - one of the rackets that Roger Federer had used when winning the Men's Singles title in 2005 - a broken string lay in shreds, just to confirm how hard he must hit the ball during a match.
Then there was a pair of the distinctive long and baggy shorts which Rafael Nadal wore during one of his successful Wimbledon campaigns. It seemed incredible that these signed items were being passed among the audfience in the village hall, with us holding them as if they were the Holy Grail. Also weaving their way through the rows was an ancient racket from the early 1900s and a stylishly-simple 1927 poster from the London Underground, which the aritist-designer had given to Lew Hoad, the Australian tennis great.
All these treasures had been borrowed by Ian from the Wimbledon Museum to help give us a tangible feel for the magnificent history of the All England Club. To add a wry aside, Ian also brought along a curious piece of equipment, which looked like it might be meterological, but in fact turned out to be an invention by Bjorn Borg to help players improve their serve. It wasn't at all surprising that Ian suspected sales hadn't been that enormous.
As to be expected of a barrister, Ian knew his brief inside out and delivered his talk with a wonderfully engaging mix of anecdote and information, looking back at some incredible characters, such as the Victorian Yorkshire country parson who tended to the needs of his parishoners before riding on horse-back to Thirsk and then taking the train to London, before effortlessly winnng the Men's Singles title.
Ian also filled in details about the new retractable roof over Centre Court, which will be commisoned this summer - allowing continuous play in even the most inclement weather. With the All England being a private club, Ian declined to put a figure on the cost of the roof but a team of specialists will be analysing the results of trials in May when Andre Agassi, Steffi Graff, Tim Henman and Kim Clijsters play a match under it. As much as anything, the trials will test the efficiency of the air conditioning, with tens of thousands of litres being circulated every second around Centre Court to main temperature control.
For many people, though, watching the match will be a rare (if not unique) opportunity for them to sit on Centre Court at the club, which remains one of the bastions of global sport. Not only does it stage the greatest tennis championships in the world, the tournament could also claim to be the greatest of all sporting events. And with Ian overseeing them, few of us would disagree with his claim that he has one of the best jobs in the world.
All the talks have been compelling, and Ian Ritchie's was no exception. We are big tennis fans and had expected to be captivated - and we weren't disappointed. His delivery and the mixture of information about Wimbledon, with its colourful characters and hi-tec future, plus some wonderful anecdotes, made for a rivetting evening. Ian clearly has the deft touch of the barrister, combined with an ability to hold an audience and he is clearly an exceptional communicator - Neil and Jane Scott, Wootton
I am not a great tennis fan and hadn't really thought that a talk about Wimbledon would be that stimulating, what with all the grunting and fairly dull rallies. But Ian's talk blew away that myth and he couldn't have been more fascinating - with his dry wit and warm and friendly delivery, he produced an evening of supreme quality. - Liz Scratton, Wootton
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