Wednesday 12 July 2017

Remembering Wimbledon 99

Well here we are again. Another Wimbledon moves inexorably towards its climax and I find it hard to believe that it's already 18 years since I first penned 'Break Point' while watching the 99 championships, and forty one years since I first got addicted to Wimbledon! I was a teenager in 1976 and Bjorn Borg was a rising star, Nastase - a falling one.  I remember the first matches of what have now become household names and legends - John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, Boris Becker, Chris Evert.

In fact, I saw Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert play live at Wimbledon in 1989 (not against each other).  It was a perfect sunny day as myself and a London friend attended.  It was Ladies Quarter Finals Day and we had tickets for Centre Court. But Navratilova's match was over in two sets as was Steffi Graf's.  But we managed to get onto Number 1 Court with a bit of sleight of hand (literally!) where exciting things were happening in Chris Evert-Lloyd's last ever win at Wimbledon. She had been losing but she turned the match around in one of the most exciting three setters. I was able to draw on this experience for Break Point.

By 1999 I'd been following Wimbledon for 23 years and had, maybe a year or so before, decided to write a fictional story with Wimbledon as the backdrop, weaving in bits of the development of the Championships throughout the story.

I decided the main female protagonist - Bobbie - would be gay since some of the women players were gay icons, particularly Martina Navratilova who'd led the way. By 1999, women's tennis was becoming a lot more exciting and less predictable.  Back in the day it was usually the Number 1-4 seeds who played in the semis, year upon year. By 1999, it had opened out and the Williams' sisters and many others were new on the scene.  In fact, in 1999, Venus Williams hadn't yet won Wimbledon, but Bobbie predicts her future win with certainty.  

So who were the main figures in the 99 Wimbledon Championships? There was Anna Kournikova. Martina Hingis (the then Number 1 seed knocked out in the first round), Dokic, Seles, Rusedski, Henman, Agassi, Graf, Sampras and many more. In 1999, there were no challenges for controversial points and no roof on centre court. And of course it rained during the Ladies' Final.

But I didn't want to just write about Wimbledon.  Rather, I wanted the game to become a metaphor for the other psychological matches taking place at the house of Bobbie's latest job where she cares for a peevish old woman by the name of Gwen. In 1999, there were no civil partnerships in the UK, let alone same-sex marriage, and this is reflected in the attitudes of that time.

As Wimbledon is a knockout tournament, I also wanted this to be reflected in the story.  For instance, just like the players on court, the players off court come and go - the carers of Gwen, the relationships - but will any of them survive to the final?  The conclusion is always unknown until the last player is knocked out.

Break Point was published in paperback by Skrev Press in 2006.  I had written a short version, a medium version and a longer version.  Skrev went in for the sparser book, so it's a very short novella that was published in paperback.  That is now available as an e-book.  But maybe one day I will release the full version!

Break Point is available from here

Or free from Smashwords all through July.