l THE most depressing thing I heard after Tim Henman's exit from Wimbledon yesterday afternoon was a BBC sports commentator saying that “Tim still has two or three years to win the championship”. Do we really have to face the prospect of yet more years of the will-he-won't-he-can-he speculation? That is bad enough but much worse is the vulgar and unsporting behaviour of the Centre Court crowd that seems to be inseparable from Henman's appearances. I make no criticism of Henman himself, a graceful and talented tennis player who has the double misfortune to lack consistency at crucial moments and to have been the only British player on the horizon who might, with a bit of luck, have won Wimbledon one day. In the past few years the open seating at the Centre Court has been transformed into a bear pit of people swathed in Union Jacks, with painted faces, and silly little hand-printed messages of encouragement to their hero. The noise they make is out of all proportion to the result it achieves. They are frequently guilty of the ultimate sporting faux pas, applauding the double faults and unforced errors of Henman's opponents. It must be a very unpleasant experience to achieve a life-time's ambition of a centre court seat only to find oneself in the midst of this roudy rabble that has not even understood that the Wimbledon Championship is for individual rather than national achievement. The BBC is complicit in this degradation of Wimbledon which it appears to think is a version of the Last Night of the Proms; its coverage of the antics of the exhibitionists encourages their excesses. It seems that Wimbledon will be restored to its former self only when Tim Henman annnounces his retirement.

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