At Wimbledon, Men’s Final Takes a Back Seat to England vs. Italy

In London, Novak Djokovic’s attempt at a 20th Grand Slam title on Sunday is but an opening act for the European Championship match starring England and Italy.

WIMBLEDON, England — Elizabeth Wright, a lawyer from Stratford-upon-Avon, was enjoying her fourth day at Wimbledon on Friday as she watched the first men’s semifinal on a large screen. A strawberry floated in her glass of prosecco.

“I really enjoyed the reduced capacity,” Wright said of the limited attendance because of Covid-19 protocols, “because you could walk around freely and it just didn’t feel as claustrophobic — and the atmosphere was just as good as it always is.”

But for Wright, and millions of others across England, the Wimbledon men’s final won’t be the most important sporting event happening around London on Sunday, not with England having the chance to win its first major international soccer championship in the final of the European Championships against Italy at Wembley Stadium.

“Because it’s been so long,” Wright explained of her prevailing interest in Sunday’s soccer. “And I just want everyone to shut up about it now.”

After 55 years of waiting for another shot at a trophy since their 1966 World Cup win, England fans aren’t ready to shut up just yet, even during the matches here. Sporadic cries of “It’s coming home,” a verbal meme for England fans, are breaking the otherwise reverent silences at Wimbledon with increasing frequency as England advances.

When Matteo Berrettini was six points from winning his semifinal on Centre Court on Friday, one fan shouted: “Matteo, it’s coming home!”

“I play this sport because I love the atmosphere, the crowd screaming, even joking around,” Berrettini said on Wednesday evening as England defeated Denmark 2-1 in the semifinal. “I think one guy said ‘Let’s go, Denmark,’ during my match,” Berrettini said. “I would rather have that than no crowd. I’m having a great time.”

After winning his third round match in dramatic comeback fashion from two sets down against Marin Cilic last week, most of the questions in Daniil Medvedev’s on-court interview focused on the fact that England was currently routing Ukraine. Medvedev seemed to enjoy the topic choice, given that he had selected several English players for his fantasy team.

Medvedev said that his allegiances would be with the home country if both he and they made the finals on Sunday.

“Let’s make a deal: If England is there and I’m also there, I’m happy for England,” Medvedev said. “‘Let’s go, England’ — I’ll be cheering for them.”

Medvedev lost in the fourth round, but England has played on.

Tumaini Carayol, a tennis correspondent for The Guardian, said he believed the fervid interest in Emma Raducanu, who was the last British player in contention in the singles draws, had been fueled by the patriotic passions roused by soccer success. “The England run went hand-in-hand with a young British girl making the fourth round,” Carayol said.

After Raducanu struggled under the spotlight in her fourth round match, she received messages of support from England players.

As questions grew about her exit from the tournament, Raducanu donned the strongest armor possible when she appeared the next day on the BBC: an England jersey.

Unlike during the 2018 World Cup in Russia, where an earlier time zone for soccer meant that matches began during the afternoon here, there have been few overlaps between the biggest Wimbledon matches and England games, meaning none of the murmurs through the crowd when goals were scored, like what happened when England’s semifinal loss to Croatia came during a quarterfinal here between Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro.

It has had an effect on the media landscape, however. The BBC, a rightsholder for both Wimbledon and the European Championships, routinely bumps tennis to a secondary channel for a soccer match featuring any team, not just England.

During big soccer games, it’s not uncommon for fans at Wimbledon to gather against the windows of the press workroom, trying to spot the score on one of the many television screens.

England’s run has also dominated the British sports pages, even when the team won its semifinal on the same day that the eight-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer lost in what many believed could be his final match on the fabled grass court.

“Normally Federer losing like that, and the drama surrounding that in terms of was it his last match or not here, that would normally take the photo,” said Stuart Fraser, a tennis correspondent for The Times of London. “It didn’t. It was a tiny little bit at the top of the page.”

The tennis media doesn’t seem to mind being overshadowed, but the veteran Italian reporter Ubaldo Scanagatta has a bigger project. He has mapped the quickest routes to ride his scooter from Wimbledon to Wembley if the men’s final on Sunday finishes early enough.

But Wimbledon is making no such concessions.

Fraser believes that the All England Club should consider showing the soccer final, which begins at 8 p.m. local time, on the large screen behind No. 1 Court, a picnic area often called Henman Hill or Murray Mound, so long as the men’s final, which begins at 2 p.m., finishes well beforehand, as expected.

“It’s huge here, what’s happening Sunday,” Fraser said. “I think if the tennis is done by 8 o’clock, they should be putting it on, on The Hill, because it’s not easy at the moment, with the way the rules are at this country, to just rock up at a pub and stand shoulder-to-shoulder and watch the football. I think it would be quite a good gesture from the Club.”

In a statement, the All England Club said that while it was “delighted to be hosting the Gentlemen’s Final on such a historic day for sport in the U.K. and around the world,” there would be no showcasing soccer on its screens.

“Fans are welcome to engage with both Wimbledon and the football via their phones,” the Club said, “but our event will remain dedicated to the tennis.”

For the Italian finalist Berrettini, both sports will make Sunday special.

“Obviously I’m going to think first about mine,” he said. “I think the schedule is going to come first. Then probably, if I have the chance, I’m going to watch them.”

Source: Tennis -


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