Last week I blogged about Andy Murray and how he's 'reigniting the brand' – becoming a much more media-savvy powerhouse of an athlete rather than a slightly moany teenager. But with Federer and Nadal both knocked out of the tournament in round two (as well as a whole host of other top seeds), it's getting quite difficult not to get excited at the prospect of a home win on the hallowed turf of the All England Club – for the first time in 125,000 years or however long the British press keep telling us it is.
Realistically – or at least, if the seedings mean anything – only super-robot Novak Djokovic will stand in Murray's way come the final Sunday. So apart from breaking the national curse, picking up a cheque for a cool £1.6 million (that's 39% more than last year, if you're into statistics – not a bad little pay rise, is it?) and winning yet more adoring fans, Andy will get to take home a replica of one of the most recognisable trophies in the world.
Dating back to 1887, the history of the men's trophy is rich and overflowing with interesting facts. Starting with the more trivial, you'd be forgiven for thinking that it's gold or covered in gold leaf, but it isn't: it's silver gilt. And have you ever noticed what sits on the top of it? Believe it or not, it's a pineapple.
Why not a strawberry, the traditional fruit of Wimbledon? Well, because that's a fairly recent tradition, as it happens – a bit like the selling of jugs of Pimms. It's more a cash cow than anything else. But the pineapple is there for a reason. Back in the 17th century, it was a highly sought-after commodity. It was very rare (in England) and therefore very expensive, and was the crowning fruit of only the most lush feasts; a symbol of significant wealth. If you attended a dinner party back in the 1600s and there was pineapple on the table, you could consider yourself very honoured indeed.
The other thing you might not be aware of is just how intricate the wording is on the men's trophy – and there's a bit of a surprise in there too. It says, 'The All England Lawn Tennis Club Single Handed Champion of the World.' That's right: single handed. Back in the early Eighties when I learnt how to play, there wasn't really such a thing as a double-handed backhand besides that of Jimmy Connors. And I was taught the traditional Eastern Forehand grip, too – not one of those extreme grips which the likes of Nadal demonstrates.
Interestingly, though, while most of the top players these days do use a double-handed backhand (mainly thanks to the influence of Agassi and the aforementioned Jimmy Connors – and, very occasionally, Bjorn Borg) the title has actually been won more often than not by players with a single-handed backhand. Most recently seven-time Champion Roger Federer, of course, and before him also seven-time Champion Pete Sampras. Then before that, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, John McEnroe and Rod Laver. And if you want to talk single-handed backhands, one of the most fluid and accurate in the game was undeniably that of Justine Henin.
Mind you, there have been a lot of changes in the game since the days or yore. Like grunting, for a start. Jimmy Connors once again excepted, you'd barely hear so much as a muffled 'hmph' from a player till Monica Seles 'mnaa-heeeed' her way on to the scene. These days they're all it in the women's game. For all the ridiculous noises Maria Sharapova likes to make, she was simply out-bansheed by Michelle Larcher de Brito last week. As for Azarenka, to me she sounds like an owl with a cold – a sickly nocturnal predator that's also caught her talon in a field mouse. And that's without twisting her knee in the process, poor dear.
Perhaps the grunting women are communally mourning the fact that they don't get as decent a trophy as the men. (Don't get me started on the whole equal prize money debate; play best of five sets and spend longer than an hour on court – then I'll be happy.) But actually, the Venus Rosewater Dish is rather beautiful. And they don't have to make do with pineapples on it either, even if it does look a bit like a swanky fruit bowl. Made in Birmingham in 1864 for the princely sum of 50 guineas by Messrs Elkington and Co. Ltd of Birmingham, the trophy is a copy of an electrotype by Caspar Enderlein from a pewter original in the Louvre. In the absence of the king of fruits, it's actually decorated with mythological figures and classical symbolism instead.
The central figure of Sophrosyne (the representation of temperance and moderation) is seated on a chest and carries a lamp and a jug, with a sickle, fork and caduceus beside her. Around her central image are four 'reserves' depicting classical gods with the four elements; then a further seven reserves on the outer rim show Minerva presiding over the seven liberal arts: astrology, geometry, arithmetic, music, rhetoric, dialectic and grammar. Not quite vital attributes for winning a tennis match, you'd think – but very pretty nonetheless.
In the case of both trophies, the winner only has them for a very short time. As soon as they're off court they have to give them back. The All England Club decided after the third trophy was given away to the winner that they couldn't afford to do that every year, so since then the winner has received a scaled-down replica to keep. Copy or not, I'm sure it still gets pride of place in any of their trophy cabinets...unless, of course, they happen to have seven of them...
Ashley is a blogger, copywriter and editor
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