Wimbledon serves winner with wild and woolly show


It's been one of the wackiest Wimbledon fortnights ever, what with ballgirls getting whacked, a player and his wife running roughshod over an umpire and another player taking an unexplained holiday from a mixed doubles match.

"It's been a very strange Wimbledon. I feel like a little bit of 'Hard Copy' has been put into it," said NBC analyst Chris Evert, with a chuckle from the network's production trailer yesterday.

And yet, with all the off-court silliness, the action on the hallowed grass has been pretty close to the expected, with the top four seeds in both men's and women's play advancing to the semifinals.

And on the women's side of the draw, the top two seeds, Steffi Graf and Aranxta Sanchez Vicario, have reached tomorrow's final (Channel 11, 9 a.m.), and Evert believes you can pretty much expect the expected in that showdown.

"You have to pick Graf in straight sets," said Evert, a three-time Wimbledon singles champion. "Sure, Aranxta has a chance. This woman runs down more balls than anyone. She is in the same league [as Graf] in terms of intensity and mental toughness.

"If Steffi's back is bothering her a little bit, that's going to be a few games for Aranxta, but Steffi has gotten this far and she'll play well, even though it's very painful."

NBC's coverage continues today at 1 p.m. with four hours of the men's semifinals, followed by a 30-minute wrap-up show at 11:35 p.m.

Meanwhile, HBO, which has done well critically and in a ratings sense (up 38 percent from last year through Monday), concludes its Wimbledon telecasts today with a three-hour look at the men's semifinals at 5 p.m.

The stars of the pay-cable network's coverage have unquestionably been Billie Jean King and newcomer Martina Navratilova. They've worked together with an ease and rapport that have made for good listening.

For example, during the second set of yesterday's match between Sanchez Vicario and last year's champ, Conchita Martinez, in which Martinez came back from a 5-2 hole, King said: "This is where you separate the women from the girls, to which Navratilova, without missing a beat, cracked: "Well, welcome to the NFL."

Doing the Wright thing

The June 30 issue of Golf World reports that on at least two occasions in the last few weeks, CBS golf analyst Ben Wright told dinner companions that he did indeed make remarks to a Wilmington (Del.) News Journal reporter before the LPGA championship about women's breasts affecting their swings and that lesbians in the game hurt women's golf in terms of corporate sponsorship.

At the time, Wright and the network vehemently denied he made the comments, though now, according to Golf World, the British native says that he thought what he said was off the record. On Wednesday, a CBS spokeswoman said, "It [the Golf World story] is hearsay and we have no comment."

As we said here as the story broke, the comments, had they been owned up to, could have served as a starting point for people to discuss the homophobia that is rampant not just in sports, but in society as a whole.

But it now appears that Wright was more interested in damage control and saving his bacon than telling the truth.

Granted, Valerie Helmbreck, the News-Journal reporter, may not have exhibited the best in journalistic ethics by reporting an off-the-record comment, but she's not the person who made noxious remarks, then backed away from them.

CBS conducted an investigation, and David Kenin, the network's sports president, said he believed Wright did not make the remarks.

Perhaps it's time to reopen that investigation, and if Wright is found to have made the remarks, he must go, not for what he said, but for the cowardly way he behaved afterward.

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