Sue Barker is excited! After a year off, Wimbledon is back, with limited crowds to cheer on their tennis favourites. As the BBC’s Wimbledon host since 1994, Sue’s as much a fixture there as those punnets of strawberries and the creeping ivy on the court walls. Now she's hosting Wimbledon 2021 coverage on BBC1 and BBC2 and she can't wait to get started.
"Just the fact that we’ll see players in all-white running around a little green surface is enough for me," laughs Sue, who Zoomed in for a chat with us from her house in the Cotswolds. ‘I live and breathe Wimbledon, that’s what I grew up loving. I get goosebumps every time I walk through the gates, so I’m just boiling over with excitement that play can happen this year."
So here's what Sue Barker told us about the challenges for Wimbledon 2021, how the players might fare, and what her typical day there will be like...
How will Wimbledon be different this year?
Sue Barker says: "We’ll begin coverage by reflecting on the two years since there was last play at Wimbledon, on what it’s meant for tennis and the world. The reduced crowds will be odd, but better than none at all.
"The only thing I’m concerned about is with the social distancing that’s obviously happening. Normally I’d open with a chat between three or four guests standing on Henman Hill with all the crowds around us. Now that will be restricted somewhat.
"When you’ve got four people to chat to everybody’s got an opinion, so it’s much more conversational. This year, sadly, there might be less of that. Obviously, the players are going to be in their bubble with the officials so we won’t see any of them for a chat inside the studio either. They’ll be interviewed on court, but I love doing this! When I interviewed Andy Murray on court after his first win in 2013 it was a highlight of my broadcasting career."
You have a much-loved on screen partnership with US tennis legend John McEnroe. How great is it to work with John?
Sue says: "John and I go back to 1977 when we both got to the semi-finals. I was the No4 seed but had a disastrous loss to Betty Stove, which John continuously ribs me about every single year! I have a huge amount of respect for John as a player, but even more so as a commentator. He gets it for players and gets it for the people at home. He’s fascinating to listen to, gives incredible insight and of course, he’s got opinions and we have numerous debates."
Read our chat with John McEnroe right here: John McEnroe on Wimbledon 2021: 'We're champing at the bit for the tennis to begin!’
How do you see the Men’s Singles playing out at Wimbledon 2021?
Sue says: "It’s got to be between Novak or Roger. Never write Roger Federer off whatever age he is. He loves the grass and he’s desperate for another Grand Slam. And the fact that he chose to not push his body at the French Open means he’s really serious. Novak is such an amazing competitor. The Canadian lad Felix Auger Aliassime could be a surprise. Tsitsipas got to the French Open final so will be a danger plus Zverev and Medvedev are excellent too!"
And the Women’s Singles?
Sue says: "Please, please, please Serena win your 24th Grand Slam and break Margaret Court’s record. For me, Serena is the greatest of all time and I’d like her to finish that statistically. Her whole story is incredible, and to still be hungry for success after becoming a mum and being 39 is astonishing! Yes, Simona Halep stopped Serena in the last final in 2019, but Simona played so brilliantly then. I think she only made one unforced error in the whole match. Simona's been injured so it will be difficult for her to repeat that performance if she comes to Wimbledon of course. The young American star Coco Gauff is incredibly exciting. It’s been interesting to watch her over two years, as she’s really added to her game."
Can any British players do well at Wimbledon 2021?
Sue says: "I hope Andy Murray is fit. It's a shame it's not a packed Wimbledon because he’d get the best ovation ever coming out to play as everyone knows what he's been through with his hip problems to get there. It would be fabulous to see him do well, but really it’s just great to see him back.
"Dan Evans can do well and he did beat Novak earlier this year in three sets, plus Cameron Norrie did relatively well at the French. He's learned so much coming through the American college tennis system. Jo Konta hasn't become a bad player overnight. It's all about confidence with Jo, and if she can get a few wins under her belt before Wimbledon begins it could be all smiles again."
Do you still play a bit of tennis?
Sue says: "I don’t I'm afraid! I last hit a ball in 1998 and that was when I snapped my Achilles tendon. The surgeon said, Why don't you do yourself a favour and take up cycling! So that’s what I do now — a lot of cycling plus Pilates. I also take my dogs for long walks all over the Cotswolds."
Can you tell us about your typical day at Wimbledon?
SUE BARKER'S WIMBLEDON MORNING
"I get up around 6.30am and have a cup of tea and my usual muesli before having a shower and thinking what I’m going to wear for the day! That can take a while as I fuss a bit over my clothes choice! I also have a look at weather forecasts to see what it might mean for play that day — and it can also affect what outfit I choose because you’ll know how much outside broadcasting you’ll be doing!"
"I generally get into the Wimbledon office by 7.45am and go through the running order of play with my editor, and we sit down to write the opening links for when the coverage starts later. Then I do most of my prep on all the players and matches, as I know I’m going to have to do updates all the way through the day and could be asked to comment on any match at any time.
"I try to look at all the matches and work out a few lines and stats for each one, and that can take a good two hours plus. I often try to find Tim Henman and Tracy Austin as they are brilliant and both are information sponges!
"They know every fact going on every player on every court. Tracy especially will know everything about the women players, from their current form on every playing surface to each player’s diets plus their coaches and training regimes. I’ll then go into hair and make-up, still reading all my notes (thanks Tracey and Tim!), before I hit the studio or outside spot where I film my opening links and do initial chats for the day’s coverage. These are always pre-recorded even though they seem live to everyone watching at home. We have to do this to help things run smoothly."
"It’s quite busy when live coverage begins at 10.30am on BBC2. I always have a snack just before as you never know when you’ll get the chance during the day. As the pre-recorded links and chats go out, usually with the likes of John McEnroe and Tim Henman, I get ready to introduce the opening matches on the outside courts and do the same for the show courts a couple of hours later. Generally, everything just flows out as I do my live broadcasting."
"It suddenly becomes manic at 1.45pm when we come on air on BBC1, because I’m switching between both channels and everything is happening then. There could be a seed doing badly on one court, an injury on another, and a tense tie break somewhere else. I have to be ready to give comment on everything and anywhere, and it’s the great BBC team who work on Wimbledon that provides me with the best updates.
"It really keeps you on your toes and you have to be alert to everything for the next four hours or so. I try to appear equally on BBC1 and BBC2 as well. Sometimes it’s a live link, other times it's a voiceover as the camera pans around the courts. I try not to be receptive in my comments, but with so many players and matches that’s easy."
"Guests can pop by between matches, often with my great pals like Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Pam Shriver, Virginia Wade, and Martina Navratilova. I know all these former players from my era as best friends. In our playing days, there was such a great camaraderie between all of us who toured together.
"For example, I remember Chris Evert and I practiced in the morning together, played each other in a tough match in the afternoon, then went out for dinner afterwards! I often did the same with the other players. That’s why we all have such great rapport now and it can often seem like our chats are best mates having a natter, which is nice."
Read our interview with Billie Jean King right here: Billie Jean King on Wimbledon 2021: 'I think every generation gets better'
SUE’S EVENING & HOME TIME
"When the afternoon coverage is finished for me, generally around 6pm, I’ll seek out Tim Henman as he knows how we can sneak into the royal box on Centre Court and have a watch of the last games, which is a great way to unwind. I love any opportunity to watch a top tennis match at Wimbledon courtside. I’m also on a food hunt by then, as it’s so difficult to eat anything during all the live coverage. I try to have a salad in the afternoon to pick at, but I’m generally called away to do TV links so I don’t always finish it all. I definitely need some dinner by the evening, so I’ll often wander to the staff and crew food hall and have a proper good meal."
Home to bed…
"By the end of the day, I’m totally exhausted but I do have a think about how the play went that day, then look forward to what’s coming up the day after. My exhaustion from all the energy I’ve spent during the day means I sleep very well indeed!"
* Sue Barker hosts Wimbledon 2021 on BBC1, BBC2 and online from June 28.
I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus Whattowatch.com. I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.
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