Very discreet until then, Jeremy Bates found himself, on June 29th 1992, in the fourth round of Wimbledon against the Frenchman Guy Forget. Everything was there : the crowd, the madness, the Centre Court. But when he served for the match, the Brit crumbled.
Each time, it’s the same sensation. Just like if the crowd was only waiting for this : feeling what seemed unthinkable. When he mentions the story today, Jeremy Bates, 55, prefers to laugh about it : « During the last years of my career, when I was serving for the match, the ball was no longer a ball for me. It was attached to the palm of my hand, like if I was holding a toffee apple. » British tennis’ largest forehead’s career has now been over for more than twenty years. Enough to forget ? Only to come to terms with the situation, at most. Maybe because, he’ll never have that feeling again. The feeling of having fifteen thousand faces looking at him. The story says that Jeremy Bates’ career can be resumed in only a few hours spent on Wimbledon’s Centre court, on June 29th 1992. A day on which Bates, who was already 30, won everything and lost everything ; a day when the Solihull-born player made his country proud again, as it hadn’t seen one of its own in the fourth round of Wimbledon in the last ten years, but also a day when he crumbled on a detail. A very small detail.
Life without light
What had he achieved until then ? Nothing, or nothing much, except for a few performances in the doubles including a final at the 1988 Australian Open with Peter Lundgren and two wins in the mixed doubled alongside Jo Durie at Wimbledon in 1987 and in Melbourne in 1991. On the circuit, Jeremy Bates was a guy who rarely qualified for a third round in Grand Slam tournaments. However, when he woke up on June 29th 1992, Bates had become someone. Even better, he couldn’t get out of his house. For the last few days, even the smallest of trips had become an expedition. A photographer working for a tabloid even followed him to his bus stop when he was trying to get to the bank. The reason was quite simple : Jeremy Bates had consecutively defeated Michael Chang, Javier Sánchez and Thierry Champion at Wimbledon, and was only one match away from a historical quarter-final at home, in a period where British tennis was hit by a huge crisis. His opponent ? A certain Guy Forget.
“I became the example”
And this is how the story went on as John McEnroe, who had defeated Andreï Olhovskiy in three sets earlier on, was already waiting for his new prey in the quarter-final. Jeremy Bates had nothing to lose. Even better, he had everything to win as, at this exact moment, he had a match point. The dream of winning Wimbledon was still alive. To make it come true, he only had to focus and to win the point. The score ? 7-6, 4-6, 6-3, 5-4. 40-30, on his serve. Unique. Bates threw the ball up in the air, and let it come down. He looked troubled. What had happened. In his post-match press conference, he had a hard time explaining the noise he had heard : « I threw the ball to serve and I don’t really know if someone took a picture or sneezed. That’s why I decided not to serve. I’m almost certain that it was a sneeze. » And his whole world, his eight days of happiness, everything crumbled. On his second serve, Forget hit a perfect return. He went on to win the fourth set 7-6 before crushing the Englishman 6-3 in the fifth set. Jeremy Bates suddenly lost control of the match. And remained a point away from achieving posterity. « I became the example, on that day, that tennis is mainly a psychological game. »
By Maxime Brigand