Wimbledon | Barker – a living legend

I remember winding my way around the labyrinthine corridors of the broadcasting centre at Wimbledon looking for the BBC base. There was a ladies semi-final preview to conjure up and I thought Sue Barker , the Corporation’s finest presenter and a Grand Slam champion herself, would provide the magic words. When I found her she did.

Away from the camera, I always loved chatting to Sue. It was like chatting to my mum, or a relative almost. She has that warmth to her Andy Murray

They were insightful, to the point and expressed in a friendly, easy-going manner. You would never have guessed she had taken time off she didn’t really have in her busy schedule during The Championships. Her smile lit up the place. It did the same when we nodded to each other and said ‘hello’ as we wandered the media restaurants at Eastbourne, Queen’s Club and the 02. If there is a nicer, more approachable individual in the media I have yet to meet them.

Yet we members of it are to be denied her presence as a work colleague as the 2022 edition will be her last as the BBC’s anchor, having effortlessly interviewed, say John McEnroe, as if sitting on her comfortable home sofa. Not in an anodyne way, I hasten to add, because she has always asked the right questions in a calm way to illicit the answer required to keep the audience informed and entertained.

Her enthusiasm for tennis has always been palpable but controlled. It is a fine art to balance but Sue Barker has managed to do it because she is natural and believable. In other words, she is the same on as well as off screen. And the viewers recognise that. As have her colleagues and interviewees.

Having lit up the tournament herself as a player in the 1970s and 1980s, she is perhaps best remembered for her emotional interviews with Andy Murray in 2012, when he lost to Roger Federer, and the following year when he finally became the first Brit to win Wimbledon for 77 years.

Murray said in the Daily Express: “Away from the camera, I always loved chatting to Sue. It was like chatting to my mum, or a relative almost. She has that warmth to her

“Usually you do interviews on the TV and it doesn’t always feel the most natural to me. But with her, a lot of the time I almost felt like she was able to make you forget about that.

“When I would go to the studio at Wimbledon, she made it feel more relaxed. It was like you’re chatting to someone in the living room or whatever. That was what I really loved about her. She also seems like a genuinely nice person.”

She is now 66 and was offered a three-year extention. But after 30 years in the job after lighting up the place as a player in the 1970s and 1980s, she turned it down. The death of her 100-year-old mother Betty made the Devon-born national treasure was a part of the reason why.

Sue Barker in her playing days in the seventies

Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images

The 1976 French Open champion said: “My mum was always so interested in my broadcasting career and we would speak every evening. When something like that happens it does make you reassess life, which is another reason I think this is the right time.

“Basically I just feel the time is right. It has been my dream job and I have loved every minute of it working so many great colleagues who I am going to miss so much.

“When I started, I never thought I would manage 30 years. I had actually made up my mind to leave in 2017 because the hours were becoming very long and quite challenging. That would have been 25 years and seemed a good time, but I am so glad I made the decision to stay on.

Barker, a Wimbledon semi-finalist in 1977 when fellow Brit Virginia Wade claimed the crown in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee year, added: “I’m very happy to be leaving with no regrets and on my own terms while I am still on top of the job, it just feels like the right time to go and leave it to others.”

Tim Davie, the BBC director general said: “Sue Barker has been the face and voice of Wimbledon for three decades. Many of our viewers will not know of a summer in SW19 without her. She is a consummate professional, an outstanding presenter and a wonderful colleague, loved by current and former players, all of us at the BBC and audiences across the UK and beyond.

“Her contribution to tennis, the BBC, sports presenting and for blazing a trail for women in broadcasting cannot be overstated.”

The ex-world No.3 began presenting The Championships with the late Harry Carpenter in 1993 and took over from Des Lynham as lead presenter in 1999.

She also presented Question of Sport for close to 25 years and co-presented the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards for 18, while broadcasting the Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games, World Athletics Championships, the London Marathon, the Grand National and Royal Ascot.

Roger Federer being interviewed by Sue Barker after losing the gentlemen's singles final in 2019

Paul Popper/Popperfoto via Getty Images

She became emotional after an impromptu McEnroe tribute during the ceremony of champions commemorating 100 years of the Centre Court on the first ever permanent Middle Sunday.

British singer Frey Ridings sung Lost Without You on a white piano courtside with the champions looking on.

And after the applause for the performance had died down, McEnroe turned to Barker and said: “It’s is we who are going to be lost without you, Sue.”

She mockingly admonished McEnroe, a BBC colleague, for “going off script” after struggling to hold back the tears as the 15,000 present gave her a standing ovation, with the champions joining in.

Sue Baker has been one of a kind. A new mould will have to be made. McEnroe had a point.



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.