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Andrew Castle talks Wimbledon 2021, feeling vulnerable and stepping away from social media

The former tennis pro talks as he gears up to commentate at this year’s Championships.

There’s one dramatic moment from his years in the Wimbledon commentary box that particularly stands out for Andrew Castle.

It was the 2013 men’s singles final when Great Britain’s Andy Murray won and, after the final ball from Novak Djokovic went in the net, Tim Henman leapt up next to him.

“Henners smacked me right in the head with his elbow – I assume accidentally. He almost knocked me unconscious!”

Surrey-born Castle, 57 – who played professional tennis between 1986 and 1992, and was the British number one at one point – is hoping for similar excitement at Wimbledon 2021.

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Last year was the first time the tournament had not taken place since the Second World War, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It’s now been announced that spectators will be allowed at the Championships this summer – at 50% capacity, until finals weekend, which will be full capacity, as part of the Government’s Events Research Programme – a series of test events to see how the number of fans can be safely increased.

Ticket-holders will need to take proof of two vaccinations (not within the last 14 days) or a negative Covid-19 test taken within the last 48 hours to the All England Club, and will be required to wear face coverings when moving around the site.

Castle, who has been a commentator for the BBC since 2003, says the decision “shows great trust from the Government”, even though some may feel sports having spectators shouldn’t be a priority while restrictions remain in place.

“There are some people who seem slightly bitter and twisted about it, but I don’t really see why or how anybody would be unhappy that a major live sporting event is taking place in front of people again,” he follows.

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“Most people want shared experiences again. I think we’ve all come out the other side of this – or at least we’re trying to – slightly changed from what we were all like before. I know I feel different after the last year and a half. Honestly, what a crazy thing we’ve all been through.

“But the fact that Wimbledon is going to be on and in front of people, with a bit of luck with the sun shining, I just think it’s a fabulous thing. And may the theatres be next.”

Asked to expand on how he feels differently post-lockdown, the broadcaster – who used to present GMTV – muses: “I think we all feel a little bit more vulnerable.

“There’s a lot of angry people in the country. There’s a lot of ill people who weren’t ill before, mentally.

“The schoolchildren who’ve gone without education, teachers who’ve worked, the supermarket workers; everybody has a story to tell.”

Castle – who has daughters Georgina, 28, and Claudia, 26, with wife Sophia – carried on working during the pandemic, hosting his radio show on LBC.

But he seems ecstatic at the prospect of returning to his role at Wimbledon.

“I’d love to see Roger Federer getting into the second week, because that would be a major story at the age of 39,” he says excitedly, when asked for his predictions. “And I’d like Andy Murray to do the same thing.”

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When it comes to the women, Naomi Osaka has now confirmed she won’t be playing at Wimbledon this year, though she will compete at the summer’s Olympics in Tokyo.

Last month, the 23-year-old Japanese player, who’s a four-time grand slam champion, withdrew from the French Open after talking about her battles with depression and social anxiety, amid a row over her decision not to fulfil her media commitments.

“The thing with anybody famous, you live and die with your own actions; people are judging you the whole time, they’re watching you, they’re observing you,” suggests Castle. “And even though we can often quote how much money she makes, and how celebrated she is, the thing is, every room that Naomi Osaka goes in, every court she walks on, people are staring at her.

“It’s a bit like being a royal in some ways, or being a famous pop star, or anybody that celebrated. I don’t know anybody that hasn’t been altered by that experience.

 

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“You’ve got to be pretty strong to come through these things, and hopefully, she’ll find that strength to do so and the support elsewhere as well.

“When she apologised for the poor messaging to journalists and to others, it was a good thing to do. Because if we all get it, everyone can help and understand and make it better in the future. But if you just say, ‘I’m not doing press, I’ve had it with you guys’, that’s not helpful; everyone’s just trying to do their job. But I thought her second statement was clear as day.”

Castle still plays loads of tennis himself, recalling how he recently played former British number one Greg Rusedski in an exhibition match at Gleneagles in Scotland.

“You compete hard and you run well, and nothing hurts, and then afterwards, I literally went back to my hotel room and just flopped out – you just lie there in pain,” he says, chuckling. “And the next day, neither of us could walk very much – but it’s great fun to play.

Global’s Make Some Noise charity appeal – London

Andrew Castle plays in a charity tennis match at Queen’s Club, London

“I like to keep the tennis up, because it’s something that I fell in love with when I was seven, eight, and I still am.”

One thing he has given up, however – since last March – is social media.

“Why would I invite people into my life who I neither know nor care for? And especially if they’re being insulting, or rude, or derogatory, or upsetting me.

“Now, they’re entitled to their opinion, but they’re not entitled to me reading, reacting, and going back to them – who cares?

“I’ve developed a thicker skin. And, listen, it hurts when you’re criticised. But really it should only hurt when you’re criticised by people you care about. And if you care about 65 million people in the UK on Twitter saying, ‘He doesn’t know what he’s talking about’, then I’m afraid you’re never going win that battle.”

It certainly comes across during our chat just how much of a happy-go-lucky attitude affable Castle has.

He doesn’t even really get nervous about being in the commentary box anymore.

“I think it’s an age thing,” he says. “You calm down, and you just go, ‘I don’t know how many of these I’ve got left, so enjoy it’. We’re only here once – that’s probably the attitude I take in more now.”

Andrew Castle is part of the BBC’s Wimbledon 2021 line-up. Catch all the action across BBC TV, Radio and Online from Monday, June 28.

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