It’s the start of the third round of the gentleman’s singles at Wimbledon – Mikhail Kukushkin v Rafael Nadal – and BBC Radio 5 Live is doggedly still reporting on Serena Williams and Alizé Cornet over on No 1 Court (28 June, 12pm). What are fans of Nadal to do but switch grumpily to 5 Live Sports Extra, where games are often shunted? But it’s just transmitting an eerie looped message confirming that rain has stopped the cricket. Forgive me, reader, but I turned on the box.
The cheerful Sue Barker is at Centre Court on BBC1, flannelling like crazy. “This roof is nice. It’s interesting – they’re going to be playing outside but the roof is on.” Tim Henman nods sagely. Yes, it is interesting. Just as the two players start to crouch with intent, 5 Live finally picks up the commentary. “Look at Kukushkin!” cries Mark Woodforde. “All that tape on Kukushkin’s leg. I’m worried.” “Kukushkin is fresh as a daisy!” scoffs Pat Cash. Moments later, Tracy Austin whoops, “Ooh, my word, Kukushkin! Fortunately for Kukushkin, it’s out – but is Kukushkin all right? Kukushkin has gone up the line so many times . . .”
Is it just me or is everyone enjoying saying the word “Kukushkin” rather a lot? It is, after all, a nice word to say. Like a pet name for the youngest and most beloved but somewhat sickly child in a Chekhov play, for whom the extended family wanders the birch forest looking for pretty flowers or tasty mushrooms. Kukushkin and Rafa: animal characters in a melancholy 1970s Soviet animation by Yuriy Norshteyn.
As 5 Live goes to a typically maddeningly timed news update, followed by a lingering preview of forthcoming football and a stretch of enthusiastic coverage of the women’s high jump at today’s athletics, over on BBC1 the camera pans to Phil Tufnell, his head lodged inside the bosom of a friendly blonde. Sachin Tendulkar boredly flicks through his programme. The umpire taps away at his Hawk-Eye screen, like a maître-d’ doubtfully checking your dinner reservation.
“Having a bit of a lull on court,” Woodforde pipes up eventually. “Inevitable in a game of this quality. Still awaiting a break point. Kukushkin! Such aggressive forehand direction Kukushkin has! Kukushkin . . .”