Behind The ScenesTennis

Tom Rinaldi, emergency starter for the Wimbledon Mixed Doubles Championship

Not many people make their Centre Court debut at Wimbledon – merely the Cathedral of the sport – in the Championship round.

Sunday’s Mixed Doubles finale – the final event of the Fortnight and the fifth Championship ESPN aired in two days from London (Gentlemen’s Singles and Doubles, Ladies Singles and Doubles, and Mixed Doubles) – presented that exact scenario for Jason Goodall and Tom Rinaldi.

But at least Goodall was scheduled to be in the courtside “Bunker” and knew about the assignment since at least the night before. The one-time British standout junior player and former pro and coach also had never worked a match on Centre Court (nor played on it in his competitive days) but at least he had time to prepare.

Rinaldi, on the other hand, learned of his assignment via text, just before interviewing singles winner Andy Murray. About a half an hour before the doubles match.

Generally a reporter for SportsCenter, Outside the Lines and other studio shows, over the last four years Rinaldi has branched out to calling matches at Wimbledon and the US Open. But never on Centre Court. Never in the Bunker. And never a Championship match.

That all changed when Mary Joe Fernández tweaked an old back injury Sunday afternoon in the Ladies’ Invitational Doubles Championship. She was teamed with Lindsay Davenport, playing Martina Navratilova and Selima Sfar. She and Davenport had to “retire” from the match, and Fernandez from calling the Mixed Doubles.

Rinaldi’s first thought when he got that call? Equal parts “What an opportunity” and “Get ready.” Promptly, Tom received a “crash course” from Goodall on the competitors, having only been aware of one, Britain’s Heather Watson, one of the better singles players from the U.K. (She was teamed with Henri Kontinen of Finland against Robert Farah of Colombia and Anna-Lena Groenefeld of Germany.)

“It was a dream to call an event – and a Championship no less – in the historic Bunker on Centre Court,” Rinaldi said. “It’s a great opportunity [Vice President, Event Production] Jamie Reynolds gave me when Dick Enberg left the team. Thanks to great colleagues – former players who are insightful, funny, varied and strong, it’s been wonderful.”

How is play-by-play different from his usual role?

“They are very different, writing and creating features vs. chronicling an event live in the moment,” he said. “But there is a common link they share: Less is more.”

For Rinaldi – and British tennis fans celebrating a historic day, with Murray and Watson both claiming titles – it was a Championship moment not soon forgotten.

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