By Lee Stanley
Winner of the French Open in 1976 and of fourteen tour titles during a 12-year career with a highest ranking of 3, Sue Barker is arguably one of Great Britain’s most successful tennis players. However, she is probably better known to younger fans as the face of tennis coverage on British television.
Sue Barker has transported millions from their living rooms, via BBC television, onto the hallowed courts of Wimbledon for 22 years. That’s over a quarter of the 85 years that the Championships have been broadcast by the network.
Sue joined the BBC in 1993 following stints on Australian television and Sky Sports. In addition to tennis, she has worked on racing, athletics, Olympic, Paralympic and Commonwealth Games, and Sports Personality of the Year. Sue recently presented her final Queen’s Club Championships, and also brought us the ATP Tour Finals from London as well as many of Great Britain’s Davis Cup ties.
Sue Barker will be remembered for emotional interviews with Andy Murray on winning the 2013 and 2016 Championships, for her expert filling during rain delays before the roof was installed, and moonlighting as a continuity announcer, expertly guiding viewers across two channels at once while dashing between Centre and No. 1 Courts.
Host of A Question of Sport for 24 years, until an arguably unsuccessful revamp saw her replaced in 2020, Sue is now 66 years old. While it would be natural for someone of such an age to consider retirement, one has to wonder if she has slowly and subtly felt pushed away in favour of younger, fresher talent.
Any sense of this sentiment is not being displayed publicly. Sue will get the send off she deserves with prime-time coverage bumped up to BBC One every day of her final Championships. She will be missed by tennis die-hards and drop-ins alike, and many will consider her irreplaceable. But tennis never ends. Someone new will take over the biggest job in tennis broadcasting from 2023’s Championships.
The favourite to succeed Sue is someone who will be more familiar to cricket fans. Isa Guha gets a head start over anyone else by co-anchoring this year’s Wimbledon coverage. She will open proceedings on the outer courts each morning on BBC Two before Sue introduces the showcase matches later on BBC One.
Other names are already flying around social media. Two stand-out fan favourites are Catherine Whitaker and Marcus Buckland, the friendly and knowledgeable all-year-round anchors of Prime Video’s excellent coverage. With the streaming service reportedly about to lose the US Open to Sky and the ATP and WTA Tour rights up for negotiation before the end of 2023, this might be the next logical step for both.
Many of the broadcasters currently involved in the BBC’s coverage of Wimbledon have been suggested for the top job, and while some of them have experience in front of the camera, most are well established in commentary or analysis roles than presenting. The BBC will probably want someone who is seen as a BBC person rather than a freelancer to be their new face of tennis, potentially for many years to come.
Versatile like Sue, Clare Balding is their next most experienced live tennis presenter — she also presents their coverage of Eastbourne — and it’s likely that she will retain her current role if she is not promoted.
Two not to be ignored are Kat Downes, who has presented sport on BBC News and highlights of the Australian Open, as well as commentated on Wimbledon, and Lee McKenzie, who is best known for her work in motorsport and rugby coverage, but has experience as Centre Court most-match interviewer and reporter.
Whoever comes in, they will have big shoes to fill. As for Sue Barker, it would not be a surprise to see her invited back to BBC Sport as an occasional pundit and guest on other shows, so hopefully this will not be the last we see of her on our screens.