The Peculiar Gustatory Habits Of Wimbledon Champions

Hello there and welcome to another edition of Foodgasm. It’s Wimbledon week or as I like to think of it, the best arm of Britain’s long-standing PR campaign to whitewash the crimes of a genocidal empire. Consider the words that are engraved on Centre Court: “If you can meet Triumph and Disaster and treat both Imposters the same.” 

Sure, they were written by a racist man who came up with the entire White Man’s Burden kitsch to justify colonialism. But Mr Kipling, to borrow the words of another man accused of racism, had just the best words. Words so good that they could make you forget his country’s history and are a reminder why Professor Henry Higgins argued that the greatest thoughts are captured in the English language.

While the table has turned on the erstwhile empire – and now they are being headed by a man who is the descendent of people they colonised and will get to pick who will head the Church of England despite not even being Christian – Wimbledon like Kipling remains one of the last vestiges of the glories of a bygone era.

The sun set on the British Empire a long time ago, but Wimbledon still remains a crown jewel. It’s still the Slam that’s more equal than other Slams, helped along by its pristine grass surface and all-white sartorial compulsion. So, to commemorate Wimbledon week, we track the gustatory habits of the men and women who made this Slam their own in the Open Era. And much like most other things that the British invented, it doesn’t have any Britishers among its upper echelons.

Martina Navratilova (Wimbledon Titles: Nine)

The greatest tennis player of all time and one of the world’s most well-known queer faces had to change her diet after being diagnosed with cancer and learning that she was gluten intolerant. While she found alternatives to most dishes, she did miss her beer, though she argues that gluten-free beer isn’t all that bad.

But before that, Navratilova credited her success to a very strict diet regime developed by Dr Harold C Whitcomb Jr. In a 1987 interview, the former Czech player said that she was hooked to American junk food when she moved there: “'When I came to this country I used to eat all the wrong things: bread and butter, steaks and all kinds of meats with lots of mayonnaise, hamburgers, all that stuff.”

Navratilova with Chris Evert (Source: Tennis Magazine) 

While she cut that out, she also learned that certain nightshade vegetables like red peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and potatoes – also affected her negatively. She also cut down on red meat and refined sugar during her playing days to stay tiptop. Interestingly, when she went to the Ambassador Grill in New York, they had a Spaghetti Martina which had sauces made from tomato, cream, chicken and mushrooms. Of course, the champion had to ask them to hold the tomatoes and chicken, but she did like the final dish. Interestingly, her cheat meal after winning a Slam didn’t involve going out but hosting a dinner by a private caterer in her room with Czech food like roasted duck with caraway seeds, dumplings, cabbage, and sauerkraut.

Roger Federer (Wimbledon Titles: Seven)

When Roger Federer played at Wimbledon, you almost imagined he was doing so wearing a velvet jacket instead of a white t-shirt as he glided over the grass, powered by a perpetual motion machine that converted class into kinetic energy. Even his great rival Nadal admitted in his biography that Federer never looked like he was putting in any effort, as if he was Irrfan Khan in front of a camera.

The same goes for his diet, and unlike his contemporaries who followed a more spartan regime, Roger Federer’s diet seems more human. He started his day with homemade waffles with a fresh fruit compote, fresh juice, coffee, and a shot of vinegar. Before the match, he’d do a light pasta and during that time he'd often channel his inner Ibu Hatela and gorge on bananas. Like any good Swiss, Federer also loves all kinds of chocolates including milk, white and dark. His go-to comfort food on the other hand is a dish called Zurcher Geschnetzeltes, minced meat with mushroom sauce and Rost, a potato-fried meal.

Federer is perhaps the only man who can look classy while eating a hamburger (Source: Instagram)

Like any other self-respecting Swiss, he also likes his cheeses, in particular fonduta (a delicacy that blends milk, cream, cheese and egg yolk) and raclette (a hot cheese scraped onto his dish before melting).

Novak Djokovic (Wimbledon Titles: Seven)

Perhaps the least popular GOAT to ever exist – unless one counts Maradona’s reputation among Englishmen – Djokovic evokes very strong reactions from people. His relationship with food is as complicated as his stance on the vaccine. In some ways, you’ve to admire his Ali-like conviction because it would’ve been particularly easy for a man of his stature to get a fake vaccine certificate and participate. No other player is more vocal about his diet than the Djoker, who says his game went to another level after he laid off gluten, dairy and refined sugar.

Novak Djokovic credits his diet for his incredible Grand Slams record (Source: The Game Changers / SreenGrab)

He also cut out meat which he said was hard on his digestion and lets him focus more.   The athlete starts his day with three liquids – hot water with lemon, celery juice and a green smoothie packed with fruit, algae and supplements. His regular meals include salads packed with whole grains like quinoa or wild rice and sweet potato. And of course, he eats a lot of fruits.

In fact, his cheat meal is so spartan that it only consists of one square of chocolate, though his coach (and the only man to win Wimbledon as a wild card) Goran Ivanisevic did force him to have beer once.

Steffi Graf (Wimbledon Titles: Seven)

Andre Agassi has a lot of his achievements in his life including coming back from a drug-addled rock bottom to a Career Golden Slam, but he still considers convincing Steffi Graf to marry him his greatest one. Which it is, considering the fact that she has one fewer Wimbledon titles compared to his total haul of Grand Slams (8).  For a while, Graf dominated women’s tennis.  The German GOAT, who is also a huge ideologue of healthy eating prefers to start her day with vegetables and egg whites and when she seeks something sweeter will have oatmeal. Like mere mortals, she also needs a sugar rush throughout the day and her choice of hit is either a chocolate or some cookies. Also, when asked what she always has in her fridge, Graf said: “Fruit, vegetables, eggs, bacon and pickles.”

Serena Williams (Wimbledon Titles: Seven)

The most dominant female tennis player in the post-Graf era, Serena Williams believes in the philosophy: “Eat to live. Don’t live to eat.” While Williams used to gorge on pizzas, tacos, fried chicken and moon pies on her off days, such junk has taken a backseat and now follows a much more plant-based diet.

To support her sister Venus, who switched to a plant-based diet due to Sjogren’s Syndrome, both sisters are now “chegan” (cheating vegan).

Not the biggest proponent of breakfast, Williams only eats when she’s hungry, which is usually later in the day after working out. Her midday meal usually consists of greens and protein, like a bean burger or burrito. Two dishes she doesn’t care for are beef and avocado.

Moon Pie (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Like other tennis players, she has had her fill of pasta over the years and says she only eats it when she’s playing or training. Williams is a huge fan of Moon Pies and said once: “I love moon pies. If "Moon Pie" sponsored me, I'd be bigger than any house on this planet! I love the originals: banana, chocolate, or vanilla.”

Pete Sampras (Wimbledon Titles: Seven)

Sampras and Federer eating a Thanksgiving dinner in Malaysia in 2007 (Source: Getty)

Before there was Federer, there was Sampras, the unmatched king of Wimbledon who put all his rivals in shade. During his playing days, he ate a lot of pasta with red meat and chicken. Before a match, he usually had a breakfast of pancakes or waffles and pre-match it’s usually a turkey sandwich or a couple of bananas so he’s not running on empty. Sampras also loves his Italian food and when he was playing a tournament prefered the monotony of going to the same restaurant every day. And when it comes to picking dessert, he vacillates between tiramisu or ice-cream, arguing, unlike most sportsmen, that you need some sugar in you. Of course, when he took time off from playing is when he would really “grease out” by having a nice cheeseburger or fries.

Venus Williams (Wimbledon Titles: Seven)

Some thought Venus Williams’ tennis career would end when she was diagnosed with Sjorgen’s Syndrome – an autoimmune disease which causes dry eyes and mouth, joint pain, and fatigue – in 2011. However, Williams fought back by switching to a raw vegan diet which requires you to:

1) Eliminate animal products and eat only plant-based foods.

2) Eat fresh, dehydrated, cold-smoked or fermented food.

3) Avoid anything cooked above 118 degrees Fahrenheit

4) Avoid any food that’s packaged or processed.

One of her favourite recipes is celery-root soup which she makes with celery root, tomato and silk almond milk with some pan-fried garlic and truffle oil. She also loves her food sweet so she will pick up a juice or a sweet smoothie from time to time. One of her favourite smoothies is an orange creamsicle which consists of silk milk, oranges, bananas, vanilla flavouring, and a little coconut oil.

Bjorn Borg (Wimbledon Titles: Five)

Before Agassi-Sampras and Federer-Nadal, the male tennis rivalry that dominated headlines was Borg vs McEnroe and the 1980 final was considered the greatest of them all till the 2008 showdown between Nadal and Federer. The 1980 final was billed as the Woodstock era of tennis and a year later Borg would retire abruptly at the age of 25 after losing to McEnroe in the 1981 Wimbledon finals.

Borg and McEnroe at the 1980 Wimbledon Final (Source: AFP)

Italian singer Loredana Berte, Bjorg’s wife between 1988 and 1992 claims he became obsessed with cocaine, going out on the streets to ask passerbys for the drug. His behaviour in those years was particularly bizarre, whether it was playing Russian Roulette with his wife or filling an entire hotel’s second floor with prostitutes to engineer an orgy.

His diet, according to various reports, consisted of “plenty of beer, cheeseburgers and a bit of cocaine”. The Iceman’s diet was part of Swedish folklore and he loved rare steak with potatoes. Borg would eat red meat and fries before a match and then would conclude: “I might be eating shit but that doesn't prevent me from being the best player in the world in five sets.”

Billie Jean King (Wimbledon Titles: Four)

And finally, we’ve the winner of the Battle of Sexes, the one and only Billie Jean King. Born in an athletic family, King switched to tennis from baseball because her parents felt she ought to play a ‘ladylike’ sport, one which she dominated to the extent that she ended up with 39 major titles (12 singles).

She was also one of the first major athletes to “come out” and her affair with her secretary. She would later marry her doubles partner Ilana Kloss in 2018.

In her older age, King has become an advocate of healthy eating. She tried vegetarianism for a year but gave it up. She only eats red meat once a year and loves her fish. Like a true New Yorker, she is a huge fan of ordering out and her preferred place is a local Indian place called Swagat which serves salmon marinated in ginger, yoghurt, garlic and cauliflower.

When asked which Slam had the best food, she had once quipped: “Wimbledon has strawberries and cream, and the strawberries are at their best [that time of year]. I always liked [Roland-Garros]. With French food, can you go wrong? Oh, my God, that bread. At the U.S. Open, I’m thinking of the hot dogs.”

Well, that’s all for this week folks. See you soon.