A veteran tennis commentator and a winner of 1976 French Open, Sue Barker accidentally blurted out her replacement for the BBC’s Wimbledon coverage following her retirement in July. In what was supposed to be a closely-guarded secret, the 66-year-old accidentally let the cat out of the bag during an on-stage interview with her potential successor, Clare Balding.
Barker, who had been offered a three-year contract extension but decided to retire following this year’s championships at the All England Club, gave the game away at the BT Sport Action Woman Awards on Wednesday evening (November 16), after being presented with a lifetime achievement award in recognition of her services to tennis and broadcasting. Until now, no one has known who was going to replace her as the main presenter.
The Times reported her as saying: “Leaving Wimbledon is incredibleincredibly…I’ve loved it all my life, but I know I’m leaving it in the safest hands,” Barker said as she gestured towards Balding. She continued: “It’s absolutely wonderful to leave it with Clare.” Balding then responded with an awkward look and bit her lip, before the conversation quickly moved on. BBC did not confirm or deny that Balding would replace Barker.
Despite the gaffe, Balding’s promotion as the main presenter for the BBC’s Wimbledon coverage comes as no surprise given that she has worked for the broadcaster at the prestigious tennis tournament in television and radio roles since 1995, making her the front-runner ever since Barker announced her departure during the summer.
Since joining the BBC as a trainee in 1994, the 51-year-old has established herself as an outstanding freelance broadcaster, covering seven summer Olympics and hosting live coverage of events such as Trooping the Colour and Crufts. She will become the BBC’s fifth principal presenter of Wimbledon coverage in the last 50 years, joining David Coleman, Harry Carpenter, Des Lynam, and Barker.
During a Centre Court centenary celebration in July when Barker’s retirement was mentioned, many former Wimbledon champions including Roger Federer and Andy Murray applauded the tribute to the legendary broadcaster. Barker said: “It’s something that I will absolutely treasure forever. All the champions were there and I was crying because the more they cheered, the more I cried.”