When Novak Djokovic smashed his racquet against the net post in frustration during the Men’s Final at Wimbledon this year, it reminded me of another destructive occasion literally burnt into the memory.
That happened in March 1967 at the Astoria in Finsbury Park, London, when the late great Jimi Hendrix burned his guitar on stage after an unbeatable performance, almost as a ritual sacrifice to the gods in thanks. That iconic moment made the guitar one of the most sought after musical instruments at auction and it duly sold for £280,000 in 2008.
When it comes to sporting memorabilia, in the UK and much of the rest of the world, nothing beats football, especially World Cup Winners medals, which leave just about everything else standing. In 2016 Pele’s 1970 World Cup Winners medal took £280,000, setting a new record – in fact the Pele collection of football memorabilia sold for a total of £3.6m at the time.
By contrast, iconic tennis memorabilia can be had for relatively modest sums. Bjorn Borg’s racquet from the 1981 Wimbledon Final sold for as little as $18,500 in 2007, while Fred Perry’s racquet from the 1934 Wimbledon Final took £23,000 in 1997.
A London Underground poster from 1933 promoting the championship sold for £25,000 in 2012, but the top price to date is the $71,500 paid in 1992 for Bill Tilden’s 1920 Men’s Singles trophy for Wimbledon. Mind you, that’s close to $1m in today’s values.
Now back to Novak’s smashed racquet. You may have noticed that he later threw it into the crowd, directing it at his most vocal supporter, a man in a bright yellow jacket sitting behind the umpire’s chair who had spent the match waving the Serbian flag.
Like Hendrix’s guitar, its destruction probably adds to its value, and that value will already have soared owing to it being the racquet with which Djokovic played most of the final – the final at which his ten-year unbroken run on centre court came to an end at the hands of the new tennis superstar, Carlos Alcaraz. In short, the racquet is a talisman for a key moment in sporting history, and nothing gets better than that for collectors.