Watch: Has Sue Barker accidentally revealed BBC's Wimbledon replacement?

Sue Barker and Clare Balding - Watch: Has Sue Barker accidentally revealed her Wimbledon replacement?
Sue Barker and Clare Balding - Watch: Has Sue Barker accidentally revealed her Wimbledon replacement?  

For any experienced broadcaster, their worst nightmare is an awkward faux pas live on air.

But that's exactly what veteran Sue Barker seemed to do when she appeared to accidentally confirm Clare Balding as her Wimbledon replacement.

Barker, one of the most seasoned presenters on British television, retired as the face of Wimbledon when she announced her departure in June.

While Balding has since been regarded as the frontrunner to become only the BBC's fifth lead presenter at the Championships in more than 50 years, no names have been confirmed.

But Barker may have slipped up on Wednesday night when she said, sitting opposite her former colleague: "I know I'm leaving it in the safest hands."

Balding, 51, who has presented the Today at Wimbledon evening highlights package since 2015, looked somewhat taken aback, biting her lip in response.

Telegraph Sport understands that the BBC are still in the early planning stages for the 2023 presenting line-up, but Barker appeared to offer a big clue as to who they may be leaning towards for the top job.

Speaking at the BT Sport Action Woman Awards on Wednesday night, where Balding presented her with a lifetime achievement award, an emotional Barker gestured towards her close friend on stage and said: "Leaving Wimbledon is incredibly… I've loved it all my life, but I know I'm leaving it in the safest hands - it's absolutely wonderful to leave it with Clare."

The Wimbledon job is widely considered one of the most prestigious, as well as challenging broadcasting jobs in sport. Balding is odds-on favourite to take over at the helm because of her established close ties with the tournament in recent years.

She is expected to get the gig ahead of other top BBC presenters like Gabby Logan, Gary Lineker, Hazel Irvine and colleague Isa Guha, who presented at Wimbledon for the first time last summer. Other outside contenders include ITV's lead football presenter Mark Pougatch, who spent several decades on BBC 5Live, and former British No 1 and pundit Tim Henman, though he would have to combine such a role with his place on the All-England Club's board.

With the BBC is understood to favour clearly defined figureheads for their coverage - such as Lineker with football, Logan with rugby and Irvine on the Olympics and snooker - it would make sense for Balding to succeed Barker.

If she does so, she will become part of an exclusive group of broadcasters to have presented the main show, beginning with David Coleman throughout the 1960s, before Harry Carpenter took over in 1972 and then Des Lynam, who preceded Barker.

Balding, who has led coverage of the Olympics, the Boat Race and Crufts for more than a decade, presented Wimbledon highlights for BBC 5 Live before anchoring Today at Wimbledon on BBC2.

Former French Open champion Barker, 66, began presenting for the BBC at the All England Club in 1993, and became a much-loved fixture of Wimbledon coverage during her 22-year reign in the leading role.

Before the two main show courts had roofs installed, she would fill in hours-long rain delays that put Wimbledon at a standstill and was renowned for her ability to reduce some of the sport's greats - including Roger Federer and Andy Murray - to tears in their on-court interviews.

She also cultivated a strong rapport with pundits including Henman, John McEnroe and Billie Jean King.

During Barker's final tournament in July, three-time champion McEnroe brought Barker to tears with his impromptu tribute to her at the court's centenary event.

"John McEnroe didn't even turn up for the rehearsal so I don't know why he took over," Barker joked on stage with Balding on Wednesday night. "I had a whole closing link planned, and everything was all sorted but then he took over!

"But I think that was the most emotional thing that ever happened in my career," Barker added, referring to the standing ovation she received that day, in the presence of some of the most decorated former Wimbledon champions. "It's something that I will absolutely treasure forever."


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