The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships – known simply as Wimbledon – is the oldest tennis tournament in the world. It takes place for a fortnight in late June and early July, and has been held at the All England Club in Wimbledon, south-west London since 1877.
Wimbledon is one of four Grand Slam tennis tournaments held around the world, the others being the Australian Open, the French Open and the US Open. Wimbledon is the only one still to be played on grass. The tournament culminates in the Singles Finals: the Ladies’, held on the second Saturday of the fortnight, and the Gentlemen’s, on the second Sunday.
The game of lawn tennis was devised by one Major Walter Clopton Wingfield in 1876. Originally called ‘sphairistike’ it was introduced as a new game to the All England Croquet Club, located in Worple Road, Wimbledon. The new game took off and the Club was renamed The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club a year later. A new code of laws was drawn up and the Club held its inaugural Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships in July 1877. Two hundred spectators paid one shilling to watch old Harrovian, Spencer Gore, win the only event of the tournament, the Gentlemen’s Singles Final. In 1884, Ladies’ Singles and Gentlemen’s Doubles were introduced; and in 1913, Ladies’ Doubles and Mixed Doubles were added.
In 1922 the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club moved to its current Wimbledon location in Church Road. The lawns on which the games take place were originally laid out so that the principal one was positioned in the middle and hence became known as Centre Court. Finals matches continue to take place on Centre Court. Once open to the elements, in 2009 a retractable roof was fitted and crowd-pulling matches are now no longer at the mercy of the British weather. Over the years, the Club has grown in size and a long-term plan to develop the site further was unveiled in 1993. This has seen the creation of new lawn tennis courts, improved facilities for players, spectators and the media – Wimbledon was first televised in 1937. There is also now a museum within the complex and even a bank.
Strawberries & Cream
Wimbledon has spawned many traditions. Its associations with strawberries and cream, as refreshment for spectators, and lemon barley water, as refreshment for the players, are well known, as is its patronage by members of the Royal Family. A strict dress code is maintained for competitors, who are required to wear predominantly all-white clothing. The odd flash of non-fluorescent colour is acceptable as long as it is not identifiable as being the logo of a commerical sponsor. The umpire, linesmen, ball-boys and ball-girls originally wore green, but since 2006 have sported navy blue and cream uniforms. Some etiquette observed at Wimbledon can seem outdated. Scoreboards still feature the titles of Miss and Mrs for female players. It was only as recent as 2009 that married female players were no longer referred to by their husband’s name – Chris Evert-Lloyd, during her marriage to John Lloyd, appeared at Wimbledon as Mrs J M Lloyd.
- During the Second World War, 5 bombs hit Centre Court – it took 9 years for the court to be fully restored
- Yellow tennis balls were introduced in 1986 – the white balls used up till then were difficult for the umpires to see
- The last time anyone used a wooden racket at Wimbledon was in 1987
- Each year at Wimbledon 28,000 kg of strawberries & 7,000 litres of cream are eaten
Images © By courtesy of Felix Rosentiel’s Widow & Son Ltd, London on behalf of the Estate of Sir John Lavery, National Museums Scotland, Falkirk Museums, Victoria & Albert Museum | Licensor Scran