WHETHER you’re a tennis fan or not, it seems that Wimbledon fortnight captivates the imagination of millions of armchair fans that no other sport can.
It’s possibly revered even more nowadays, as it’s still available to watch on terrestrial TV, although SKY would jump at the chance to broadcast one of the great British institutions.
Full coverage is currently across the BBC. I agree, I’m one of those that doesn’t move from my HD TV for those 13 days, (I have the middle Sunday off too) and have done so ever since I can remember, yet never watch any other tennis throughout the year.
I’m an early ‘70s boy; one of my vague early memories of Wimbledon was the 1980 final, between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe.
It was the last of Borg’s fifth consecutive victories and rated as one of the great men’s finals.
As the latest tournament is well underway, I thought I’d have a look and see what makes this event so special across the world.
The Championships, Wimbledon, The Wimbledon Championships or simply Wimbledon, call it what you want, is the oldest tennis tournament in the world and widely considered the most prestigious.
It has been held at the All England Club in Wimbledon, London, since 1877 and is one of the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments, the others being, the Australian Open, the French Open and the US Open. Since the Australian Open shifted to hard court in 1988, Wimbledon is the only major still played on grass, the game’s original surface, which gave the game its original name of “lawn tennis”.
The tournament takes place over two weeks in late June and early July, culminating with the Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s (not Men’s) Singles Finals, scheduled for the second Saturday and Sunday respectively.
Five major, junior and invitational events are held each year.
Both singles tournaments consist of 128 players. Players and doubles pairs are admitted to the main events on the basis of their international rankings, with 104 direct entries into the men’s and 108 into the ladies’ competitions.
Both tournaments have eight wild card entrants, with the remainder in each made up of qualifiers. Since the 2001 tournament, 32 players have been given seedings in the Gentlemen’s and Ladies’ singles and 16 pairs in the doubles events.
The system of seeding was introduced during the 1924 Wimbledon Championships. It was a much simplified version, allowing countries to nominate four players who were placed in different quarters of the draw.
This system was replaced for the 1927 Wimbledon Championships, and from then on, players were seeded on merit. The first players to be seeded as No1 were, René Lacoste and Helen Wills Moody.
Although much has changed since the Wimbledon Championships were first introduced in 1877, today, when we think of Wimbledon fortnight, there are a number of traditional images that still spring to mind.
The obligatory strawberries and cream (of which it is estimated that 28,000 kilos of English strawberries and 7,000 litres of cream are consumed each year!), the white, or almost all white dress code which is still a requirement, or the strong ties with the Royal family, to name but a few. All of which combined, continue to preserve Wimbledon’s place both in British heritage and at the forefront of the tennis world.
The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, is a private club founded on 23 July 1868, originally as ‘The All England Croquet Club’.
Its first ground was off Worple Road, Wimbledon.
In 1876, lawn tennis, a game devised by Major Walter Clopton Wingfield a year or so earlier, and originally given the name Sphairistikè, was added to the activities of the club.
In spring 1877, the club was renamed ‘The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club’ and signalled its change of name by instituting the first Lawn Tennis Championship.
A new code of laws, replacing the code administered by the Marylebone Cricket Club, was drawn up for the event.
Today’s rules are similar except for details such as, the height of the net and posts and the distance of the service line from the net.
The inaugural 1877 Wimbledon Championship opened on 9 July 1877. The Gentlemen’s Singles was the only event held and was won by Spencer Gore, an old Harrovian rackets player, from a field of 22. About 200 spectators paid one shilling each to watch the final!
The lawns at the ground were arranged so that, the principal court was in the middle with the others arranged around it, hence the title ‘Centre Court’. The name was retained when the Club moved in 1922 to the present site in Church Road, although no longer a true description of its location.
However, in 1980 four new courts were brought into commission on the north side of the ground, which meant the Centre Court was once more correctly defined. The opening of the new No. 1 Court in 1997 emphasised the description.
By 1882, activity at the club was almost exclusively confined to lawn tennis and that year the word ‘croquet’ was dropped from the title. However, for sentimental reasons, it was restored in 1899.
In 1884, the club added Ladies’ Singles and Gentlemen’s Doubles competitions. Ladies’ Doubles and Mixed Doubles events were added in 1913. Until 1922, the reigning champion had to play only in the final, against whoever had won through to challenge him/her.
As with the other three Major or Grand Slam events, Wimbledon was contested by top-ranked amateur players; professional players were prohibited from participating.
THE OPEN ERA
This changed with the advent of the open era in 1968. No British man won the singles event at Wimbledon between Fred Perry in 1936 and Andy Murray in 2013.
No British woman has won since Virginia Wade in 1977, when HM The Queen was making a rare appearance in the Royal Box in her Jubilee Year.
Wimbledon is considered the world’s premier tennis tournament and the priority of the Club is to maintain that leadership. To that end, a long-term plan was unveiled in 1993, intended to improve the quality of the event for spectators, players, officials and neighbours.
Stage one (1994–1997) of the plan was completed for the 1997 championships and involved building the new No.1 Court in Aorangi Park, a broadcast centre, two extra grass courts and a tunnel under the hill linking Church Road and Somerset Road.
Stage two (1997–2009), involved the removal of the old No.1 Court complex, to make way for the new Millennium Building, providing extensive facilities for players, press, officials and members, and the extension of the West Stand of the Centre Court with 728 extra seats.
Stage three (2000–2011) has been completed with the construction of an entrance building, club staff housing, museum, bank and ticket office.
A new retractable roof was built in time for the 2009 championships, marking the first time that rain did not stop play for a lengthy time on Centre Court. The first match to be played in its entirety under the new roof, took place between Andy Murray and Stanislas Wawrinka on 29 June 2009, which Murray won.
Murray was also involved in the latest completed match at Wimbledon, which ended at 11:02 pm in a victory over Marcos Baghdatis at Centre Court in the third round of the 2012 Championships.
We all have our own particular memories of “The Championships.”
For me, it would have to be Boris Becker winning his first title at 17 and my older brother winning £95, as he put a fiver on him at 18/1 a week before.
Also, the amazing 2010 first round match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, which broke every longevity record in the scorebook and a remarkable, surely never to be beaten final set of 70-68!
Let’s hope 2017 is another fantastic Wimbledon fortnight and may the best Gentleman and best Lady win!