Wimbledon Tennis Championship - Overview
The Wimbledon tennis championship is the most prestigous of the four grand slam tournaments, steeped in tradition with its pristine perfectly manicured grass courts, snowy white outfits and royal patronage.
Wimbledon Tennis Tournament - History
The Wimbledon tennis championship is arguably the most prestigious of the four annual grand slam tournaments and the only one to still to be played on grass.
The tournament as we know it today evolved from humble beginnings. A game closely resembling tennis was played for centuries by monks in many European monasteries. However, it was not until the 19th century that the tennis we know and recognise today first began to be played.
In the beginning the game was played indoors and was adapted for the outdoors by an Englishman named Major Walter Clopton Wingfield, who called it ‘sphairstrike’ after an ancient Greek game. Popularised by the English middle and upper classes, tennis courts quickly began to spring up to accommodate the growing demand, including one in the small village of Wimbledon, situated in the South West of London which later called itself the ‘All England Croquet Club.
As the game evolved, it was decided that it needed a simpler name then ‘Sphairstrike’, and so the name was then changed to ‘Lawn Tennis’. In 1877 the ‘All England Croquet Club’ changed its name and began to call itself the ‘All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club’, immediately thereafter they announced its first competition to raise funds for the purchase of a pony-drawn lawn roller for the croquet lawn. However, over the years the croquet lawns became desolate for lack of use, causing the word croquet to be removed from the name only to be reinstated later for sentimental reasons.
The competition went on to become an annual event, but before the first ball was struck in 1877, the commissioners laid ground rules which have stood the test of time that have not changed in any meaningful way since it was first penned. The All England club has remained the ‘supreme court’ of appeal when it comes to the rules of the game.
The first games were open to male competitors only and it was not until seven years later in1884 that women were first allowed to play. That first competition attracted a mere 200 spectators who paid one shilling to enter. By the mid-eighteen hundreds; thousands of spectators were flooding to the matches and by the 1905 the competition was able to attract competitors for abroad.
The first competitors had to be amateurs, which as far is the Wimbledon commissioners were concerned was synonym for ‘gentlemen’. Professional players were regards as labourers were not allowed to participate until 1968.
Wimbledon, throughout its history has been able to attract the most innovative players from across the globe and is generally regarded as a laboratory, whereby the game has been allowed to grow and evolved into what it is today. The very first competition was won by Spencer Gore. Gore was the first person to volley right and left to pass his opponents, who were accustomed to playing on the baseline ultimately winning most of his matches.
The next innovation was introduced by Frank Hadow who for the first time used the over-head lob. This continued until 1881 when twin brothers William and Ernest Renshaw featured the over-head serve, which they perfected by practicing against each other on their private tennis court on the French Riviera. It was so successful against their opponents that it was dubbed the Renshaw smash. The two brothers were able to win no less than eight Wimbledon titles between them.
The institution of Wimbledon is fiercely traditional and slow to change, which is thought to be the main contributor of its innate charm. Women were not allowed to play un-corseted until the 1920’s, whilst men were not allowed to wear shorts until the 1930’s.
The first African American to be invited to play at Wimbledon was Althea Gibson, who went on to win the women’s singles in 1957 and 1958.
Another tradition is the mountains of strawberries and cream consumed by the spectators annually. It is estimated that in excess of 59,000 pounds of strawberries and 2000 gallon of cream are consumed during the annual tournament. Traditional as it is, there is one tradition the commissioners of the tournament and British tennis fans would love to break, that is to break the tradition of not having a winner, male or female for over thirty three years. The last male winner was Fred Perry who won the men's single over seventy four years ago in 1936 and the last female single's winner was Virginia Wade in 1977. The current British hope is Andy Murray and when he plays at Wimbledon the atmosphere is palpable.
The two weeks championship is held in June July each year. The 2010 man's champion is ssecond time winner Rafael Nadal, of Spain, and Serena Williams, forth time women's singles champion from the USA.