Wimbledon Tennis Championships
For two weeks a year, SW19 is the place to be. Wimbledon is where dreams are made and also where they are shattered.
There are four grand slam tournaments. In order: the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. But what is it about Wimbledon that makes it the best? The answer is everything. To win Wimbledon is the crown jewel in any tennis player’s collection.
Not only is Wimbledon the oldest tennis tournament on the tour (it dates back to 1877), but it is also considered the most prestigious. Each grand slam has its own quirks, but none more so than Wimbledon.
The importance even the greatest tennis players place upon this noble event was illustrated when Ivan Lendl, a former men’s singles number one, said ‘not winning at Wimbledon is going to bother me forever.’
Unique Traditions Make the Wimbledon Tennis Championships the Best Grand Slam Tournament
Despite all that he had achieved, Lendl, and many other players like him, did not consider their illustrious careers to be complete because they were missing this coveted men’s singles title that outweighed all other titles on the tennis world tour.
Like it or loathe it, Wimbledon has something special that these other tournaments simply do not have. You cannot put a name on this quality and you cannot possibly hope to replicate it.
Wimbledon’s distinctive and unique traditions are adored world-wide for their eccentricity, such as having to wear all-white and players being required to bow to the Queen if she is in the royal box.
They lend a certain degree of class to the tournament that you simply do not see elsewhere at other majors and this degree of individuality ensures that Wimbledon stands out from the crowd.
Wimbledon is also unique in the sense that it is the only major still played on grass, the original surface of the game, as the Australian Open switched to hard court in 1988. The ‘lawn tennis’ gives the tournament a timeless quality as it harks back to the very beginning of the game, serving to link tennis’ past with its future.
Countless players, coaches and fans have been asked to describe what makes this quintessentially British event so different to all the other competitions on the tour and their immediate answer is the lure of the iconic Centre Court – tennis’ greatest theatre.
Home to a multitude of unforgettable moments, the 15,000 capacity Centre Court is the place where every single aspiring tennis player dreams of playing. The unique atmosphere at Wimbledon’s Centre Court ensures that the audience feels every single emotion with the player.
However, few are lucky enough to step onto the hallowed turf that has played host to the sport’s greatest players and the most historic sporting moments.
Centre Court has seen everything from Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer’s 4 hours and 28 minutes epic battle to decide the men’s title in 2008 to Andy Murray’s triumph over Novak Djokovic last year to end a 77 year wait for a British men’s singles champion at the event.
With such an illustrious sporting legacy it is no wonder that Wimbledon has become the ultimate challenge in a player’s quest for tennis immortality.
Is it any wonder then that Martina Navratilova said that playing at Wimbledon is ‘like coming home’ and why Boris Becker named the tournament the ‘most important of them all’?
Stefan Edberg, the Swedish former world number one, attempted to convey to a reporter why Wimbledon is the greatest tournament of them all saying ‘It’s got tradition, it’s got atmosphere, and it’s got mystique.’
How the Wimbledon Tennis Championships Began
Wimbledon. The quintessentially British event that has been uniting the nation since it began. Anyone who visits the Championship cannot help but feel the tradition and the history of the tournament and there is a sense that there is something more at stake in winning the tournament than simply a trophy.
Win Wimbledon and you will go down in history.
This momentous event began the first stage of its journey to becoming the Wimbledon we know and love today on the 23rd July 1868 with the birth of the All England Croquet Club.
Over the next few years the club began to build a strong membership contingent which allowed the purchase of a ground in Wimbledon, as well as the building of the first facilities. The next stage in Wimbledon’s journey was the introduction of a new game to the club’s activities – lawn tennis.
This new game was derived from the ancient sport of real tennis which was a sport played by royalty – the most notable enthusiast of the game being the infamous King Henry VIII.
Lawn tennis quickly caught on as it proved a popular activity with the younger, more adventurous generation of Victorian Britain. Therefore in the spring of 1877 the club was renamed ‘The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club’ and the inaugural Wimbledon Championship was held in July 1877.
This first Wimbledon was a far cry from the present tournament. Principally, the only event held was the ‘Gentlemen’s Singles’, whereas nowadays Wimbledon includes five main events for both men, women and mixed doubles pairs.
In addition, there were only 22 entrants in the inaugural men’s event, in which Spencer Gore became the first ever Wimbledon champion, while today there are 128 competitors in the men’s singles.
The most astonishing change though is in the sport’s following. In that first Wimbledon, a meagre crowd of 200 gathered to watch the final because this new sport barely registered on the majority of Britain’s radar. Cricket and golf were the preferred sports in Victorian Britain where lawn tennis originated.
Today, in the 21st Century, this is not the case. 17.3 million Britons were glued to their television to watch Andy Murray’s triumph over Djokovic in the Wimbledon final last year. The sport has certainly progressed massively since 1877.
So what caused this meteoric rise in popularity? How did tennis become the go-to leisure activity in Britain and then the world? Fred Perry, the last British man to win Wimbledon before Andy Murray, recognised that Wimbledon has been a ‘leader in bringing about change and improvement in the sport.’
After all, it was on the hallowed lawns of the All England Club that, in August 1967, the first major professional tournament was held after the LTA’s decision to formalise tennis’ movement from amateur to professional.
Wimbledon was also the scene for more innovation in 1967 when the BBC used the event to introduce colour television.
Wimbledon has been central to tennis’ elevation from a little-known sport to a rival for football. From the origins of lawn tennis in the 19th Century to the game as we know it today, Wimbledon has been at the forefront of innovation and technology every step of the way – tennis simply would not exist without it.
Tennis Whites and Strawberries
Quite frankly, a Wimbledon without traditions would be like living in a world without gravity. The ‘English Open’ may be a centre for tennis innovation, but what it is really known for is the eccentric traditions that have prevailed throughout the changes to the sport.
When you think about Wimbledon what springs to mind? Strawberries and cream, pristine tennis-whites, immaculately mown lawns and its distinctive purple and green livery.
As you would expect at a tournament so steeped in tradition, there has been plenty of controversy in the past. The rule that many seem to have had particular difficulties with is the all-white regulation.
Like any sport, tennis has its characters who are as renowned for their personalities as they are for their playing ability (sometimes even more so).
One such player was Andre Agassi, who despite being the world number one, boycotted the Championships for four years because he disliked the ‘oppressive’ rule that prevented him from wearing the vibrant attire and pink bandanas that he loved so much.
Wimbledon enforces the strictest dress-code in tennis which keeps getting stricter and stricter.
The powers-that-be at the All-England Club have ruled that every single item of clothing must now be predominantly white and have gone as far as to define what exactly the colour white is (to remove any possibility of misinterpretation), saying ‘white does not include off-white or cream’.
These stricter regulations have been put in place to stamp out any possible rebellions which have been seen in the past, with players attempting to show their own individual take on the tennis whites.
In previous years, women have worn coloured briefs underneath their dresses and men have attempted to get away with wearing a coloured headband. Not anymore.
The all-white regulations have caused uproar at Wimbledon for many years and I simply do not understand why. I am strongly in favour of people being able to express their individuality, but surely players should not be surprised if they are asked to change by the chair umpire if wear non-regulation clothing?
These rules have been in place since 1963, so why do people still think that they do not apply to them or that there is a way around the rule?
Wimbledon has become synonymous with strawberries and cream, that oh-so-British summer snack, and so it should come as no surprise that the Championships are the largest single annual sporting catering operation carried out in Europe.
Nearly 500,000 spectators flock to Wimbledon each year where they are fuelled by an average of 300,000 cups of good old British tea and coffee, 200,000 glasses of Pimm’s, (a weak alcoholic drink that every Briton ensures that they drink during the summer regardless of the fact that it is revolting) 32,000 portions of fish and chips and – surprise, surprise – 28,000kg of fresh, English strawberries.
The strawberries and cream that Wimbledon is so renowned for have to undergo a rigorous vetting procedure before they are deemed worthy of the tournament.
The 28,000kg of strawberries that are selected are usually Grade I Kent strawberries – the highest quality on offer, of course. At Wimbledon, around 8615 punnets of the red berries are consumed daily by the spectators and many of these are accompanied by the 7,000 litres of fresh cream that is brought in for the tournament.
After the thorough vetting procedure to choose the source has occurred, the strawberries are picked the day before they will be served in order to guarantee freshness. When they arrive at SW19 at 5.30am they are inspected once more to ensure that Wimbledon’s strawberries are of the highest quality.
The traditions that accompany Wimbledon play a vital role in making the tournament so unique and therefore so important to everyone who is fortunate enough to play there or even watch the tournament.
No matter when you last visited the Championships, it always remains recognisable as the Wimbledon that everyone knows and loves with tennis whites, strawberries and cream and impeccably trained ball boys and ball girls who ensure that Wimbledon runs like a well-oiled machine.
Even as time progresses and everything around you changes, Wimbledon and its various traditions will remain an ‘ever fixed mark’.
Pomp and Splendour
All of these traditions contribute to the pomp and splendour that makes Wimbledon so unique, but none more so than the traditions associated with the presence of the royal family at the championships.
Another aspect of Wimbledon that makes it unique to any other tournament on the tour is the Royal Box in Centre Court. Until 2003, players were required to bow or curtsey upon entering or leaving Centre Court if members of the Royal Family were present.
However, this tradition was abolished by the president of the All-England Club (HRH the Duke of Kent) and it is now only necessary for players to bow or curtsey if Prince Charles or the Queen are in attendance.
The Queen last visited the Championships in 2010 to witness Andy Murray beat Jarkko Nieminen to progress through to the third round – her first visit since she watched Virginia Wade win the ladies’ singles title in 1977.
Murray, who is well-known for his support for Scottish independence, was the focus of much speculation before the match over whether or not he would bow to the Queen. Putting an end to the ceaseless ‘will he, won’t he’ rumours, Murray and his opponent both delivered a well-choreographed bow to the monarch, which brought a small smile to Her Majesty’s face.
After the event, Murray posted on Twitter that he was always planning on bowing and that it was an ‘honour to be able to do so.’ If the staunch Scot was able to do it then no one else should have a problem.
So what do the players think about the discontinuation of the tradition? Rather than being glad that this tradition was stopped, many players have expressed disappointment as they believed that it made Wimbledon ‘special’ because this tradition is not found anywhere else.
Nonetheless, the nerves that accompanied having to bow or curtsey on Centre Court often far outweighed those that players felt in regards to their actual match and often served as a distraction to the main event.
Sue Barker, former professional tennis player-turned-commentator, remarked while covering the Championship that she was often ‘more nervous about getting the curtsey right than I was about playing’.
Four-time Wimbledon semi-finalist Tim Henman recalled recently how, when he played on Centre Court, his opponents would question him at length before the match in regards to the correct method of bowing and sometimes, they even made him watch them practice – much to Henman’s amusement.
Removing the necessity to bow when any member of the Royal Family is in attendance, which is often, has removed that unnecessary pre-match disruption and allowed players to focus on delivering their best tennis, as opposed to their best curtsey.
As you would expect in a tournament with a history as long as that of Wimbledon, some traditions have simply not survived the test of time. Thankfully, this particular tradition looks set to stay.
The Glorious Grounds of Wimbledon SW19
Nothing can prepare you for the feeling that you experience the first time that you walk into the grounds at Wimbledon. Host to the 2012 Olympic Games, Davis Cup Events and of course the annual Championships, Wimbledon is one of the sport’s most iconic and recognisable venues.
Wimbledon is a gem that stands out amidst a host of other events. This stage, where so much of tennis’ history has been written, is maintained to a high standard throughout the year in order to ensure that, for every single performance it gives, Wimbledon’s set is Oscar-worthy.
The Championships is unique in the fact that it is the only Major still played on grass and this individuality is the thread that runs through every essence of Wimbledon’s being.
In the past, all of the Grand Slam events except the French Open (always played on clay) were played on tennis’ original surface. But by 1988, both the Australian and US Open had forsaken grass in favour of hard courts, leaving Wimbledon to remain as the only Major continuing the traditional ‘lawn tennis’.
The 13.5 acres of grounds are able to host 38,500 spectators at any one time and with 19 grass courts available for play at Wimbledon there is always plenty of tennis-action on offer.
Those without show court tickets are still able to revel and partake in the atmosphere that accompanies the event by watching matches live on ‘Henman Hill’ via the giant television screen.
Henman Hill’s official name is the Aorangi Terrace, which is a tribute to the London New Zealand Rugby Club’s grounds (which were called Aorangi Park) which occupied the site until 1981.
However, since the late 1990s the terrace has carried the unofficial name of Henman Hill – after the former British number one Tim Henman. Since Henman’s retirement in 2007, Andy Murray (the current British number one) has reached heights that Henman never managed.
Not only did Murray win the US Open in 2012 but he also became the first British man to win the men’s singles at Wimbledon in 77 years.
This monumental achievement caused Murray to become the nation’s darling and has led to many spectators renaming Henman Hill ‘Murray Mound’, although the media continue to refer to the area as ‘Henman Hill’.
Murray has always remained respectful of Henman by maintaining that the terrace still is, and always will be, Henman Hill. In response to this, Henman joked that ‘He can have all those grand slams he’s going to win but I’m keeping my hill.’
One thing is for certain though, this area of the grounds will remain a hot topic for debate for many years to come.
Over the years, Wimbledon’s grounds have played host to some of tennis’ best and worst moments, as well as the biggest stars of every era including royalty of the traditional, music and acting kind.
Singing in the Rain at Wimbledon
Britain is known for several things but perhaps the most famous is its weather. Despite being arranged in June, generally the warmest month in England, the weather is notorious for throwing a spanner into the works at Wimbledon.
With an air of true resignation, many players and spectators alike have remarked how ‘Wimbledon wouldn’t be Wimbledon without a spot of rain.’ Over the years there have been countless rain delays – in fact only 7 out of 91 Championships have been recorded as being without any interruptions due to rain since 1922.
In the past the British spirit of resilience has shone through during rain delays with spectators on Henman Hill refusing to be beaten by Mother Nature and simply producing a waterproof.
All 19 courts have been forced to endure many arduous breaks over the years – with some far lengthier than others – which leave the spectators and players with nothing to do but sit and twiddle their thumbs, waiting for the rain to abate.
In 1996 the 15,000 capacity Centre Court was greeted with one of Britain’s finest summer showers. Faced by the fact that play was unlikely to resume anytime in the near future, the BBC attempted to fill the gap by conducting interviews with celebrity attendees in the Royal Box, one of whom was Sir Cliff Richard.
This infamous moment in Centre Court’s history arose after Sir Cliff offered to entertain the crowd with an assortment of his greatest hits in an impromptu concert, beginning (in true sardonic style) with ‘Singin’ in the Rain’.
The Royal Box, from which members of the Royal Family and other dignitaries and celebrities watch the Championships, included the familiar faces of many former tennis stars such as Virginia Wade and Martina Navrátilová who proceeded to join in as background singers.
It was a performance unlike any other and thankfully (apologies to any closet Cliff Richard fans) will never have to be repeated again due to the installation of a roof over Centre Court in 2009 and the impending construction of a roof over No. 1 Court.
Wimbledon’s Grass Surface and Centre Court
The All England Club’s courts have occasionally become the subject of controversy – none more so than during the 2013 Championships.
A multitude of top-seeded players crashed out of Wimbledon during the early stages in 2013, including reigning champions Serena Williams and Roger Federer. In search of an excuse for their dismal performances many players began to use the grass, which has consisted of 100% perennial ryegrass since 2001, as a scape goat for their problems.
Last year the grass was slightly more lush than usual due to a later spring, but if these so-called top tennis players are unable to adapt their playing style to suit the conditions are they really deserving of that title? After all, there are ‘two sides to every net’ and not everyone was incapable of staying on their feet.
Among the critics was Maria Sharapova who called the afore-mentioned turf ‘dangerous’ after she crashed out in the second round, but the All-England club was quick to quash any rumours with the chief executive saying that the lawns were ‘as they should be.’
As well as the grass, another potential problem faced on Wimbledon’s courts comes from pigeons. Pigeons are the ‘rats of the sky’ and have infested many areas of London, but at Wimbledon they do not reign supreme thanks to Rufus the hawk.
At SW19 this more distinguished creature rules the skies, ensuring that the grounds of Wimbledon remain pigeon-free so that players do not have to worry about interruptions to their serve from these pests.
But what about the courts themselves? Centre Court is known as the hall of dreams in which the Wimbledon finals and semi-finals are played. It also hosts matches in the earlier rounds in which top-seeded players or British favourites feature.
Boris Becker won Wimbledon three times and this left him feeling so comfortable playing on Centre Court that he has referred to it in the past as his ‘own front room’. Playing or watching a game on Centre Court at Wimbledon is a unique experience which cannot be replicated elsewhere.
Every child who has ever picked up a racket dreams of playing on that hallowed turf because, while Wimbledon’s Centre Court may not be the largest, it is undeniably the most prestigious court in the world.
Chris Evert told the BBC that walking out onto Centre Court, a sporting cathedral, is ‘always daunting because you feel the history and all of the former greats that have played there.’ What more can any tennis player want than to play on Centre Court at Wimbledon?
Those not fortunate enough to be able to play on Centre Court have 18 other courts available to them. In order to ensure that Wimbledon moves with the times, a great deal of renovation and reconstruction has occurred at the site. In recent years several new courts have been built, among them a new No.1 and No.2 Court.
The ominous nickname of No.3 Court at Wimbledon, the former No.2 Court before its demotion, is the ‘Graveyard of Champions’ which plays tribute to the horde of highly seeded or former champions eliminated there during the early rounds of the tournament.
Among the casualties of the No.3 Court are the likes of five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams and her sister Serena (four-times winner), as well as Boris Becker and Andre Agassi.
Wimbledon’s tennis courts have played hosts to the greatest players of the game and are where some have triumphed, while others faltered and crashed out. Playing host to 660 matches during the tournament, it is no surprise that all of the courts have witnessed a kaleidoscope of emotions from jubilation to defeat.
The only certainty regarding the courts at Wimbledon is that they will remain the jewel of the tennis world for many years to come.
Wimbledon Statistics and Records
As you would expect at a tournament as old and with as much prestige as Wimbledon there have been many records set and broken on those familiar courts.
Who can possibly forget the longest match in tennis history between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut? This 11 hour and 5 minute epic at the 2009 Wimbledon Championships turned into a gladiatorial battle of the likes that will probably never be seen again.
Described by Federer as ‘amazing’ and ‘beyond anything’ the match consisted of 183 games with John Isner ultimately emerging as victor.
As you would expect, during the three day ‘endless match’, numerous records were broken by both players – from most aces in a match by one player match (Isner achieved 113 aces) to the most games won by both the winning player (92) and losing player (91).
During the fifth set, which lasted 8 hours and 11 minutes, people around the world waited anxiously on tenterhooks to see who would be the first to break. No one wanted either man to lose that match.
From the longest match in the history of tennis, Wimbledon has also seen a multitude of other memorable, record-breaking moments.
From the surprise victory of the wildcard Goran Ivanišević in 2001 (who also broke the record for the lowest-ranked for both men and women at 125th in the world) to Lottie Dodd who was crowned ladies’ singles champion aged 15 in 1887 and who remains the youngest female winner of Wimbledon to this day.
Wimbledon is well-known for its unpredictability which lends the Championships the aura of an event where anything can happen. This was certainly the case in 1985 when a 17-year-old Boris Becker caused a ripples in the tennis world by winning Wimbledon – the first step in his domination of the tournament.
Another upset came in 2004 when the great Serena Williams was felled by a ruthless 17-year-old Maria Sharapova.
These records show that the only certainty in tennis is that there is none. Tennis, especially at Wimbledon, is a sport that is not played on paper. The outcome of a match depends largely on the mind-set of the players on the day which has led to some surprise results over the years at the Championships.
The Greatest Tennis Players of All Time
What makes a champion? To become a Wimbledon champion a player has a choice – to rise to the occasion or sink like a stone. As any winner knows, it is never over until it is over and when going into a match you have to remain optimistic – if you believe that you are going to lose, then you will undoubtedly lose.
Tennis is only a two-horse race and if one horse does not have the aggressive mind-set which is necessary to win, then they will be overwhelmed, outmuscled and outfought.
Stefan Edberg, winner of 6 Grand Slam titles, summarised how different Wimbledon is to the other Majors by saying ‘I’d won the Australian Open twice but winning Wimbledon takes something special.’
Throughout the tournament’s 137-year history, the All-England Club has been the scene for many notable moments and has been won by the majority of the greatest names in tennis. These tennis greats have in turn inspired another generation of players looking to emulate the success of their heroes at Wimbledon.
Without a shadow of a doubt the greatest Wimbledon champion of all time, not just the Open Era, is Martina Navratilova.
She did not just dominate the Championship but she annihilated her competition, winning 6 consecutive Wimbledon titles between 1982 and 1987 and ending her ladies’ singles tally at 9 victories – the most ever. As well as winning titles in the ladies’ singles, Navratilova also won titles in the ladies’ doubles and mixed doubles.
What made Navratilova Wimbledon’s greatest champion was her sheer determination and her refusal to give in to something as trivial as age.
Determined to equal Billie Jean King’s record of 20 Wimbledon titles, Navratilova continued to compete even after all of her peers had retired and in 2003, when she won the mixed doubles title at Wimbledon, she became the oldest ever major champion at 46 years and 8 months.
This victory spurred Navratilova to aim even higher and she was determined to return to Wimbledon (her favourite tournament) to play in the ladies’ singles competition one last time.
A year later in 2004, Navratilova returned to Wimbledon as a wildcard and managed to win her first round match, making her the oldest player to win a professional singles match in the open era.
Navratilova continued to play doubles before finally retiring after winning the US Open mixed doubles title in 2006, a month before her 50th birthday. Are you still wondering why Navratilova is the greatest Wimbledon Champion of all time?
Do you want to know which quality earned her the title of ‘legend’? It’s simple. Navratilova tried to win every single point and losing was not in her vocabulary. She famously remarked ‘Whoever said, ‘It’s not whether you win or lose that counts,’ probably lost.’ That is the mind-set of a champion.
If Navratilova was the greatest Wimbledon champion of all time, her runner-up would have to be a tie between Pete Sampras and Roger Federer. Both men have won the accolade of Wimbledon champion 7 times, making them the joint record-holders for the most men’s singles titles at the Championships.
Pete Sampras, nicknamed ‘Pistol Pete’ for his hard-hitting playing style, is undoubtedly one of the greatest players of all-time and he is considered by many to be the greatest grass-court player ever.
Sampras’ game was a perfect match for the courts of SW19 where he demonstrated that, in a period full of great players, he was a force to be reckoned with thanks to his steely focus and mental fortitude.
These traits allowed Sampras to dominate Wimbledon and ensured that he finished as the champion in some of the most one-sided men’s singles finals in the Championship’s history. When asked what it was that made him a Wimbledon champion, Sampras simply stated that ‘I let my racket do the talking.’
However, his long dominance over the event ended in 2001 when he was beaten in the fourth round by a young Roger Federer. His last appearance at the All-England Club in 2002 also ended abruptly when Sampras became another tennis great to be claimed by the Graveyard of Champions.
Wimbledon, once described as Sampras’ golden event, unfortunately did not remain loyal to him until the end.
After the retirement of Sampras, Roger Federer effortlessly occupied the seemingly unfillable void left by him and proceeded to dominate Wimbledon, Sampras’ old haunting ground. The Swiss ace first came to the attention of the tennis world when he beat Sampras, the defending champion, in 2001.
This he followed by winning Wimbledon for the first time in 2003 before embarking on a campaign to equal Sampras’ record, which he achieved in 2012.
The first in the new generation of tennis stars, for much of his career Federer remained unrivalled in terms of talent and mental fortitude which allowed him to completely dominate at Wimbledon – his favourite tournament. That is not the case anymore.
Future Greats of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships
The tennis world is now brimming with young players, like Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov, who are eager to follow in the footsteps of their heroes and earn themselves the title of ‘great’. Is Federer’s golden era at Wimbledon well and truly over?
‘Champion’ and ‘great’ are not words which are uttered lightly in the world of tennis. The true champion of the amateur era was Fred Perry; his dominance at Wimbledon was such that he won the 1936 Championships in a final that lasted only 40 minutes.
However, in the open era, the decision as to who is worthy of these titles is not so clear cut. You can no longer become Wimbledon champion down to sheer talent alone, a certain ‘grittiness’ is now required and this is a quality which cannot be taught. Who will have what it takes? Whose name will feature on the Wimbledon roll of honour?
One thing is for sure, achieving sporting immortality is not going to be easy.