by Chris, the Impaler - 06/21/2005
The great tennis automaton, Ivan Lendl once quipped that, "Grass meant to be for a cow, not to play tennis on." And has been since attributed to tennis players, such as Russian head case Marat Safin, a good tennis player on surfaces such as clay and hard-court and then fails miserably on the grass at Wimbledon.
Despite Wimbledon's reputation as the toughest venue to play in professional tennis, players would give up their graphite rackets to play at the venerable All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club over the last fortnight in June.
Indeed, Wimbledon is more than the British monarchy presiding over rain, strawberries and cream. It is the oldest event in professional tennis played on a one of a kind surface, grass, and is one of the four premier "Grand Slam" events in "Open" competition. Although to many, fans and players a like, no event in Tennis compares to the rich history and contribution to the sport that is Wimbledon.
Wimeldon, Wimmeldun or Wymbaldone as the village was once known in medieval times, eventually became the location, in 1869, where the All England Croquet Club leased a few bucolic acres off Worple Way. Initially, the land was set up for 12 croquet lawns. However, even back in 1869, croquet's popularity had waned significantly and did not warrant the high dues the club charged at the time.
Even before the humble (sic) beginnings of tennis at Wimbledon, it is noted that in the early 1500s, King Henry VIII had a servant to throw the ball up in the air for him because he was too fat to do it himself.
There is an entry in Hampton Court's accounts in 1531 recording the payment of five shillings (45 cents) to "one that served on the King's side at Tennes", hence the word "service" became the popular term for putting the ball in play. It is also now known as the serve.
By 1875, eager to boost membership, the club introduced a lawn tennis court that had become immensely popular at the time. And even though the sport was played for years before, tennis was patented by Major Walter Clopton Wingfield who at the time named the sport "sphairistike". A moniker, which thank god, did not stick.
With the introduction of lawn tennis to the club, it was renamed the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club. However, to maintain the short height of the lawns on the courts, the Club needed to raise funds to by what was then called a "roller".
As a way to raise the monies needed for this manicuring device, a championship tennis tournament was proposed and entrants were solicited in local papers. The prize was a 25-guinea trophy and in 1877 it was won in straight sets by Spencer Gore over William C. Marshall 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. The Club also achieved its goal as 200 spectators paid 1 schilling a piece to view the match. Considered a huge success, the Club managed to buy the roller and pocket a tidy profit as well. Wimbledon had arrived and was quickly dubbed as the country's National Championship.
By 1879 gentlemen's doubles tennis was added and five years later in 1884, ladies' singles was added. However, it was not until just before World War 1, in 1913, that ladies' doubles and mixed doubles were also added to the competition.
The first American to win at Wimbledon was in 1905 when Mary Sutton won the ladies' singles title. In 1922, the Club was renamed to reflect its prestige in the tennis world. And so the All England Lawn Tennis Club was born. It was moved to its present day Church Road site to accommodate a 14,000-seat stadium and within the decade surpassed 200,000-person attendance despite being at the height of a worldwide depression.
To commemorate the new stadium, the Queen opened the tournament and set a precedent of royalty presiding over Centre Court and the tournament in years to come (it should come as no surprise that it rained for the first five days of the tournament that year). Royal approval ensured Wimbledon a spot not only as a national sport in Britain, but also as an international sporting institution to this day.
Not surprisingly, the tournament was suspended from 1940-1946 as WWII wrecked havoc in Europe - the only gap in Wimbledon history. In fact, they might have continued the tournament during the war if a German bomb had not destroyed 1,200 seats at Centre Court in 1940. By 1949, the grand Centre Court was restored to its pre-war dignity thanks to the deep pockets of fans and players, and the tournament has been played uninterrupted ever since.
1957 was a notable year because it paved the way for minorities in Tennis when U.S. Ladies tennis hit a watershed moment when Althea Gibson won the tournament as the first black ladies' champion in Wimbledon history. In 1975, Arthur Ashe became the first black gentlemen's champion at Wimbledon.
Most people are unaware that before Wimbledon was known as a "Grand Slam" event, it barred professionals from entering the tournament. It was not until the event became so popular in 1959 that there were rumblings that there was a need to broaden Wimbledon's scope and allow all players, including the professionals.
Finally in 1968, professional tennis players were allowed to compete at Church Road. The first professional Open Championships was held in the summer of love, with Rod Laver and Billie Jean King crowned the first winners. The total money prize was more than £26,000.
In 2005, the men's singles winner receives £630,000 (~$USD 1,165,800), while the women's winner gets £600,000 (~$USD 1,110,300). In 1968, the year of the first "open" championships, the prize money was £2,000 and £750, respectively.
The Ladies' singles champion also receives a silver gilt salver (a round, disk-like platter) that was made in 1864. The gentlemen's winner receives a silver gilt cup from 1887. Both are actually displayed at the Wimbledon museum for most of the year.
Royalty presents the trophy for the singles champion at Wimbledon since the war, except in 1986 when the famous French Davis cup John Borotra gave the cup to famously ill behaved Boris Becker.
Milestones in Wimbledon HistoryNo player in recent memory has won more Wimbledon gentlemen's singles titles than American tennis stud Pete Sampras. He amassed a record seven singles titles to tie Willie Renshaw's 19th Century mark with the most titles in Wimbledon history. It is Bjorn Borg who holds the record for consecutive gentlemen's victories at Wimbledon.
For the women, the U.S.'s Martina Navratilova became the first player to win the Ladies' Singles title six times consecutively - she would win the title a further three times, and even appeared in the final as late as 1994.
Martina Navratilova once said, "Wimbledon is like a drug. Once you win it for the first time you feel you've just got to do it again and again and again."
It took German Steffi Graf (Mrs. Andre Agassi) to challenge Navratilova. Graf won the ladies' title a total of seven times.
1993 was memorable for the ladies final when the Duchess of Kent offered Jana Novotna a shoulder to cry on after she lost a memorable match. Novotna was playing the match of her life in the Wimbledon final and lead 4-1 40-30 in the third set. Novotna choked, with Graf winning five games in row to take the title, her fifth in total.
In 1996, Martina Hingis of Switzerland became the youngest ever Champion, winning the Ladies' Doubles Championship at the age of just 15. Just 17 year old, Boris Becker became the youngest player, the first unseeded player and the first German to win the Men's Singles title in 1985.
The British are quite serious about consuming strawberries. In fact Twenty-four tons of Kent strawberries are ordered every year for the Championships at Wimbledon.
Wooden racquets were last used at Wimbledon in 1987 when the new, more powerful graphite racquets replaced them.
There will be approximately 200 ball boys and girls running around the courts at this year's event.