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The History of Wimbledon


July 1 - July 14, 2024

The date for Wimbledon isn't the same year to year. It generally begins in late June sometime or early July. This is why we put a Link to it for both those months. Another formula is that it is held 6 weeks before the first Monday in August.


For 13 days every summer these Lawn Tennis Championships are held in Wimbledon, England.  They are the oldest and most prestigious tennis tournaments in the world.  

How did it all begin?

Back in 1875, the All-England Croquet Club was nudged into setting aside a bit of their land on Worple Road in Wimbledon for playing lawn tennis.  People felt that tennis of course, was much more physically demanding than croquet.  Not to mention, tennis went faster and was more exciting. 

The first lawn tennis tournament included heavy rackets shaped like snowshoes. The net was 5 feet high at the ends but drooped to 3 feet high in the center. These differences came from the ancient game known as court tennis or "Real Tennis" and from which lawn tennis had recently evolved back in 1877.

The winner of the very first Lawn Tennis Championship was Spencer Gore.  At that time it was simply a leisurely sport for the rich as a pastime hobby.  Little did anyone know just how this competition would evolve into the multi-million dollar industry that it is today.

Bill Tilden in 1920 was the first American to win a Wimbledon tennis tournament; and, led the way as the model for future champions.  He had a natural charisma for drawing a crowd, he could be very temperamental with the referees and linesmen. But, unlike John McEnroe (1980), Bill Tilden never pushed the envelope when it came to challenging Wimbledon's reputation as the most polite tennis tournament in the world.  John McEnroe won Wimbledon 3 times and was a real challenger and competitor to the game. But, this single tennis champ was more known for his whining, sulking, pouting, threatening, screaming, rantings and at one point calling an umpire "the pits of the earth."

Women did not play at Wimbledon in the beginning.  A ladies tournament wasn't set up until 1884 and the first women to win at Wimbledon was not British, not American but French.  Her name was Suzanne Lenglen and she dominated women's tennis from 1919 to 1926. Ms. Lenglen's popularity drew so many crowds that she was the reason the managers decided to move the competition to a new location on Church Road in 1922.

These new courts were planted with Cumberland grass and mowed to the smoothness of a billiard table. The Centre Court (where the championships would be held) was said to be "the fastest lawn tennis court in the world."

Ms. Lenglen's proteges for women's tennis included:

Althea Gibson - the first black player to win in 1957

Billie Jean King - who won 6 Wimbledon titles.

In the 1950's and 1960's many of the top tennis players  went professional, thus making them ineligible to play because the tournament was only for amateurs.  So, the rules were changed in 1968, allowing both amateurs and professionals to compete at Wimbledon, and has remained like that ever since.

Today, the best tennis players (whether pro or amateur) compete in Singles and Doubles Titles.  The event is now watched on television worldwide, many of whom get up at the crack of dawn or have all-night vigils at the TV sets so they don't miss a single match due to time zone differences in some areas.  

When members of the royal family attend the tournament, they usually watch from Royal Box.

Centre Court
(Center Court)

Ironically, the new Centre Court that opened in 1922 wasn't really in the center at all. It was really off to one side. This is where the championships are held every summer and during the rest of the year it is off limits to all the members of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, to visitors, tourists and everyone else except the grounds staff.

On the Saturday before the competition begins, 4 female club members play two or three sets of doubles to bruise the grass and make sure the courts are in good shape. 

On the Monday after the tournament is all over with, all the Chairmen Four play doubles, which officially closes the use of that court until the next season.

During World War II (1939-45) , the court had considerable damage from bombing and underwent months of renovation. Today the grass is frequently hand-weeded and mowed down to 1/8 of an inch in height.  Then it is rolled in two directions by a two-ton roller. This leaves a playing surface so even and firm the players feel it gives the best "true bounce."

During the championships, to keep it in shape, the grounds man and his staff are busy every evening watering, patching, trimming, rolling and re-making the turf.  Centre Court also has a tent-like cover, which can be quickly raised by the team of groomsmen in the even of a heavy rainfall (frequently happening in England.) Then after the tournament, the court is resown with new seed before the next tournament.


Tickets are considered next to impossible to get. Seats called "Debenture Seats" are provided year after year.  These are traded on the London Stock Exchange for enormous sums of money.  Ticket scalpers have been known to charge as much as $1,500 for a single ticket.  Membership in the All England Lawn Tennis Club helps you get a ticket because members are entitled to purchase 2 tickets for each day of the championship.  Tickets are also purchased by corporations, which are often used as favors or rewards to employees or to woo clients.

Information Source: "Holiday Symbols, 2nd Edition"
by Sue Ellen Thompson
Omnigraphics, Inc. © 2000

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