Every summer, thousands of spectators descend on The All England Club in south-west London to watch the world’s top tennis players in action. Known simply as Wimbledon, the championship is the world’s oldest tennis tournament (held since 1877) and is one of the four tennis Grand Slam tournaments, the others being the US Open, the Australian Open, and the French Open. Wimbledon is the only major still to be played on all grass courts and for many players and fans, it remains the most prestigious tournament of all.
Without doubt, Wimbledon is one of the sporting highlights of the summer. Played annually over two weeks in late June and July, the tournament culminates with the Ladies and Gentlemen’s Singles Finals on the final Saturday and Sunday respectively. A spectacle in every sense of the word, Wimbledon traditions include a strict all-white dress code for players, members of the royal family and celebrities present at the big matches – especially when British players are involved – occasional interruptions for rain, and spectators enjoying strawberries and cream whatever the weather! Another traditional sight at Wimbledon are the long queues of people outside the exclusive SW19 venue, hoping to buy tickets before the hugely popular event begins.
The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club was founded in 1877, off Worple Road in Wimbledon. The first gentleman’s singles was held on 8th July that year, when some 200 spectators paid a shilling each to watch the match won by old Harrovian, Spencer Gore. The club moved to its present site in Church Road in 1922. By then, as well as the men’s singles, men’s doubles, ladies’ singles, ladies’ doubles, and mixed doubles had been added to the competition. Until 1922, however, the champion was only required to play in the final itself when he or she faced whoever had won through the preceding rounds. Top amateurs contested Wimbledon until as recently as 1968, when the ‘Open’ era was introduced and professionals were welcomed. More courts have been added over the years and Wimbledon now boasts 20 top quality grass tennis courts. Centre Court, where the finals are always played in front of packed terraced seating and special boxes, was fitted with a retractable roof in 2009 to reduce time lost due to rain.
From its distinctly amateur beginnings and country club atmosphere, Wimbledon has grown into a global sporting event attracting the top professional players from around the world. Total prize money for the 2019 tournament was £34,000,000, with the men’s and ladies’ singles winners each receiving £2,225,000, and the runners-up £1,175,000 each. First round losers in all matches each received £45,000. The men’s singles winner has been presented with a silver gilt cup since 1887, while the ladies’ singles champion receives the Venus Rosewater Dish, a decorated silver salver. Traditionally, the trophies are presented by the president of the All England Club, the Duke of Kent.
Wimbledon has produced many great champions over the years. Fred Perry was the last pre-war British champion in 1936, with fans having to wait until 2013 for Scot Andy Murray to be the next home-grown player to lift the famous trophy. No British ladies’ player has won the title since Virginia Wade in 1977. In the modern era, the likes of Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Boris Becker, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic, have all been multiple winners of the men’s singles title, with Stefan Edberg, Jimmy Connors, and Rafael Nadal among the two time winners. The women’s game in recent years has been dominated by the Williams sisters, Serena and Venus. Before them, Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova, won the singles’ titles numerous times.
As well as strawberries and cream, the familiar sight of the famous ball boys and girls in their smart uniforms, Mexican waves, and fist-pumps from the players and their entourage, a more recent tradition at Wimbledon is the grassy area where a giant television screen broadcasts big matches. When a Brit is doing well the fan zone is occupied by a noisy crowd and is named after the player, as in Rusedski Ridge (after Greg Rusedski), Henman Hill (Tim Henman), and Murray Mound, after Andy Murray. Typically, Wimbledon crowds love to roar on an underdog, although in true British sporting fashion, the champions are always roundly applauded as well.
Tickets to Wimbledon are always heavily oversubscribed although a certain number are sold each day for matches being played on the three show courts. To get one of these, fans will normally queue through the night and the All England Club even provides water and toilet facilities for people. Needless to say, such is the draw of Wimbledon that accommodation in the area is almost impossible to find. One of the best ways of ensuring you get to see some tennis at this great event, is to book well in advance, preferably with a package that includes tickets, hotel accommodation, and travel to and from the venue. That way, you can relax and enjoy this once in a lifetime experience.