A History of Wimbledon Tennis
Wimbledon is known the world over as the home of the Wimbledon tennis championships, the oldest tennis championships in the world and arguably the most prestigious of the four grand slam tournaments. The only grand slam tournament to be played on grass, it has become synonymous with ideals of British sporting gentility, long summer days, strawberries and cream, and the occasional downpour. But how did it all begin...
Wimbledon is now the spiritual home of British tennis, hosting the country's flagship tournament. The tennis club itself, which hosts the Wimbledon Championships. is situated in Aorangi Park on Church Road Wimbledon in the borough of Merton, South West London and is often referred to as The All England Club however, its full title is The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club alluding to its origins in the 19th century.
The Club was founded in 1868 on Worple Road, Wimbledon as a private member's croquet club. The All England Croquet Club, however was quick to add the burgeoning game of sphairistike, or lawn tennis as it became known, to its activities in 1875, only one year after being invented by Major Walter Clopton Wingfield, and in 1877 officially became known as The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. In fact, in 1882 the club briefly changed its name again to The All England Lawn Tennis Club in response to the dominance of the sport in its activities but the mention of croquet was reinstated just six years later to reflect the club's origins.
As a pioneer of the new sport the club took on the codifying of the game's laws from the Marylebone Cricket Club (to this day the guardians of the laws of cricket) for it's first ever tournament in the same year, 1877. The gentleman's tournament of 22 players was won by Spencer Gore in what was also to be the first of many rain delayed finals.
During the early years of the tournament in the late 19th and early 20th century, the championships grew steadily with ladies singles and gentleman doubles being added in 1884, whilst the ladies and mixed doubles were added in 1913. This period saw home grown players dominating the winners' rostrums. Greats such as William Renshaw and the Doherty brothers (Reggie & Laurie) swept all before them and set records which still stand to this day. Indeed, no foreign competitor won the tournament until the American, May Sutton Bundy won the ladies singles in 1905. However, with the advent of professionalism in the game, particularly the beginning of the Open era in 1968, foreign stars began to dominate and, as any British tennis fan can tell you, no home grown player has won the gentleman's tournament since Fred Perry won the last of his three successive titles in 1936.
Tournaments at the club took a hiatus during each of the world wars but in 1922 the club moved to its current premises in Wimbledon and both the club and the Wimbledon Championships, continued to grow. The championships were televised for the first time in 1937 bringing the Wimbledon spectacle to a wider audience than ever. The site itself expanded significantly with new courts in 1980 and in 1997 The All England Club unveiled a new No. 1 court greatly boosting the tournament's capacity to keep up with its popularity. 2009 even saw the introduction of a retractable roof on the Centre Court to keep out the perennial Wimbledon rain.
The Open era has seen only two British successes at Wimbledon in the singles with Ann Haydon Jones overcoming Billie Jean King in 1969 and Virginia Wade overcoming the odds to win in front of the Queen in her silver jubilee year in 1977 - the last British success. Despite the recent dearth of home grown winners the tournament has thrown up some of the most memorable moments in world tennis;
greats such as Roger Federer, Pete Sampras and Martina Navratilova gracing the hollowed turf and setting many records for the modern era. 2000 saw Pete Sampras winning the last of his 7 titles to break the total grand slam record of 13, whilst Roger Federer has since equalled Bjorn Borg's record of 5 Wimbledons in row between 2003 and 2007 to contribute to his new record of 16 grand slam titles.
The next two years will be some of the most celebrated in recent history for the All England Club and the Wimbledon Championships. 2011 will usher in the 125th anniversary of the first tennis tournament, in 1877, and 2012 will see the club have the honour of providing a unique setting for the tennis tournaments in the London Olympics.
Having an institution with such a rich and vibrant heritage on your doorstep, particularly bearing in mind the exciting developments on the horizon, the Wimbledon area of London has never been so desirable so now may be the time to start hunting down your perfect Wimbledon home.