The Championships, Wimbledon are in full swing at London’s All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. As Roger Federer and Venus Williams defend their singles titles at the only grass court Grand Slam tournament, we thought we’d answer some questions about the world’s oldest tennis championship.
How long has Wimbledon been around?
The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club hosted the first tournament in 1877. There was only a men’s draw that year, and Spencer Gore bested a field of 22 players to win the first title. Two hundred spectators shelled out a shilling apiece to watch Gore triumph in the finals. In 1884 the tournament expanded to include men’s doubles and ladies’ singles. Maud Watson beat out twelve other women to claim the inaugural ladies’ championship.
British players dominated Wimbledon early in its life; the first foreign champion didn’t come along until American May Sutton won the ladies’ championship in 1905. Since then, though, things haven’t been quite so rosy. There hasn’t been a British champion since Virginia Wade won the ladies’ draw in 1977, and since then no other British player has even made the finals.
The professional tennis version Wimbledon that we know has really only been around since 1968, though, since the field was closed to professionals for 90 years. After decades of amateur competition, Wimbledon first allowed professional players in 1968, when Rod Laver and Billie Jean King won the singles’ titles.
Why are the players wearing so much white?
Because they have to. The All England Club’s dress code dictates that players have to wear predominantly white clothing throughout the tournament, a rule unique to the Wimbledon among its Grand Slam brethren. The rule has predictably been the cause for some consternation among players, notably a young Andre Agassi, who didn’t like the suppression of his inimitable bright-colors-and-flowing-mullet style. Agassi went so far as to completely skip the tournament from 1988 to 1990, citing the dress code as part of his reason for staying away, although pundits speculated his real hesitance had more to do with his game being ill-suited for grass courts.
Another dress code controversy sprung up last year when Tatiana Golovin took the court. Although her outfit was the prescribed white, she had on bright red underwear that showed on many shots. After a delay, the knickers were deemed short enough to be considered underwear and not part of her actual ensemble. American Anne White, on the other hand, didn’t get so lucky at the 1985 Championships. She started a match in a stunning all-white lycra body suit. When the match was later stopped due to darkness, she was told to wear more appropriate threads for the next day; she lost the third set in her more traditional duds.
Who’s been the most dominant at the Championships?
Hard to say for the gentlemen, although there are a lot of great choices. Roger Federer is gunning for his sixth straight title this year, which would break the Open-era Wimbledon record he currently shares with Bjorn Borg and tie the all-time record William Renshaw set between 1881 and 1886. For shear bulk, though, Federer will need two more titles to match Pete Sampras’ record of seven career Wimbledon championships.
Things are a lot clearer on the ladies’ side: Martina Navaratilova owned Wimbledon. Her nine singles titles are a record, as is her run of six straight between 1982 and 1987. Even more impressively, Navratilova added another seven ladies doubles titles and four mixed doubles titles. She was also ageless; her final mixed doubles title came in 2003, when she was 46 years old. Only Billie Jean King, who had six singles titles, 10 doubles titles, and four mixed wins can match Navratilova’s 20 combined Wimbledon championships.
What should a spectator munch on?
Wimbledon’s longtime favorite snack is strawberries and cream. In the tournament’s early days, strawberries were a very limited seasonal item with availability that happened to coincide with annual tennis event. As the years passed, strawberries and cream became a treasured part of the fan experience. According to one estimate, each year tournament spectators chomp through 27,000 kilos of strawberries and 7,000 liters of cream. Like everything else at Wimbledon, the snack is steeped in tradition: according to the New York Times, the berries are of the Elsanta variety and are picked the day before they’re served, and the accompanying cream must contain at least 48% butterfat.
What’s the story on the trophies?
The men’s trophy has been around since 1887; it’s a silver gilt cup with pineapple on top. Its inscription isn’t going to win any points for humility: “The All England Lawn Tennis Club Champion of the World.” Each gentlemen’s champion gets a 8-inch replica of the 18-inch trophy as a memento of his win.
The winner of the ladies’ singles draw gets a sterling silver salver, or flat tray, that’s known as the Venus Rosewater Dish. According to Wimbledon’s website, the trophy, which has been awarded since 1886, depicts various scenes from mythology, including a large central figure of Temperance and an outer ring of Minerva overlooking the seven Liberal Arts. Ladies’ champions receive a take-home replica of the Venus Rosewater Dish.
Of course, the champions don’t just win this hardware; they also get cash. This year, both the singles champions will pick up 750,000 pounds for their efforts.
What are the words above the players’ entrance to Centre Court?
Players take the court at the All England Club’s most famous court beneath an excerpt from Rudyard Kipling’s “If” that reads “If you can meet triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same…”
Do the players have to bow and curtsy to the Royal Box?
Not always. Until 2003, a rule required players to bow or curtsy to the royal family’s box upon entering or leaving Centre Court. In 2003 the rule was modified so that players only had to bow or curtsy if the Queen or Prince Charles happened to be making an appearance in the box that day. That ruling effectively meant no bowing or curtsying; when the rule went into effect, the Queen and Prince Charles hadn’t attended Wimbledon since 1977 and 1970, respectively. Interestingly, the rule was the brainchild of the president of the All England Club, who just happened to also be a member of the royal family, Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent.