Wimbledon History

01 May 2009 by Hiland in History

Wimbledon Central CourtThe All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club has announced that the 2009 Gentlemen’s Champion and Women’s Champion will each receive 850,000 pounds. The winners shares are 13.3% higher than 2008 and the overall prize pool has been increased by 6.2% to 12,550,000 pounds.

There was little doubt that the world’s best tennis players would all show up for the annual Lawn Tennis Championship hosted by the prestigious All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Not only will this year’s players compete for the largest purses in the event’s illustrious history, but they will be initiating a sparkling new Centre Court complete with a spectacular retractable roof.

The All England Croquet Club was founded in 1868. In 1875, Walter Clopton Wingfield’s game of lawn tennis, which was originally called Sphairistike, became an activity at the club. In the hopes of raising enough money to acquire a new roller, the club decided to host a Gentlemen’s Singles Lawn Tennis Championship.

200 spectators attended the tournament. Each fan paid one shilling to watch the finals. Spencer Gore, a prominent Harrovian rackets player, championed a field of 22 players to claim the inaugural tournament.

For the event, rules of the game previously administered by the Marylebone Cricket Club were altered by the All England Croquet Club. With the exception of details pertaining to the height of the net, the height of the posts and the distance from the service line to the net, the game remains essentially unchanged.

In honor of the first tournament, the club changed its name to the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club. By 1882, croquet was scarcely played at the club and the title was shortened to the All England Lawn Tennis Club. In 1899, the membership decided to return to the traditional name and the club has been known as the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club ever since.

The lawns at the All England Club were known as the Grounds. As the popularity and demand of lawn tennis increased, additional courts were added. The new courts were arranged around the Grounds’ principal court, which became known as Centre Court.

In 1884, the Ladies’ Singles Lawn Tennis Championship was inaugurated. 13 players vied for the title. Maud Watson bested the field. Gentlemen’s Doubles was also added to the tournament. The trophy was donated by the Oxford University Lawn Tennis Club, who halted their tournament which had begun in 1879.

The first Gentlemen’s Doubles Championship was won by the popular British twins, Ernest and William Renshaw. The Renshaws ignited support for Lawn Tennis and for the All England Championships. Between 1881 and 1889, the Renshaw brothers reigned in 13 singles and doubles titles. In honor of the twins, the era was dubbed the “Renshaw Rush.”

The Renshaw Rush ended in 1889. Along with the era’s passing, the excitement for the All England Championship waned. It took another set of brothers to resurrect the tournament’s popularity. In 1897, Laurie and Reggie Doherty began a ten year rule. The All England Lawn Tennis Championship flourished once again.

The original Worple Road site was expanded many times. After World War I, the increasing demand required that the club move to its current Church Road location, where the 14,000 seat stadium was erected. King George V opened the new stadium in 1922.

The enlargement of the stadium and the continued expansion of the tournament’s field propelled the growth of tennis. Originally, the size of the stadium sparked much controversy. However, the immediate demand for tickets required the implementation of a ballot system to determine the successful ticket holders. This system has been in place since the opening of the Church Street Stadium.

The International Reign

By 1900, the championship entertained players from abroad. In 1905 a young American woman, May Sutton, became the first player from across the pond to win a singles championship. May triumphed again in 1907, the same year that Australian Norman Brookes became the tournament’s first international Gentlemen’s Singles Champion.

Much to the dismay of impassioned local fans, only two players from Great Britain have won the championship since Brookes’ 1907 win. Arthur Gore won the title in 1908 and 1909 and the esteemed Fred Perry triumphed from 1934 through 1937.

On the women’s side, Great Britain has had a bit more success. Since the move to Church Road, Kitty Mckane Godfree, Dorothy Round, Angela Mortimer, Ann Jones and Virginia Wade have claimed the Women’s Singles Championship. Jones won in three sets in 1969 and Wade prevailed in three grueling sets in 1977.

World War II

During World War II, the All England Club continued. The Grounds were used for drilling and other civil defense purposes. At one point, a small farmyard arose on club’s grounds. Troops in the area were permitted to use the courts despite the club’s lack of staff.

In 1940 five bombs struck Centre Court and 1200 seats were destroyed. In June of 1945, the courts came alive again as Allied servicemen competed on the grass. The number 1 court had withstood air assaults and remained playable.

In 1946, the All England Club decided to resume the Lawn Tennis Championships. Lt. Col. Duncan Macaulay was designated to organizing the rejeuvenation of the event. Yvon Petra won the Gentlemen’s trophy and Pauline Betz won the Women’s title in 1946 and Wimbledon was back.

The club’s facilities were not fully restored until 1949, but the tournament remained fully subscribed. With the expansion of air travel in 1950, more and more international players brought their games to Wimbledon. The game of tennis and the nature of Wimbledon were about to change.

Open Changes

As the status of amateur tennis became clouded and in order to uphold the game’s integrity, All England Club Chairman Herman David proposed that the Lawn Tennis Championship be open to members of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and to the members of the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA). This proposal was made in 1959 and rejected in 1960. The club again unsuccessfully pursued this proposal in 1964.

Finally, the LTA agreed to accept players of all categories for the 1968 tournament. Rod Laver and Billy Jean King were the first individual champions of the Open Era.

A New Age

Attendance at the All England Club now exceeds 450,000. The two-week tournament begins six weeks before the first Monday in August. The club undertakes improvements every year.

In 1979, the Centre Court roof was raised one meter enabling increased seating for 1250 fans. In 1982, Aoragni Park (Cloud in the sky) was added to the Grounds. This addition expanded all the club’s facilities. In 1986, a new two-story pavilion was added to Aorangi.

In preparation for the 21st Century, a Long Term Plan was developed in 1993. The plan included three stages. Stage three is underway and this year Wimbledon will utilize its new retractable Centre Court roof.

As Ian Ritchie the Chief Executive of the All England Club has said; “We set out to make Wimbledon the world’s premier tennis event; the tournament the players most want to win, the tournament spectators most want to come to and the tournament everyone wants to watch.”

Congratulations to the All England Club for achieving their goals.

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