Wimbledon is the world’s oldest tennis tournament and perhaps the most famous. Since the very first tournament some 141 years ago in 1877, London’s All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club has been hosting the Championships, which take begins its 14-day run in late June, before ending in early July.
Of the all four major tennis tournaments commonly known as the ‘Grand Slams’, Wimbledon bears the distinction of being the only one to be played on a grass surface. That is, in fact, where the term ‘lawn tennis’ came from. Grass provides a faster surface than any other. The US Open and Australian Open are played on a hard court, while the French Open is the only one to be played on clay.
Time for a name change
In contrast to today’s event, the very first Championships attracted little fanfare. In 1869, the All England Club was known as the All England Croquet Club. Lawn tennis, a new game at the time and an offshoot of an indoor game known as ‘real tennis’- started to become more popular approaching the start of the 20th century. As such, the club opted to provide its visitors with tennis courts. On the 14th of April 1877 the Club made its first name change when it became the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club. Unlike the tournament we know today, which sees four invitations and four junior contests, in addition to the five main competitions, – men’s singles, men’s doubles, women’s singles, women’s doubles, and mixed doubles, the first Championships featured a single event: the Gentleman’s Singles.
A decisive first victory
As women were not allowed to take part in the tournament in 1877, the first Champion won from a group of 22 male players. 27-year-old Spencer William Gore was victorious in front of a 200-strong crowd, with each having paid a shilling to attend. Gore defeated his opponent William Marshall in a one-sided 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 win, which lasted just 48 minutes. As would be a tradition for a number of tournaments to follow, before the installation of a retractable roof in 2009, the final was delayed due to poor weather conditions. When it eventually took place three days later, there wasn’t a great improvement in the weather. The game was still in its infancy at the time, with competitors playing with basic handmade sports equipment and imprecise strikes, a far cry from the powerful, slick serves and state-of-the-art rackets used today.
Women and doubles introduced
Modern-day fans, however, would recognise many of the game’s rules, which were initially introduced in 1877 by the All England Club’s Committee as an adaption of those implemented by the Marylebone Cricket Club. The Cricket Club was somewhat perversely the sport’s controlling body at the time. While there were no Wimbledon tournaments in 1915-18 and 1940-45 due to WWI and WWII, the game grew in popularity. The men’s doubles contest was introduced in 1884. Women were invited to take part in the tournament in the same year. The club relocated from its original Worple Road site in the 1950s to a larger site on Church Road, where it