LondonLife – The Championships, Wimbledon

June 28, 2011

With Wimbledon now in its second week, we thought it would be a good time to take a look at the origins of what is the world’s most famous tennis championship.

This year’s Wimbledon marks the 125th time that the All England Lawn Tennis Club has hosted The Championships. The first championships (Gentlemen’s Singles only with a field of 22) were held in 1877, just nine years after the founding of what was then the All England Croquet Club (lawn tennis was added at the club in 1875 and the name changed to the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club the same year the first tennis championships were held).

It’s important to note that the first championships were not held at the current site opposite Wimbledon Park but at the club’s former site off Worple Road (it’s from this site that the term Centre Court was adopted for the main arena – at the Worple Road site, Centre Court was indeed in the middle of the grounds). It moved to its present site in Church Road in 1922.

Such was the success of the game that in 1882, the name croquet was dropped from the club’s title but it was returned in 1899 for “sentimental reasons”.

In 1884, the first Ladies Singles tournament was held as was the first Gentlemen’s Doubles. Other milestone years include:

• 1905 – US citizen May Sutton become the first foreigner to win at the tournament when she won the Ladies’ Singles;

• 1907 – Australian Norman Brookes became the first foreign man to win;

• 1940 – 1,200 seats in Centre Court were destroyed when a bomb hit the arena;

• 1968 – Australia’s Rod Laver and America’s Bille Jean King become the first winners of the Open Championships era;

• 1985 – Boris Becker, at age 17, becomes the youngest Wimbledon champion (as well as the first German and the first unseeded player);

• 1987 – Martina Navratilova of the US becomes the first to win the Ladies’ Singles six times in succession;

• 2010 – John Isner and Nicolas Mahut played the longest tennis match in history with Isner eventually winning 70 games to 68 in the fifth set, having played a total of 138 games, and spent 11 hours and five minutes on court over three days.

There is a museum based at Wimbledon which details more of the history of the place (only open to ticket-holders during the Championships). Exhibits include the Championship trophies, tennis memorabilia dating back to 1555 and the ‘ghost’ of John McEnroe talking about the games and his opponents in his old dressing room.

There are also a range of events being held this year marking the 125th year of The Championships – these include a new museum exhibition called The Queue.

WHERE: All England Lawn Tennis Club, Church Road, Wimbledon – between gates 3 and 4 (nearest tube Southfields); WHEN: 10am to 5pm (last admission 4.30pm) daily (not during the championships); COST: Museum only £11 an adult/£9.50 concessions/£6.75 child, or Museum plus tour £20 an adult/£17 concessions/£12.50 child; WEBSITE: www.wimbledon.com

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