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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Wimbledon – The age-old Royal Sport which shines forever


Wimbledon or The Championships, as we know the game is the oldest and prestigious tournament in the World. All England Club in Wimbledon, London is the venue, where the event takes place every year, ever since 1877.

Though it’s an outdoor game, a retractable roof cover over the center court has been in place from the year 2009.

Wimbledon is one of the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments. And the other grand slams are Australian Open, the French Open and the US Open.

Wimbledon is the famous classic tournament where the players play on the grass court. In the year 1988, the Australian Open switched to hard court. From then on, Wimbledon is the only tournament that maintains the playing on grass court.

By regular practice of tradition, the tournament takes place between late June and early July every year. It starts on the last Monday in June and ends in the second week of July. And the finals take place on Saturday and Sunday.

By the recent changes, the officials moved the tournament back by a week. So, it begins in the month of July. And five major events that include junior and invitational competitions are taking place every year.

White dress code for the competitors and the royal patronage is a peculiar thing of Wimbledon. People consume strawberries and cream in a good amount during the tournament. And the absence of sponsor advertisements around the court is also a peculiar trait of Wimbledon.

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History of Wimbledon

Wimbledon logo

The All England Croquet Club founded on 23 July 1868. It was a private club, located at Nursery Road off Worple Road, Wimbledon.

Then in the year 1876, Major Walter Clopton developed a lawn tennis game, Sphairistike. The club included it. In the following year, they renamed the club as “The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club”. And instituted the first championship.

The club replaced the old laws of Marylebone Cricket Club by a set of new laws. Most of them resembled today’s laws in most aspects.

The inaugural match was started on 9 July 1877 and it was a game only for male players. Spencer Gore won the game and nearly 200 spectators paid one shilling each to watch the final.

In the ground, the lawns surrounded the principal court and people started calling it “Centre Court.” In the year 1922, the club moved the court to the present place at Church Road.

In 1980, the club added four new courts on the north side of the ground. Further, in the year 1997, it opened the new No1 Court.

The club held the Ladies Championship in the year 1884, and Maud Watson won the championship.

In 1822, the club dropped the word ‘croquet’ from the title as the activities in the club confined to lawn tennis. By citing sentimental reasons, the word got its place back in the year 1899.

Then in the year 1884, the club added Ladies’ Singles and Gentlemen’s Doubles competitions. Further in the year 1913, they added Ladies’ Doubles and Mixed Doubles.

Initially, the defending champion had to play only in the finals and this practice continued up to the year 1922.

Only top-ranked amateur players participated in all the grand slam events including Wimbledon. During that time, the club didn’t allow professional players to participate. And it changed with the advent of the open era in 1968.

The game was first televised in the year 1937.

Developments in the 21st century

The club unleashed plans in the year 1993 with the aim of maintaining the leadership of Wimbledon as the premier tennis tournament. And the focus was to improve the quality of the event for everyone related to the game.

During the years 1994 – 1997, the administration executed the first stage of the plan and completed it for the 1997 championships. The plan involved building the new No1 Court in Aorangi Park, a broadcast center, two extra grass courts and a tunnel under the hill linking Church Road and Somerset Road.

In stage two (1997 – 2009), they removed the old No.1 Court Complex to give way for the new Millenium Building and it provides a complete range of facilities for players, press, officials, and members. It also extended the west stand of the court with 728 extra seats.

In stage three, between the years 2000 and 2011, the club constructed an entrance building, club staff housing, museum, bank and ticket office.

For the 2009 championships, the management mounted a retractable roof at the center court. On 17 May 2009, with an exhibition match where Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf, Kim Clijsters, and Tim Henman participated, the club tested the retractable roof.

The fourth round of the match between Dinara Safina and Amelie Mauresmo was the first championship match took place under the roof. Andy Murray and Stanislas Wawrinka played the entire match under the roof on 29 June 2009 and that was the first full match under the roof.

Then in the year 2012, Roger Federer and Murray played the final of the Men’s singles under the roof and they started to play from the third set.

For the 2009 championships, the Wimbledon administration built a new 4000 seater No 2 court on the site of the No 13 Court. Further, it built a new 2000 seater No 3 court on the site of the old No 2 and No 3 counts.

On 1 August 2011, The All England Club transferred all of its assets relating to The Championships to a separate though wholly-owned subsidiary, The All England Lawn Tennis Club (Championships) Limited, also known as AELTC.

As other Grand Slam tournaments also had expansion plans, Wimbledon charted out a master plan in April 2013 to improve the championships for the next 10-15 years.

The master plan consisted of providing new player and media facilities, expansion of the No.1 court including a new retractable roof, new catering, and hospitality areas, underground car park, improving the museum park and new indoor courts.

The plan also included the buying of the adjacent Wimbledon Golf Park Land to aid the playing of qualifying matches.

The Wimbledon Tournament

Wimbledon consists of main events, junior events, and invitation events. And there are five main events, four junior events, and seven invitation events.

Main events

Gentlemen’s Singles, Ladies’ Singles, Gentlemen’s Doubles, Ladies’ Doubles, and Mixed Doubles are the main events.

Junior events

Boys’ Singles, Girls’ Singles, Boys’ Doubles, and Girls’ Doubles are the four junior events.

There is no mixed doubles event is held at this level.

Invitation events

Gentlemen’s Invitation Doubles, Ladies’ Invitation Doubles, Senior Gentlemen’s Invitation Doubles, Gentlemen’s Wheelchair Singles, Ladies’ Wheelchair Singles, Gentlemen’s Wheelchair Doubles, and Ladies’ Wheelchair Doubles.

The format of Wimbledon

It is best of the five sets in the Gentlemen’s Singles and Gentlemen’s Doubles and for all other events, the rules consider the best of three sets.

Until 2018, as per the rules, the players played a tiebreaker if the score reaches 6-all in any set. In the case of 5 set match and 3 set match, the best of the other sets is the decider, if the score is 6-all in the final set. The players don’t have to play a tiebreaker game in that case.

But from the year 2019, the players play a tiebreaker game, if the final set score reaches 12-all.

Gentlemen’s, Senior Gentlemen’s and the Ladies’ Invitation Doubles are round-robin tournaments and all other events are single elimination tournaments.

Wimbledon repealed the method of defending champion gets the place in the final in the year 1921. And from 1922, the champion in the previous year also playing from the start of the tournament.

Schedule of events

Wimbledon court with retractable roof

Every year, some warm-up tournaments are played around Wimbledon to go along with the schedule.

The Queen’s Club Championships, a warm-up tournament for men is held two weeks before the Wimbledon. Another tournament, the Gerry Weber Open in Halle, Germany is also held in the same week.

Eastbourne tournament in England, Rosemalen Tournament in the Netherlands and the Birmingham tournament which is a warm-up tournament for women are also played before Wimbledon.

The Antalya Open in Turkey is the tournament played outside Europe, before Wimbledon and the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships at Newport, USA is played a week after Wimbledon.

The Wimbledon matches are played for 14 days, which begin on a Monday and end on a Sunday. It ended a day earlier before the year 1982 and women’s singles final were played on Friday and men’s final on Saturday.

The junior and invitational events are held during the second week but the other main events are played simultaneously in two weeks.

By tradition, there will be no play on the Middle Sunday and is considered a rest day. But, in some four of previous tournaments, rain forced the play on the Middle Sunday.

In the second Monday, Wimbledon holds last-16 matches of the tournament for both men’s and women’s singles and it is usually the busiest day.

On the same day, the fans watch any of the best 32 players leave the tournament that is unique for a grand slam event. It is called “Maniac Monday.”

From the year 2015, the tournament begins one week later than in the previous years to extend the gap between Wimbledon and French Open from two to three weeks.

Grounds in Wimbledon

Wimbledon courts aerial view

Among the grand slam events, Wimbledon is the only event played on grass courts. Previously all grand slams were played on grass. One by one, the administrations abandoned it: The US open abandoned it in 1975 and the Australian open did it in the year 1988.

The Wimbledon club opened the Center Court in the year 1922 when it moved from the old venue at Worple road. Now, the court has a capacity of 15,000.

To prevent the delay of matches due to rain, the club installed a retractable roof prior to the 2009 championship.

The roof opens/closes in 20 minutes and it is useful even during extremely hot conditions. The play is suspended during the opening and closing of the roof

The Royal Box, from which members of the royal families and other dignitaries watch the matches is located at the south end of the Centre Court. The court hosts the semifinals and finals of the main events and also the matches involving the top-seeded players and favorite players of the public.

The management constructed the other most important court No.1 in the year 1997 to replace the old No.1 court.

The old court had a low capacity but was the favorite of many players as it provided an intimate atmosphere. The construction of a new retractable roof began in the year 2017 and completed in time for the 2019 championship. Now the capacity of the ground is 12,345.

People know the old No. 2 Court as “Graveyard of Champions” as many top players got their elimination in the early rounds from this court.

In the year 2011. the Wimbledon administration opened a new No 3 and No 4 courts in the place of the old No.2 and No.3 courts.

The main courts, the Center Court and the Court No.1 are in use only two weeks during the championships. In 2012, the main show courts also hosted the Olympic events. But the remaining 17 courts are in regular use for other events.

Every year, the administration employs ‘Court Attendants’ who maintain the conditions of the court, who are mainly university students who want to make their summer money. Covering the courts as quickly as possible, when it begins to rain is the responsibility of the attendants.

On the grounds, there is a giant television screen at the northern end. And the official name of the grass area from which fans watch is Aorangi Terrace.

As fans assemble in large numbers to watch the British players, people call the hill area by various names – Rusedski Ridge, Henman Hill, Murray Mound or Murrayfield. But all these nicknames are unofficial.

On the courts, the authorities sow 100% perennial ryegrass from the year 2002. But, before the year 2002, they used the combination of 70% ryegrass and 30% Creeping Red Fescue. The change improved the durability and strength of the field to withstand the wear of the modern game.

Players and seeding

In Wimbledon, 128 players participate in men’s and ladies’ singles each. In which, players and double pairs get admission on the basis of international rankings.

Among the 128 players, 104 players in the men’s and 108 in the women’s competition get direct entries. Both the tournaments have 8 wild card entries and the remainder in each made up of qualifiers.

The system of seeding came into place in the year 1924. As per the system, countries nominated four players and they got their place in different quarters of the tournament.

And the administration replaced this system in the year 1927 and from then, players get seeding on merit only.

The management committee decides the players who receive wildcards. In general, players who have performed well in the previous tournaments or whose presence stimulate the crowd are chosen by wild card.

At the Bank of England Sports Ground in Roehampton, the qualifying tournament takes place one week before Wimbledon. And the players play the singles qualifying competitions in three rounds.

In the junior tournaments, players get admission based on the recommendations of their national tennis associations, the international tennis federation world rankings, and also on the basis of a qualifying competition.

Further, the Committee of Management determines the players who enter the four invitational events.

The players get the seedings based on their rankings but the committee can change the seeding based on a player’s previous grass court performance.

In 2002, the Wimbledon committee entered into an agreement with ATP.

The seeds are still the top 32 players according to rankings. But Wimbledon decides the seeding order by a formula – ATP Entry System Position points + 100% points earned for all grass court tournaments in the past 12 months + 75% points earned for the best grass-court tournament in the 12 months before that.

In the history of the tournament, the majority of the entrants are unseeded players. But, two unseeded players Boris Becker and Goran Ivanisevic also won the titles.

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Trophies and prize money


The Ladies’ (top) and Gentlemen’s singles trophies

The winner of “The Gentlemen’s Singles” gets a men’s single gilt cup which measures 18.5 inches in height and 7.5 inches in diameter.

The trophy which the club awarded from the year 1887 has the inscription “All England Lawn Tennis Club Single Handed Championship of the World”. The All England Club keeps the original trophy in their museum and the players get the three-quarter size replica of the cup bearing the names of all past champions.

The “Venus Rosewater Dish” or “Rosewater Dish” is the name of the ladies’ Singles trophy. The sterling silver salver is 18.75 inches in diameter and has figures from mythology.

While the All England Club keeps the original trophy in the museum, the champions get the replica of it. The replica bears the name of previous champions. In 2007, the club increased the diameter of the replica from 8 inches to 13.5 inches.

In the doubles tournaments, each player from the winning pair receives a trophy. But in the case of other grand slams where the winning pair shares the single trophy.

The Oxford University Lawn Tennis Club donated the Gentlemen’s Doubles silver challenge cup to All England Club in 1884. Similarly, the Duchess of Kent presented the Ladies’ Doubles Trophy to the All England Club in 1949. In the case of mixed doubles, the family of two-time doubles winner S.H.Smith presented a silver cup to the All England Club.

The runner-up in the above events gets an inscribed silver plate. For them the President of the All England Club, The Duke of Kent presents the award.

Prize money

From the year 1968, the club allowed professional players to participate in the championships. Then it awarded prize money for the first time.

The total prize money was £26,150. The winner of the men’s championship got £2,000 and the women’s singles champion received £750.

To keep up with the status as the premier tennis event, the prize money has been increased periodically.

And in the latest 2019 event, Wimbledon awarded the total prize money £38 million. The champions in singles ( both male and female) received £2,350,000.

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