The Wimbledon Tennis Championships is regarded by many as the most prestigious of all tennis championships. Historically, it is also the oldest tennis tournament in the world. The first Wimbledon Championships was held 125 years ago in 1877 and was advertised as a ‘lawn tennis meeting, open to all amateurs’.
Wimbledon is one of four Grand Slam tennis tournaments. The others are the French Open, the Australian Open and the US Open. However, Wimbledon is the only major tournament that is still played on grass, which is where the name lawn tennis originates from.
In striking contrast to the sporting extravaganza it is today, the first Championships took place with not much fanfare.
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The First Championship
The first Wimbledon Championship had only one event, the Gentleman’s Singles. A total of 22 men – no women were permitted at that stage – stumped up the £1 shilling entrance fee, and were told to bring their own rackets and “shoes without heels” but that balls would be provided by the club gardener.
Spencer William Gore beat his opponent William Marshall in a tennis match that lasted only forty-eight minutes. The total attendance for the final was 200 people and each paid a shilling to attend.
Ladies at Wimbledon
Unlike tournaments today, which involves the men’s single and double matches, the women’s single and double matches and the mixed doubles, women were not permitted to enter the tournament in 1877. However, in 1884, the All England Club agreed to open the Championships up to both sexes. A teenager from Cheshire by the name of Lottie Dodd, made her mark on Wimbledon a few years later as the youngest woman (still unbeaten) to win the title at the age of 15. The young athlete won the Championships over the next four years thus proving that women deserved a place in the game.
In 1884, Wimbledon introduced the men’s doubles competition and it was in that same year that women were also invited to join the tournament.
On completion of the five major competitions, winners are presented with the traditional Wimbledon trophies. The All England Club decided that trophies should no longer become the property of the Championship winners, but they would instead be presented with a replica of the trophy whilst the originals were kept in the Wimbledon museum.
In the nineteenth century, the acceptable clothing for Wimbledon players was full-length corseted white dresses and hats for women and plain white long-sleeved shirts and trousers for men. It wasn’t until the 1920s and 1930s that the players, and specifically the female players, began experimenting with their attire. Shorts, shorter skirts and sleeveless tops were all introduced to provide players with ease of movement. Some outfits were more daring as it brought out each individual’s different personalities.
Much has changed since the very first Wimbledon was introduced in 1887, and today there are still a number of traditional images that still come to mind. The white or almost all white dress code which is still a compulsory today, the obligatory strawberries and cream, or the strong ties with the Royal family to mention a few.
Today Wimbledon attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors and demands huge viewing figures. Sometimes queuing for hours just to get the coveted centre- court tickets. Matches are held across 19 courts (Centre Court, plus courts 1-19. Fun fact – there is no court 13, which is considered unlucky).