A broken pony-roller belonging to the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club was the catalyst which led to the birth of the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world: Wimbledon.
When the roller broke in 1877 the members decided to hold a lawn tennis competition to raise funds for repair.
There were 22 male competitors who each paid a one guinea entrance fee. The champion was 27-year-old Spencer Gore who won 12 guineas and yes, it did rain on the day of the finals!
In spite of the weather the competition was such a success that it became an annual event. In fact there have been only ten Wimbledon-free years since that first competition: four years during the First World War and six during the Second World War.
At the start the only event was the gentlemen’s singles. Then, in 1884 the ladies’ singles and the gentlemen’s doubles were added, followed by the ladies’ doubles and the mixed doubles in 1913.
Only top-ranked amateurs were allowed to play until 1968 when the tournament became ‘open’, meaning that professionals could finally enter.
The British dominated The Championships, as they are known, for the first 30 years: Ernest and William Renshaw, and Laurie and Reggie Doherty were national heroes. But our winning streak didn’t last. Until recently the last British man to win at Wimbledon was Fred Perry in 1936. He won a hat trick of titles just before the Second World War. Then, in the glorious summer of 2013 Andy Murray finally brought the title home to Britain and won the heart of the nation.
He’s on a high this year having married his fiancé Kim Sears in the spring. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if he made this a real fairytale year and won Wimbledon again?
Wimbledon: Fascinating Facts
The first black person to win Wimbledon was a woman, the American Althea Gibson, in 1957 and 1958. The first, and only, black male to win was Arthur Ashe, who beat Jimmy Connors in 1975.
The last British woman to win Wimbledon was Virginia Wade in the silver Jubilee year, 1977.
It is the only tennis competition where players are required to wear all or predominantly white clothing. In 2002 Anna Kournikova had to change her black shorts for white ones on court!
Every year about 27,000 kilos of strawberries, 7,000 litres of cream, 60,000 pints of Pimms and 14,000 bottles of Champagne are consumed by spectators during Wimbledon.