7 Facts About the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament
The Championships, Wimbledon is in full swing at London's All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. As Novak Djokovic and Angelique Kerber defend their singles titles in 2019 at the only grass court Grand Slam tennis tournament, let's answer some questions about the world's oldest tennis championship.
1. When the Wimbledon tennis tournament was established, Victoria was Queen.
The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club hosted the first tournament in 1877, during the reign of Queen Victoria. There was only a men's draw that year, and Spencer Gore bested a field of 22 players to win the first title. Two hundred spectators shelled out a shilling apiece to watch Gore triumph in the finals. In 1884 the tournament expanded to include men's doubles and ladies' singles. Maud Watson beat out 12 other women to claim the inaugural ladies' championship.
British players dominated Wimbledon back in the day; the first foreign champion didn't come along until American May Sutton won the ladies' championship in 1905. But in the open era beginning in 1968 (when pros were allowed to compete with amateurs), it wasn't until 1977 that Virginia Wade won the ladies' draw, and she was the last British champ until Andy Murray won the men's tournament in 2013.
2. Wimbledon players are required to wear white.
The All England Club's dress code dictates that players have to wear predominantly white clothing throughout the tournament, a rule unique to the Wimbledon among its Grand Slam brethren. The rule has predictably been the cause for some consternation among players, notably a young Andre Agassi, who didn't like the suppression of his inimitable bright-colors-and-flowing-mullet style. Agassi went so far as to completely skip the tournament from 1988 to 1990, citing the dress code as part of his reason for staying away, although pundits speculated his real hesitance had more to do with his game being ill-suited for grass courts.
Another dress code controversy sprung up in 2007 when Tatiana Golovin took the court. Although her outfit was the prescribed white, she had on bright red underwear that showed on many shots. After a delay, the knickers were deemed short enough to be considered underwear and not part of her actual ensemble. American Anne White, on the other hand, didn't get so lucky at the 1985 championships. She started a match in a stunning all-white Lycra body suit. When the match was later stopped due to darkness, she was told to wear more appropriate threads for the next day; she lost the third set in her more traditional duds.
3. Roger Federer and Martina Navratilova Hold Wimbledon Singles Records.
Without a doubt, Swiss star Roger Federer has ruled the grass court in the open era. He holds a record eight men's titles (2003-2007, 2009, 2012, and 2017) and is tied with Sweden's Bjorn Borg for the most consecutive titles in the open era at five. American Pete Sampras is just behind Federer with seven Wimbledon titles (1993-1995 and 1997-2000). In the pre-open era, British tennis player William Renshaw crushed it with seven titles (1881-1886 and 1889)—and some of his victories were against his own twin brother Ernest.
On the ladies' side, American Martina Navaratilova owned Wimbledon. Her nine singles titles are the record, as is her run of six straight between 1982 and 1987. In the open era, German star Steffi Graf and American treasure Serena Williams are not far behind with seven titles apiece (Graf in 1988, 1989, 1991-1993, 1995 and 1996 and Williams in 2002, 2003, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2015, and 2016).
Even more impressively, Navratilova added another seven ladies' doubles titles and four mixed doubles titles. Her final mixed doubles title came in 2003, when she was 46 years old. Only American icon Billie Jean King, who had six singles titles, 10 doubles titles, and four mixed wins can match Navratilova's 20 combined Wimbledon championships.
4. Strawberries and cream is the traditional snack.
In the tournament's early days, strawberries were a very limited seasonal item with availability that happened to coincide with annual tennis event. As the years passed, strawberries and cream became a treasured part of the fan experience. According to one estimate, each year tournament spectators chomp through almost 60,000 pounds of strawberries and 1800 gallons of cream. Like everything else at Wimbledon, the snack is steeped in tradition: according to The New York Times, the berries are of the Elsanta variety and are picked the day before they're served, and the accompanying cream must contain at least 48 percent butterfat.
5. Winners don't actually take home the Wimbledon trophies.
Continuing with the fruit theme, the men's trophy is a silver gilt cup with pineapple on top, dating from 1887. Its inscription isn't going to win any points for humility: "The All England Lawn Tennis Club Champion of the World." Each gentlemen's champion gets a 8-inch replica of the 18-inch trophy as a memento of his win.
The winner of the ladies' singles draw gets a sterling silver salver, or flat tray, that's known as the Venus Rosewater Dish. This trophy, which has been awarded since 1886, depicts various scenes from mythology, including a large central figure of Temperance and an outer ring of Minerva overlooking the seven Liberal Arts. Ladies' champions receive a take-home replica of the Venus Rosewater Dish.
Of course, the champions don't just win this hardware; they also get cash. In 2019, both the singles champions will pick up 2.4 million pounds (about $3 million) for their efforts.
6. Players pass an inscription by Rudyard Kipling on their way to the court.
Players take the most famous court, Centre Court, at the All England Club beneath an excerpt from Rudyard Kipling's poem "If—" that reads:
If you can meet with Triumph and DisasterAnd treat those two impostors just the same
7. Players no longer need to curtsy toward the royal box.
Until 2003, a rule required players to bow or curtsy to the royal family's box upon entering or leaving Centre Court. In 2003 the rule was modified so that players only had to bow or curtsy if Queen Elizabeth II or Prince Charles happened to be making an appearance in the box that day. That ruling effectively meant no bowing or curtsying, since the queen has attended the tournament only four times (in 1957, 1962, 1977, and 2010), and in 2012 the prince went to Wimbledon for the first time in 42 years. The rule was the brainchild of the president of the All England Club, who just happens to be the queen's first cousin—Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent.
This article was originally published in 2008 and has been updated.