The Championships, Wimbledon, or just 'Wimbledon' as it is more commonly referred to, is the oldest tennis tournament in the world and arguably the most famous. Since the first tournament some 140 years ago in 1877, The Championships have been hosted by the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon, London and takes place over two weeks in late June to early July.
Of the four major annual tennis tournaments known as the 'Grand Slams', Wimbledon is the only one to still be played on grass, which is where the name lawn tennis originated. Grass is also the surface which provides the fastest game of tennis. Of the other three, the Australian Open and the US Open are both played on hard courts and the French Open is played on clay.
In stark contrast to today's sporting extravaganza, the first year of the Championships took place with very little fanfare. The All England Club had originally been called the All England Croquet Club when it opened in 1869, but as the new game of lawn tennis, an offshoot of the original indoor racquet sport known by traditionalists as 'real tennis', began to grow in popularity at the end of the nineteenth century, the club decided to provide tennis courts for their visitors. On 14th of April in 1877, the Club introduced the first of a number of name changes to become the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club.
Unlike today's tournament, which involves four junior and four invitation competitions alongside the five main contests; the men's single and double matches, the women's single and double matches and the mixed doubles. The first Wimbledon championship had one event, the Gentleman's Singles, as it was not permissible for women to enter the tournament in 1877. The first Wimbledon champion, from a group of twenty-two male competitors, was twenty seven year old Spencer William Gore. In front of a crowd of 200, who had paid a shilling to enter, Gore beat his opponent William Marshall in a decisive 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 defeat lasting only forty-eight minutes. As would also be the tradition for many Wimbledon tournaments to follow, until a retractable roof was installed over centre court in 2009, the final was postponed due to rain.
Whilst no tournaments were held at Wimbledon during 1915-1918 and 1940-1945 because of the First and Second World Wars, the game continued to grow in popularity. In 1884 the men's doubles competition was introduced and the same year women were also invited to join the tournament. In the fifties the club moved from its original rented site on Worple Road to the larger, present day Church Road site and in 1967 the tournament made history when the event became the first broadcast to ever be televised in colour.
Although much has changed since the Wimbledon Championships were first introduced in 1887, today when we think of Wimbledon fortnight there are a number of traditional images that still spring to mind. The obligatory strawberries and cream (of which it is estimated that 28,000 kilos of English strawberries and 7000 litres of cream are consumed each year!), the white or almost all white dress code which is still a requirement, or the strong ties with the Royal family to name but a few. All of which combined continue to preserve Wimbledon's place both in British heritage and at the forefront of the tennis world.