Wimbledon Fun Facts

25 things you didn’t know about the world’s oldest slam.

The fortnight is here and although most people think they know possibly everything about the oldest tournament in the world, Wimbledon omniscience is impossible. Here are 25 fun facts to help impress friends, family and bar trivia mates during the fortnight.

1. In 1873, Major Walter Wingfield packaged a new game called “lawn tennis” in sets containing four bats, a net and an India rubber ball manufactured by Jeffries & Mallings for five guineas, today’s equivalent of £350.

2. The first match of “Spahiristike,” as Wingfield called it — and “Pelota,” as Harry Gem called it — or lawn tennis as everyone else called it, was not played in Birmingham, as previously thought, but at the Marylebone Cricket Club in London.

3. While Wingfield invented the original game, Henry Jones, Julian Marshall and John Heathcoate improved upon it game by replacing an hourglass court with a rectangle, lowing the net and using a scoring common in Real Tennis.

4. The All-England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC), formerly the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTCC) held the first tournament, or Championships, for gentlemen on 19 July 1877, which was won by Spencer Gore. First prize was a silver bowl worth 20 guineas.

A photograph of Spencer Gore, who became the first Wimbledon Champion in 1877. He defeated William Marshall in 48 minutes, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, often striking the ball before it bounced and sometimes before it even crossed the net.

5. The AELTC did not hold the first’s women Championships until 1884, and only did so because the London Athletic Club threatened to hold a women’s tournament. The first women’s champion was 19-year-old Maud Watson, who took home a “silver flower basket valued at 20 guineas.”

 A portrait of Maud Watson, who, undefeated in tournament play, won the first ever Ladies’ Singles title at Wimbledon. Playing in white corsets and petticoats, from a field of thirteen competitors she defeated her older sister Lilian Watson 6–8, 6–3, 6–3 (remember, they did not have tiebreaks) in the 1884 final.

6. Over the years, several “alternative Wimbledons” have been held, including the “Irish Wimbledon” at the Fitzwilliam Club in Dublin and “Worker’s Wimbledon” from 1938 to 1951. Workers Wimbledon, otherwise known as the National Workers’ Tennis Championships was held at Caversham Park Tennis Club in September 1932. It’s motto: “your opponent is your comrade.”

7. In its history, the women’s championship has been won by players from 40 different countries from Russia to Brazil, with five from Great Britain. The last English champion was Virginia Wade in 1977.

8. In its history, the men’s championship, has been won by players from 14 different countries from Egypt to New Zealand with nine from Great Britain. The last UK champion was Andy Murray in 2016.

9. Ayres made the first tennis balls for Wimbledon, a contract taken over in 1901 by Liverpool-based Slazenger, which had become the most successful racquet manufacturer, after giving up umbrellas for racquet goods in 1871.

10. Charlotte “Lottie” Dodd became the youngest women’s champion at age 15 in 1887 — a record that still stands. Charlotte Cooper became the oldest women’s champion at age 37 in 1907 — a record that remains yet unbroken.

11. Boris Becker became the youngest men’s champion at age 17 in 1985 — a record that stands today. Arthur Gore became the oldest men’s champion at age 41 in 1909, another record that remains unbroken.

12. In 1913, a member of the suffragette movement was found at Wimbledon with a homemade bomb intended to blow up the stands at Centre Court. She was arrested and spent a month in prison. The green, purple and white colours of the Suffragette Movement are the same colours used by Wimbledon.

The AELTC has an official Coat-of-Arms (or King’s brand) granted on 2 April 1992 by Sir Alexander Colin Cole the Garter Principal King of Arms, the highest heraldic office in England. It’s crest consists of “hands proper holding aloft a representation of the Gentlemen’s Singles Wimbledon Championship Trophy Gold” over “the surface of a Lawn Tennis Court two Lions salient reguardant per fess Vert and Purpure,” and the motto “Triumphus Cladem Componat.”

13. Gottfried von Cramm was the first German tennis player to make it to the finals of Wimbledon for three years in a row, from 1935-1937. The 1936 championship was the first and only time a Nazi flag was flown over the stadium.

14. During World War II, the grass at Wimbledon was divided into allotments for farmers and became grazing grounds for rabbits, pigs and hens. The clubhouse served as the office for Air Chief Marshall Hugh Dowding.

15. Nazi bombers struck a corner of Centre Court during World War II, taking out 1,200 seats. They were rebuilt after the war ended.

16. Althea Gibson was the first Black woman to win Wimbledon on 6 July 1957. Since then, Americans Venus and Serena Williams have traded off the Rosewater Dish since 2000.

17. Arthur Ashe is the first and only Black man to win Wimbledon. He held the championship Cup on 5 July 1975.

18. Lewis Carroll, otherwise known as Charles Dodgson, the eminent Oxford Vicar and mathematician, wrote a well-regarded book about tennis, Lawn Tennis Tournaments: The True Method of Assigning Prizes with a Proof of the Fallacy of the Present Method, in which he proposed — not a seeding system, but a tournament structure in which players could not be eliminated in the first round. Losers kept playing until they had three superiors, three people who had beaten them or beaten someone who had beaten them.

19. Other English authors who were devoted tennis fans and mentioned the sport in their work were P.G. Wodehouse in Love Among the Chickens, E.M. Forester in Room with a View and Agatha Christie in the Hercule Poirot detective series.

20. Bill Tilden was the only openly gay man to play — and win — Wimbledon (and also the first American) in 1920. He is considered one of the greatest tennis players of all time, winning 138 of 192 tournaments, losing 28 finals and holding a 907–62 record — 93 percent of his career matches.

21. May “Toupie” Lowther was the first openly gay woman to play Wimbledon. Between 1900 and 1907, she made five appearances with her best result reaching the semi-finals in 1903, losing in straight sets to eventual champion, Dorothea Douglass Lambert Chambers.

22. In 1951, Dick Savitt, a self-taught tennis player from Orange, New Jersey, became the first Jewish Wimbledon men’s champion; Angela Buxton of London, became the first Jewish woman to ascend to the Wimbledon singles finals in 1956, winning the doubles with partner Althea Gibson that same year.

23. King George VI (Elizabeth II’s father) was the only royal ever to compete at Wimbledon, playing doubles with Group Captain Sir Louis Leisler Greig, a former rugby captain for the British Lions. They were eliminated in the first round in 1926. His grandson, Prince Edward (Duke of Edinburgh), whom he never met, is the patron of Real Tennis, but never sat in the Royal Box at the lawn tennis championships.

King George VI playing with partner Group Captain Sir Louis Leisler Greig, a former rugby captain for the British Lion before being eliminated in the first round in 1926.

24. Queen Elizabeth II was known to prefer the ponies over the Wimbledon peonies; same goes with King Charles, who last attended Wimbledon in 2012 — his first time in 42 years. Princess Anne, Prince Edward and Prince Andrew have never attended, neither has Andrew’s ex-wife, Sarah Ferguson. But Andrew’s daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie sat in the Royal Box in 2014.

25. The Prince and Princess of Wales (Wills and Kate) have by far become English Royalty’s biggest tennis fans, following in the tradition of Wills’ late mother, Diana. The Princess of Wales took over the patronage of the AELTC from Queen Elizabeth in 2016, who last attended in 2010.

The current patrons of Wimbledon, the Prince and Princess of Wales witting with Billie Jean King and partner, Ilana Kloss, in 2016.

Many facts provided by A People’s History of Tennis By David Berry.


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