January 13, 2019
It’s the world’s oldest, most prestigious tennis tournament, attracting royals, A-list stars and world leaders. Wimbledon is a sporting institution, having been held for over 130 years at the famous All England Club in London.
Wimbledon’s age and prestige has meant it retains many customs that were long discarded by other events. Of the four Grand Slam tournaments, it’s the only one that’s still played on grass courts – a custom dating back to its origins in 1877.
While the prestige of Wimbledon is well known and the tournament itself hugely popular, most casual viewers – as well as many tennis gurus – are unfamiliar with the tournament’s origins.
In this guide, we’ll shed some light on the origins of Wimbledon, from the original tournament held in 1877 and the All England Tennis Club to the event’s founders, corporate suppliers and early organisers.
When was the first Wimbledon tournament?
In 1868, a private sports club called the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club opened in southwest London. Originally, the club was almost entirely dedicated to croquet, as London was undergoing the croquet craze at the time.
In 1875, during the club’s annual croquet tournament, a single court was set aside for lawn tennis – a game so new that it was, at the time, known by the bizarre name of “Sphairistike”.
Two years later, the first competitive tennis tournament was held. Spencer Gore, a sportsman better known for cricket than croquet or tennis, won the men’s singles tournament and offered an amusing opinion on the future of tennis:
“Lawn tennis will never rank among our great games.” – Spencer Gore
Over the next decade, the club introduced new games. Women’s tennis was added to the tournament alongside men’s doubles in 1884. In 1908 the club hosted the tennis events for the Summer Olympics. Six years later, it introduced mixed doubles.
In 1922, with the popularity of tennis rapidly expanding, the club moved to a bigger site in Church Road. Today, the Wimbledon Championships is held on the same site as the 1922 tournament, albeit with significantly updated facilities.
Who founded The Championships?
It’s hard to believe that a prestigious event like Wimbledon started as a croquet club without its own grounds. In 1868, six gentlemen with an interest in sports discussed founding their own sports club in an office on the Strand in central London.
The six gentlemen wee John H. Walsh, Captain R.F. Dalton, J. Hinde Hale, Reverend A. Law, S.H. Clarke Maddock and Walter Jones Whitmore. Of the six, John H. Walsh was appointed Chairman of the then All England Croquet Club.
Lacking their own grounds, the first tournament – at the time limited just to croquet – was held at Crystal Palace. After acquiring the Wimbledon site, the team build new facilities to house club members, including a pavilion and lawn tennis courts.
Since Wimbledon was established by six people instead of a single person, there’s no ‘founder’ of the tournament. Over the years, many hardworking people have helped make the Wimbledon Champions such a special, world-renowned event.
Who sponsors The Championships?
Wimbledon operates using debentures – investments made by supporters and fans that allow the club to survive. It also offers a small amount of on-the-day tickets to spectators interested in viewing games live.
The All England Tennis Club also works with a limited number of suppliers, almost all of which have a long relationship with the club. This year, Slazenger – a company that’s worked with the club since 1902 – supplied more than 52,000 balls to be used during The Championships.
The profits raised by Wimbledon go to a variety of charitable causes. Of the money raised during The Championships, 95% is spent promoting tennis to young children and teenagers throughout the UK and helping the local community.
When did Wimbledon become so popular?
It’s hard to think of a tennis tournament more well known than Wimbledon. With a history dating back over 130 years to the event’s famous royal presence, there’s no other tennis tournament that quite compares to Wimbledon.
Wimbledon’s popularity rapidly increased during the 1920s, when a new wave of tennis players started setting records at the tournament. Throughout the 20s and 30s, players from France, the United States and Britain all emerged as winners.
In 1932, the tournament’s attendance peaked at 200,000. Players from Britain and the United States dominated the events throughout the 1930s; before the club was closed and used as a camp for Allied troops during the Second World War.
Wimbledon today and into the future
With champions from Britain, the United States, France, Spain, Australia, Sweden, Egypt, Germany, Serbia, Switzerland, Brazil and more, Wimbledon has grown into one of the world’s most international tennis tournaments over the last 100 years.
From humble beginnings as a local croquet club to small to even afford a course to the world’s most prestigious tennis event, Wimbledon’s growth and development has been truly amazing.
Having celebrated its centenary in 1977 and the 100th championship in 1986; the future seems bright for an event that’s defied predictions of being forgotten by its first champion.
If you’d like to see the action firsthand, visit our Wimbledon 2019 page and buy your ticket today.