Dating back to 1877, the Wimbledon tennis championship is the world’s oldest tennis tournament. As well as being the first official lawn tennis tournament in the world, it was also the first Grand Slam tournament. It has always been held at the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club on Church Road in Wimbledon.
Today, it remains one of the most prestigious annual fixtures on the tennis calendar, offering total prize money of £34 million this year. It’s a far cry from the 1877 championship, when it was a men-only event. There was no doubles event and the gentlemen’s singles was the sole competition.
History of Wimbledon
The first event attracted 22 players, who completed for a prize of 12 guineas and a trophy. When adjusted for inflation, the prize money would equate to around £700 in today’s terms. Around 200 spectators paid one shilling each to watch the tournament.
Some things never change – it was reported that rain affected play and the final was delayed for three days until 19th July, due to continual downpours. When it was finally dry enough to play, the eventual winner was Spencer Gore, aged 27, who took only 48 minutes to win in three straight sets, beating William Marshall 6–1, 6–2, 6–4.
How do the qualifiers work?
Over the decades, Wimbledon has expanded to include women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles and mixed doubles. In the run-up to the championship, a qualifying competition takes place for individual players and pairs who don’t have a high enough ranking and don’t receive a wild card to enter.
The qualifying competition includes men’s and ladies’ singles, when players must win through three rounds to earn a championship main draw place. There are 16 places for men and 12 for women, with four places each available for the main event for the men’s and ladies’ doubles.
Players receive ranking points and prize money for victories in the qualifying competition, which takes place at the Bank of England Sports Centre, in Roehampton, London.
Is Andy Murray playing this year?
This year’s main championship takes place from July 2nd to 15th, but British hopeful and two-times Wimbledon winner Andy Murray won’t be making a decision on whether to participate until the eleventh hour.
Currently ranked 156 in the world, a lingering hip injury left him unable to play a tournament for the remainder of 2017 following Wimbledon, where he was beaten in the quarter-final in five sets by Sam Querrey. Murray announced in January that he was recovering from hip surgery.
He lost out at Queen’s (his comeback event) to Nick Kyrgios, after 342 days away from playing competitive tennis. He said cautiously he was looking forward to getting some more time on grass courts, but refused to be drawn on whether he would be playing at Wimbledon or not.
The Scot was the defending champion and number one seed in last year’s event, but having now fallen outside the top 150 in the world, it won’t be an easy climb back to his number one position.
Who are the leading contenders?
As the defending men’s singles champion, Roger Federer of Switzerland is returning to Wimbledon in the hope of claiming a ninth title – he is the bookies’ favourite at 13/8. Novak Djokovic of Serbia and Spain’s Rafael Nadal both have odds of 7/1 to win.
The favourite to win the women’s singles is Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic at 5/1. Serena Williams of the USA is making her comeback, after taking time-out to give birth to her first child in September 2017. Despite her break from playing, the bookies still have the seven-times champion at odds of 6/1 to win. Garbine Muguruza of Venezuela has odds of 8/1 to win.
Preparations for Wimbledon
The official opening of the All England Lawn Tennis Club grass courts took place in May, when legends of the tennis world, including nine-times Wimbledon winner Martina Navratilova, were back on the courts to re-live their glory days.
There have been some changes to the historic club this year. Number one court is in the second year of a three-year refurbishment programme and the new fixed roof is completed. A two-level concessions structure known as the “walled garden” now stands where court 19 used to be and will be open to the public for the first time.
In addition, a new even bigger screen is being installed, so fans can view play from Henman Hill/Murray Mound. While the old screen, at 431 square feet, was massive, the new one is expected to be around four times larger.
As always, the famous Centre Court will host the top matches. Generally considered the most famous tennis court in the world, it boasts a high-tech, retractable roof that was installed in 2009 – so play can continue even if it rains!
This year, Wimbledon is becoming more eco-friendly – so there won’t be any plastic straws for drinks. The fleet of tournament cars will include 10 electrically-powered Jaguars.
Plastic bags are being phased out in the souvenir shops, that will be introducing a paper bag option instead. There will also be an increase in the number of free water refill points around the site, from 45 to 87.
For the first time this year, people in the queue waiting to enter the grounds will be able to use free public WiFi, enabling them to get a live stream of whatever’s showing on the large screen while they wait.
A new pop-up store will be opening in Wimbledon village on High Street, so members of the public can buy their souvenir caps and towels without having to wait to get into the courts.
Also, for the first time, there will be multi-camera coverage and commentary on all 18 match courts, so 11 courts will be able to have coverage simultaneously. Modern technology will be playing an even bigger role, with net cams monitoring the two stadium courts, and 17 robotic cameras filming the grounds, including the practice courts.
Facts and figures
In 2017, the total attendance was 473,372 across the 13-day tournament, so a similar figure is anticipated this year – the grounds’ capacity is 39,000 spectators at any one time. There will be 250 ball boys and girls, who have been selected from an initial 250 applicants.
The balls are supplied by Slazenger, representing one of the longest partnerships in sporting history, dating from 1902.
With its free-to-air agreement extended to 2024, the BBC continues to broadcast Wimbledon in the UK. This year, the estimated worldwide audience is more than one billion viewers in 200 different territories. Last year, the BBC received 24.1 million streaming requests during Wimbledon via BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport.
The average quantities of refreshments consumed during the championship include 330,000 cups of coffee and tea, 320,000 glasses of Pimm’s and 230,000 bottles of water.
Caterers will serve 234,000 meals, 86,000 ice creams, 76,000 sandwiches, 166,000 portions of strawberries and 10,000 litres of dairy cream. Fans will drink 29,000 bottles of champagne and 110,000 pints of draught beers, and I am sure many will indulge in the new special-edition strawberries and cream Baileys that has been launched this year!
Speculation has begun over which members of the royal family will attend Wimbledon 2018 and whether Prince Harry and his new bride Meghan will be at their first championship together. Past royal attendees have included Prince William, Kate Middleton and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
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