After toiling hard in the scorching sun of Australia and fighting gladiatorial battles on clay for four months, the tennis players are in for a roller-coaster ride on the lush greens of the All England Club. The champions at the French Open have no time to celebrate their spoils, and the rest have been trying to figure how they can produce better results in their warm-up tournaments on grass.
With hardly a month between the French Open and The Championships, some players try to get as much match practice under their belt before they arrive at Wimbledon, while others just stick to their stringent training regimens. Skidding and slipping on the slick suface, they all try to find their feet and rhythm on courts that are fast and unforgiving.
Half-way through the season, a few players may seem spent. But the prospect of playing at Wimbledon injects in them a fresh lease of life and readies them for two weeks of history.
So why exactly is Wimbledon the biggest and most prestigious tennis tournament of all? As we mark Sportskeeda’s association with Allen Solly for the 2015 Wimbledon Championsips, here are a few reasons that make this tournament so great:
1. The birthplace of lawn tennis
The Championships, Wimbledon is the oldest tennis tournament in the world. It was held for the first time way back in 1877 at the All England Croquet Club.
In 1882 the word ‘croquet’ was dropped since the Club now hosted only lawn tennis activities. The word was added back in 1899 for sentimental reasons, and hence the name ‘All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club’ came into existence.
In the inaugural edition of Wimbledon, only the gentlemen’s singles event was held. Spencer Gore was the winner of the event that fielded 22 players in total. The finale was witnessed by 200 odd spectators, each of whom paid a shilling.
Wimbledon is the only Major that has retained grass, the Slam’s original surface. This is the place where ‘lawn tennis’ originated.
2. Rich in tradition and high on etiquette
While the green turf is synonymous with Wimbledon, there are several other elements of this Grand Slam that constitute its trademark. Dark green and purple are the official colours of Wimbledon. The uniforms of court officials, ball boys and ball girls have all been designed using these colours.
In 2006, for the first time ever, all Wimbledon clothing was contracted out to an external party – the American designer Polo Ralph Lauren.
Female players are referred to by the title “Miss” or “Mrs”, on scoreboards and on court. In adherence to the etiquette, all married female players are addressed by their husband’s names.
For example, Justine Henin-Hardenne appeared on scoreboards as “Mrs. Henin-Hardenne”. While the male professional players are not referred to using the title “Mr”, the amateurs are referred to with that title. The only time the male professional players are referred to with the “Mr” is when they appeal for a Hawk-eye challenge.
Up until 2003, the players, on entering Centre Court, bowed or curtsied to the Royal Box. But in 2003, the President of the All England Club, His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent, decided to do away with the tradition.
Since then, the players bow or curtsy only when His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales or Her Majesty The Queen are present. Her Majesty The Queen showed up in the Royal Box after a span of 33 years during The Championships of 2010.
By staying true to the time-tested traditions of British culture and royalty, Wimbledon has built an exceptionally strong brand for itself that sets it apart from all other tennis events.
3. White – the soul mate of the green lawn
The white tramlines define the court on the green lawns. And the ‘all-white’ dress code imposed by the Wimbledon Clothing and Equipment Rule for the players helps create a sharp contrast to the green turf. This signature contrast, over the years, has been etched into our collective memory like few other sporting spectacles.
Some players and various sports brands have expressed their disappointment with the rule and its strict implications. But for some others, the all-white rule is more than a rule. It’s a turning point; a change of attitude.
"Wimbledon is a place where I learnt to wear white, where I learnt to bow. It's a place where I learnt to accept and to come to appreciate the tradition," Andre Agassi once told CNN. "For me it represents an evolution in my own life. Holding the trophy in 1992 was one of my best feelings on a tennis court."
While there have been players who have made a mockery of this rule and worn outfits that ranged from borderline ridiculous to outright horrendous, the rule stays put. Despite some unfortunate consequences that it entails, the Wimbledon Clothing and Equipment Rule adds to the exclusivity of this Grand Slam.
4. Long term relationships with suppliers
Slazenger, the official supplier of balls since 1902, is the oldest supplier with Wimbledon. Some of the other marquee names include Robinsons (official soft drink since 1935), IBM (official information technology povider since 1990), Hertz (official transport supplier since 1995), Lanson (official champagne supplier since 2001), Ralph Lauren (official outfitter since 2006), HSBC (official bank since 2007), Evian (official water supplier since 2008), Jacob’s Creek (official wine supplier since 2011), Lavazza (official coffee supplier since 2011), Stell Artois (official beer supplier since 2014) and Jaguar Land Rover (official car from this year).
These marquee names are ‘suppliers’, not ‘sponsors’. With no room for confusion between sponsorship and ownership, the Wimbledon calls the shots and is at the helm of all event affairs.
By maintaining long term and mutually beneficial relationships with 12 official blue chip suppliers, Wimbledon creates an experience par excellence for players and the spectators.
5. Prize money, yelevision ratings and media hits
Grand Slams Prize Money Comparison (Courtesy: www.totalsportek.com)
The prize money at Wimbledon is the highest. As per a Factiva Survey, Wimbledon leads the other Grand Slams in terms of media hits and stands second in terms of television ratings.
6. The Wimbledon Records – Indicators of greatness and glory
In 1985, Boris Becker won his first Wimbledon as an unseeded 17-year-old. The German, who now coaches the World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, said, "Wimbledon is obviously the most important tournament of all of them and once you become champion, your life changes for ever. It is a very special tournament.”
In 2001, Goran Ivanisevic won his maiden Wimbledon as a wild card. After he won, he was quoted as saying, ”It was written somewhere that it was my time. I did everything in my life the harder way. Why do it easy if you can do it the hard way?"
Some other players who booked their place in Wimbledon history with solitary titles include Jana Novotna in 1998 and Marion Bartoli in 2013.
No one knows the Wimbledon script better than the legendary Martina Navratilova, who won a record nine singles titles. She is seen at Wimbledon every year till today, and when asked to sum up her experience, she says, “It’s like coming home. So many changes have happened over the years but it still feels the same.”
Steffi Graf, a seven-time Wimbledon champion, said that even though she had visited Wimbledon as a child, nothing could ever prepare her for the ‘power and beauty’ of Centre Court when she walked on to it for the first time.
The importance of records created and held at Wimbledon is second to none.
7. The Court that incubates dreams
The green spread of the hallowed grass is always an inspirational sight for the players. There is no prouder moment for any defending champion than to walk on to Centre Court at the stroke of 1 o’clock in the afternoon on Day 1 of The Championships.
Coming out on the court stirs a nostalgic feeling in the players, taking them back to their earliest memories of Wimbledon as children. It brings back memories of their heroes holding the trophy aloft, and the desire to be in their place sets most of today’s champions on the path to glory.
The branding on the court is subtle and kept to a minimum in order to protect the sanctity of the place.
Marion Bartoli lost her first Wimbledon final in 2007. Six years later, when she was presented with a second opportunity, she left no stone unturned in realizing her dream. All the manic practice sessions she went through over the years paid off in the most important moment of her tennis career.
On match point the Frenchwoman served out wide, the ball kissed the tramline and the chalk flew in the air as a mark of celebration. It was an ace, and Bartoli was a Wimbledon champion.
That’s the stuff that dreams are made of; the stuff that creates legends.
Players who have perfected their craft to match the unique vibes of this hallowed portal see their dreams turn to reality. As expressed by several former champions, the feeling of playing on Centre Court at Wimbledon and winning the title is truly special, and extremely difficult to describe.
8. Keeping up with the Joneses
Wimbledon is known for its adherence to tradition and for being a stickler for rules, but every now and then it adapts to the changing times with a subtlety that brings it the best of both worlds. The Rod Laver Arena in Australia had a retractable roof much before Centre Court at Wimbledon. But the All England Club wasn’t going to lag behind for too long.
In 2009, a retractable roof was installed on Centre Court to protect the players and 15,000-odd spectators from the unpredictable English weather. The inclement weather has, on more occasions than one, run roughshod on the Championships scheduling. As a consequence, tournament officials had to take a detour from tradition and schedule matches on the Middle Sunday which is usually a rest day.
But with the shiny new roof on Centre Court, sticking to the schedule is no longer a big problem.
And it’s not just the weather that Wimbledon has adapted to. Prior to 2001, a combination of 70% ryegrass and 30% creeping red fescue was used on the courts here. In 2001, the courts were sown with 100% perennial ryegrass in order to improve durability and withstand the increasing intensity of the game.
Though The Championships have tried to keep up with the times, some things never change – as they shouldn’t. The drilled excellence of the ball boys and girls (called the BBGs), the enticing strawberry and cream, the trademark Wimbledon colours, the royalty in the air, the magnificence and the uniqueness of whole event – all of those things combine to make Wimbledon extra special.
129 years of Lawn Tennis. 129 years of tradition and innovation. 129 years of records. 129 years of fashion. 129 years of champions.
None of this can ever be replicated. And what can’t be replicated is unique!
This is what makes the Wimbledon the grandest of the all the tennis tournaments.