Wimbledon is widely regarded as the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world, so ahead of this year’s competition, we’ve taken a trip back in time to where it all started.
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Wimbledon: Where It All Began
The inaugural Wimbledon tournament took place at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in 1877, with Spencer Gore coming out on top in an all-British final. The championships have been held at the same location in Wimbledon every year since, with the only exceptions due to the World Wars and the pandemic.
For 91 years following Wimbledon’s inception, professionals were prohibited from entering and it remained an amateur-only event. In fact, until 1922, the reigning champion was only required to show up for the final! All other entrants competed in a knockout format for a chance to take on the previous year’s victor.
Wimbledon is the only major tennis tournament still contested on grass to this day, hence the name lawn tennis, resulting in a higher pace than the hard and clay courts. The immense history of the competition coupled with the difference in surface is why most consider Wimbledon the most prestigious and iconic tennis trophy.
The Transition to the Open Era
For a long time, the world of tennis was split between those that believed contests should remain between amateurs and those that were paid for their efforts. But as time passed, more players were seeking out tennis as a profession, hoping to turn their talents into cash.
In 1968, the decision was eventually made to allow professionals to compete in all major tournaments – Wimbledon included – alongside amateurs. This was a huge milestone in the history of the game as it allowed players to focus solely on the sport, greatly improving the quality of tennis on show around the world.
Plenty of differences in opinion remained following the transition, which led to the establishment of the Association of Tennis Players (ATP) and Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). These organisations were created to protect the interests of professional players, as well as the latter working hard to bridge the pay disparity between the men’s and women’s game.
Wimbledon’s Most Successful Players
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the early years of Wimbledon were dominated by the British. The first 30 competitions featured an all-British final, with William Renshaw (7 titles) and Laurence Doherty (5 titles) sharing the spoils. The first non-Brit to lift the trophy was Australian Norman Brookes in 1907.
But everything changed following WW2 and the transition from the Amateur to the Open Era. From 1936 until 2013, there wasn’t a single British champion in the men’s game. British women performed slightly better, but two Wimbledon champions in 54 Open Era years can hardly be considered a success.
In the women’s game, it has largely been the Americans that have dominated. Martina Navratilova holds the record for most Wimbledon titles with nine between the years 1978-1990. Germany’s Steffi Graf carried the torch next, winning seven from 1988-1996, before Serena Williams won seven of her own from 2002-2016.
When it comes to the men’s game, Roger Federer leads the way with eight titles between 2003-2017. Looking to equal that record is Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, who has seven victories to his name ahead of 2023’s edition of Wimbledon.
There are many factors that determine greatness in the sport, but a player’s performance at the world’s most historic tennis tournament is arguably the defining one.
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