The history of Wimbledon Tennis

Fred Perry in action at Wimbledon in 1936. The history of Wimbledon tennis: where it all began
Fred Perry in action at Wimbledon in 1936. Credit: PA Pics

We look back at the history of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, which bring this corner of southwest London to a standstill each year.

The first Wimbledon Championships were held on 9 June 1877 and were advertised as a ‘lawn tennis meeting, open to all amateurs’ and played at Worple Road in Wimbledon, not far from the current home of Wimbledon Tennis.

Wimbledon Tennis: no women allowed

Women were not allowed to play in this initial meeting but 22 men turned up and paid the £1 1 shilling fee to take part. A modest crowd of 200 people watched the first matches that were played with wooden rackets and hand-sewn flannel balls.

It wasn’t until 1884 that the All England Club agreed to open the Championships up to both sexes and Lottie Dodd, from Cheshire, made her mark on Wimbledon a few years later as the (still unbeaten) youngest woman to win the title at the age of 15. She went on to win the Championships over the next four years, proving that women deserved a place in the game.

Wimbledon becomes popular

William Renshaw sparked a rise in public interest in the sport in 1889 with the first of his string of seven consecutive Wimbledon victories.

By the 1900s, the Championships at Wimbledon had become an international affair and in 1905 May Sutton from the United States became the first overseas champion when she won the Ladies’ Singles title.

In 1908, Wimbledon hosted the Olympic tennis tournament at its Worple Road base and in 1922 the Championships moved to it current home on Church Road.

The Duke of York (right), later to become King George VI about to play at Wimbledon. The history of Wimbledon Tennis: where it all began
The Duke of York (right), later to become King George VI, about to play at Wimbledon. Credit: PA Pics

King George VI plays at Wimbledon

The Championships at Wimbledon have long attracted a royal following and have even seen a royal take to the court. In 1926 the Duke of York, who later became King George VI (the Queen’s father), competed in the men’s doubles. His match formed part of the Jubilee Championships where King George V and Queen Mary presented the commemorative medals. Unfortunately he and his partner lost in straight sets.

Long-standing British favourite Fred Perry grabbed the nation’s attention when he won the Championships in three consecutive years from 1936 – until Murray’s victory in 2013 he was the last British man to win Wimbledon.

In 1937 live sports coverage was added to the bill and the Wimbledon Championships were broadcast to those within a 40-mile radius of the BBC transmitters in north London.

People gather on what is affectionately known as 'Murray's Mount' to watch a match. The history of Wimbledon Tennis: where it all began
People gather on what is affectionately known as ‘Murray’s Mount’ to watch a match. Credit: Wimbledon Championships

Today Wimbledon demands huge viewing figures and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors – many of them queuing for days to secure one of the much-coveted Centre Court tickets. Matches take place across 19 courts (Centre Court, plus courts 1-19 – there is no court 13, which is deemed unlucky).

Catch up with all the latest news on the official Wimbledon Championships site.

READ A FULL HISTORY OF WIMBLEDON TENNIS

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