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Wimbledon is the premier championship for the sport of tennis worldwide, held annually in London each summer. From modern athletic celebrities like Roger Federer, and Venus and Serena Williams, to older legends like the Doherty brothers, the epic tennis matches at Wimbledon continue to cultivate a dedicated fan base and worldwide attention, in sports, culture, and fashion
The Wimbledon Championships are part of the Grand Slam tennis tournaments, which include the Australian Open, the French Open, and the U.S. Open. As the oldest tennis tournament worldwide, it's only fitting that for these games, players continue to compete on grass, the game's original turf. Taking place every summer from late June to early July, the Wimbledon Championships consist of five major events, four junior events, and three invitational events.
Before it was known as Wimbledon, the famous tennis championships had humbler roots. First called the Lawn Tennis Championship, the game was held at a club called All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club in July 1877 with a Gentlemen's Singles match, won by Spencer Gore. The game had an audience of 200 who paid an admission fee of one shilling for the final game.
Wimbledon has its origins in the All England Club. The All England Club, formerly known as the All England Croquet Club, was a private club formed in 1868 off Worple Road in Wimbledon, initially for playing just croquet. The club added lawn tennis to their list of games in 1875, (as introduced by major Walter Clopton Wingfield), and instituted official rules that for tennis that stand to this day. With the exception of net height and the distance of the service line from the net, the game remains unchanged since its inception. By 1882, the club was largely focused on lawn tennis anyway, and the “Croquet” was dropped from the official name before being reinstated in 1899 for sentimental reasons.
It wasn't until 1884 that the Ladies' Singles matches were introduced, with 13 female players; Maud Watson was its first champion. The Gentlemen's Doubles also began that year. Over the years, the tournament's popularity rose and fell. Wimbledon saw a particularly fervent fan base during the 13-title win streak of the British twins William and Ernest Renshaw from 1881 to 1889. Dubbed the “Renshaw Rush,” the pair attracted crowds like no other, winning as both doubles partners, and in individual matches.
In 1897, brothers Laurie and Reggie Doherty took the courts by storm, with a decade long winning streak that won them a devoted following in the tennis community and saw the games' popularity prosper.
Wimbledon continues to fascinate audiences worldwide today. The 2012 Summer Olympics in London will host the tennis championships on the grounds of Wimbledon. This has happened once before at the 1908 summer games when the Olympics first came to London.
For a long time, the Wimbledon games were held at the facilities at Worple Road, slowly expanding every few years to accommodate the growing crowds and public interest. In 1922, King George V opened the current courts at Wimbledon in Church Road, designed to hold 14,000.
Tickets that year were so in demand that they had to be issued by ballot. The ballot system is still in use to this day for those who wish to attend Wimbledon. Unlike other sports events, the tennis court at Wimbledon bears no sponsor advertisements. In 2009, a retractable roof was added to the Centre Court in case of rain.
Wimbledon was considered an internationally acclaimed tournament in the early 1900s. American May Sutton was the first international player to win Wimbledon in 1905 with the Ladies' Singles; Australian Norman Brookes was the first male foreigner to win in 1907 in the Gentlemen's Singles games.
American dominance at Wimbledon was especially prominent after World War II. Tennis champions such as Jack Kramer, Ted Schroeder, Maureen Connolly, and Althea Gibson (the first African American winner) became early legends.
More international players began playing at Wimbledon once air travel was available to the masses in the 1950s. By 1959, it was proposed that the Wimbledon Championships become a truly open game and welcome all players (amateur and professional alike), a move that was hotly debated before passing in December 1967.
In addition to strict rules, competitors must also follow a strict dress code that regulates their outfit, shoes, and miscellaneous gear. Designer clothing for the players' dresses is now the norm, part of the pre-game buzz. Female tennis fashions have come a long way from its origins in heavy flannel or serge material in the 1860s, to the more traditional all-white uniform worn these days.