Wimbledon is one of the most prestigious tennis tournaments in the world today and is the only grand slam still played on grass. But if you go back in history, it had a very humble and rather unremarkable beginning. It started as a minor sideshow in 1875 at the All England Croquet Club based at Worple Road, Wimbledon. The club was founded in 1868 at the height of a croquet craze. Over time, when lawn tennis superseded croquet, the club went through a few name changes and is today known as the All England Lawn Tennis Club.
The person responsible for introducing lawn tennis at the club was Major Walter Clopton Wingfield, a British army officer who is regarded as the founder of lawn tennis. At that time, the sport was in its infancy and was called Sphairistike. He set one lawn aside for the sport, leaving the rest for croquet. Soon the game grew in popularity and the club changed its name to The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club.
The first tennis championship at the club was held in 1877 and it was a men’s singles tournament. It was held to raise money for the pony-drawn roller for the croquet lawns. At that time the serves were made underarm. Spencer Gore, the winner of the year and possibly the first Wimbledon champion, is reported to have said that “lawn tennis will never rank among our great games.” He couldn’t have been more wrong.
The club introduced Ladies’ Singles and Gentlemen’s Doubles in 1884 and Ladies’ Doubles and Mixed Doubles in 1913. In 1922, the club moved to the larger ground on Church Road, Wimbledon where it remains today. The move was prompted by the popularity of the Frenchwoman Suzanne Lenglen, who won 31 tennis championships between 1914 and 1926.
The All England Lawn Tennis Club, now popularly known as the All-England Club, currently has 19 grass courts, 5 red clay courts, 3 continental clay courts, one American clay court and five indoor courts. There are also 22 Aorangi Park grass courts, which are primarily used as practice courts. The club holds the Wimbledon Championships over two weeks in late June and early July every year and attracts an average attendance of 450,000 people.
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