By Dr. Sandra Geringer |
I come from a family of tennis players, with that came the hand-me-down rackets. However, when I was on the high school team, I remember my very first brand new racket that I was allowed to pick out. It was a Wimbledon racket which was white with a green and purple pinstripe and an oversize head. I felt like a champion swinging that weapon.
There is just something about Wimbledon that makes me feel different than the other tournaments. My sister and I each have on our bucket list to attend all four Grand Slam tennis tournaments. We have been to the US Open a few times, and some smaller tier tournaments, and we were in France, but not during the French Open. Each tournament tends to have their own personality. It is not only the location, the fans, the food, but of course, the surface of the court which brings a different style of play. I am not sure if it is because of the potential spotting of the Royal Family, Roger Federer dominates on the grass surface, or the traditions of the tournament that have continued over the test of time – this tournament is in a class of its own.
So, how did lawn tennis originate? Before 1873, croquet had been the British high society sport of choice. Shortly thereafter, an Englishman (Walter Wingfield) adapted an ancient Greek game called sphairistike (sphairis-tike, meaning ball skill). This new game took over the popularity from croquet. Sphairistike eventually evolved into lawn tennis (basically because who can pronounce sphairistike??) and the key influencers of the rule making were the members of the All England Croquet Club, located near the southwestern suburb of London known as Wimbledon. By 1877, the club sensed a shift in popularity to lawn tennis and the name was changed to the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club and it hosted its first lawn tennis championship. The club wanted to raise money for a pony-drawn roller for its croquet lawns. Within just a few years croquet lawns were turned into lawns for tennis.
Granted there has been quite a bit of evolution to the tournament that it is today, however, throughout the years the traditions have signified the prestige of the oldest international tennis event held in the world. Here are just a few:
- The court surface: Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam that is still played on the original surface: grass. All of the tournaments actually started on grass, however, by the end of the 20th century the US Open and Australian Open are played on hard courts and the French Open is played on clay courts.
- Dress code: Wimbledon has by far the strictest dress code of the major tennis events. Players must wear white during the tournament, and this rule is strictly enforced by The All-England Club. The dress code was instituted since the very beginning in 1877. In 2014, the rules got even more pernickety by stating that: a single trim of color no wider than 1 cm and any colored undergarments that are or can be visible during play (due to perspiration) are not allowed.
- Strawberries and cream: Apparently, strawberries and tennis both signaled the arrival of British summer. The berries are picked the day before each day of the tournament and they come from the county of Kent. Approximately, 28,000 kg (61,729 lbs.) strawberries are eaten along with 7,000 liters (1,849 gallons) of cream.
- The Royal Box: Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam which is patronized by a Royal Family.
- Tennis Nirvana: The middle Sunday of the Wimbledon fortnight is a rest day unless there have been rain delays and matches need to be caught up. However, the second Monday at Wimbledon is the best day of the tennis calendar, hence, Tennis Nirvana. This is because each of the 16 men and 16 women remaining in the singles draw play on the same day for spots in the quarterfinal.
Even with the many traditions, tournament organizers know that they need to remain modern. Technology has made quite an impact on allowing fans to follow the matches in real time from anywhere in the world. IBM has been collaborating with Wimbledon for 30 years. By using the IBM Watson (IBM’s artificial intelligence platform) Wimbledon media producers can analyze live footage of player reactions, crowd excitement levels, and gameplay statistics to instantly rank match highlights. This allows Wimbledon media producers to create highlight packages within two minutes of a match finishing.
I am really excited to see how the US players prevail, there seems to be a good showing of US men and women in the draws. To set things off on opening day, Cori “Coco” Gauff (15 years old) – the youngest woman in the draw will play Venus Williams (39 years old), the oldest woman in the draw. Quiet please, the matches are about to begin.
The following articles contributed to this content:
Dr. Sandra Geringer is the Director of Recreation Management and Sports Studies at the United States Sports Academy.