One hundred and thirty-five years ago the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club began its first lawn tennis tournament at Wimbledon, England. Although a total of 22 people registered to play in the Gentlemen’s Singles tournament only 21 amateurs competed on the July 9, 1877 the first day of the tournament. The prize was a 25-guinea trophy.
Tennis evolved from a 13th century French handall game called jeu de paume (game of the palm) which led to a racket-and-ball game called real (royal” tennis. Real tennis grew into lawn tennis, tplayed outside on grass and enjoyed a great surge in popularity in the late 19th century.
The All England Club was originally founded in 1868 to promote the game of croquet on four acres of meadowland and, due to the increase in popularity of tennis, the club decided to incorporate tennis lawns into its facilities in 1877.
An announcement appeared in The Field, a weekly sporting magazine and read: “The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon, propose [sic] to hold a lawn tennis meeting open to all amateurs, on Monday, July 9, and following days. Entrance fee, one pound, one shilling.”
Semifinals were held on July 12, but then the tournament was suspended to leave the London sporting scene free for the Eton vs. Harrow cricket match (the worst spectator sport on the planet-like watching paint dry) played on Friday and Saturday. The final was scheduled for Monday, July 16, but, in what would become a common occurrence in future Wimbledon tournaments, the match was rained out.
The final was rescheduled for July 19 and 200 spectators paid a shilling each to witness William Marshal battle W.Spnecer Gore in a final that lasted only 48 minutes. Twenty-seven year old Gore dominated the game and won the title. A year later in 1878, Gore lost his title to Frank Hadow who had developed an innovate stroke called the lob.
Lady’s singles was introduced in 1884 and Maud Watson won the first championship. The same year the national men’s doubles was introduced followed by women’s doubles in 1913.
By the early 1900s, Wimbledon had graduated from all-England to all-world status, and in 1922 the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, as it was then known, moved to a large stadium on Church Road.
The Wimbledon Championships, the only major tennis event still played on grass, is held annually in late June and early July.