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Wimbledon,England: see MertonMerton,
outer borough (1991 pop. 161,800) of Greater London, SE England. The area is largely residential with some industry, including tanning and the manufacture of silk and calico prints, varnish and paint, and toys.
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Date of Observation: Late June-early July; six weeks before first Monday in August
Where Celebrated: Wimbledon, England
Symbols and Customs: Ball Boys and Ball Girls, Centre Court
The Lawn Tennis Championships held at Wimbledon, England, for thirteen days every summer is the oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament in the world. It was in 1875 that the All-England Croquet Club was persuaded to set aside a portion of its grounds on Worple Road, Wimbledon, for the purpose of playing lawn tennis, which was more physically demanding than the relatively slow-moving game of croquet. The first lawn tennis tournament was held there in July of 1877, with heavy rackets shaped like showshoes and a net that was five feet high at each end but only a little over three feet in the middle-differences that were inherited from the ancient game known as court tennis or "Real Tennis," and from which lawn tennis had only recently been derived. Spencer Gore won the first All England Lawn Tennis Championship, and a sport that had been little more than a leisurely pastime for the wealthy was on its way to becoming the multimilliondollar industry it is today.
The first American to win a Wimbledon championship was Bill Tilden in 1920, and in many ways he was a prototype for today's tennis champions. He was a natural when it came to drawing a crowd, yet he could be very temperamental in the eyes of the referees and linesmen. But Tilden never tested Wimbledon's reputation as the most polite tennis championship in the world the way John McEnroe did in the early 1980s. Although McEnroe was a formidable tennis player, the three-time Wimbledon singles champ whined, sulked, screamed, threatened, and called the umpire "the pits of the earth."
A ladies' championship was instituted in 1884, and the first female tennis superstar was Suzanne Lenglen of France, who dominated women's tennis from 1919 to 1926. The huge crowds who came to see Lenglen play were an important factor in the decision to move the championships to a new facility on Church Road in 1922. The courts were planted with Cumberland grass and mowed to the smoothness of a billiard table, and the new CENTRE COURT , where the championships would be held, was declared to be "the fastest lawn tennis court in the world." Lenglen was followed by a number of other outstanding women players, including Althea Gibson, the first black player to win a Wimbledon title in 1957, and Billie Jean King, who won six Wimbledon titles. King was known not only for her cockiness on the court, but also for dedicating herself to achieving equality with male players in terms of earning power.
Wimbledon suffered a decline in prestige during the 1950s and 60s, when many of the top tennis players left to join the professional ranks. The solution to this problem was to open the tournament up to both amateurs and professionals in 1968. It has remained an open tournament since that time, and today the world's best tennis players compete at Wimbledon for both singles and doubles titles. The event is watched on television by tennis fans all over the world, many of whom get up at dawn or conduct all-night vigils around their television sets so as not to miss a single match. Members of the English royal family, who have attended the tournament since 1907, usually watch the finals from the Royal Box.
SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS
Ball Boys and Ball Girls
Ball boys and ball girls at Wimbledon know the rules of tennis and are physically fit. They must pass a written test and undergo vigorous physical trials involving sprinting, standing very still, and rolling, throwing, and catching tennis balls. The average age is fifteen, and the approximate ratio of boys to girls is fifty/fifty. Only boys were eligible for this position until 1977, when ball girls were introduced.
The "new" Centre Court at Wimbledon, which opened in 1922, was no longer in the center, but off to one side. It is where the championships are held every summer, and it is off-limits to members of the All England Lawn Tennis Club and to everyone else except the grounds staff. On the Saturday before the competition begins, four women club members play two or three sets of doubles to "bruise" the grass and make sure the courts are in good shape. On the Monday after the tournament is over, the Chairman's Four play doubles, which officially closes the use of the court for the season.
After sustaining considerable damage from bombing in World War II (1939-45), Centre Court underwent months of renovation. Today, the grass is repeatedly hand-weeded and mowed until it is only an eighth of an inch long. Then it is rolled in two directions by a two-ton roller, leaving a playing surface so even and firm that it produces a true bounce. During the championships, the head groundsman and his staff are busy every evening watering, patching, trimming, rolling, and re-marking the turf. Centre Court also has a tent-like cover that can be quickly raised by a team of groundsmen in the event of a heavy rainfall. After the championships are over, Centre Court is usually resown with new seed before the next major tournament.
Centre Court is again undergoing major re-development, with renovations begun in 2006 scheduled for completion by the 2009 Championships. In addition to an increased seating capacity (from 13,800 to 15,000), the improvements will include: a translucent retractable roof that will complement the original 1920s Centre Court building, new and enhanced restaurants, and a completely re-designed tea lawn.
Tickets to Centre Court are almost impossible to obtain. Debenture seats, which provide tickets year after year, are traded on the London Stock Exchange for huge sums of money. Debentures, sold every five years, guarantee holders one seat per debenture per day for each of the Championships during the five year period. Each debenture in the current issue (covering 2006-2010 series) is priced at £23,150 ($45,000, U.S.) and supports maintenance and improvement projects at Wimbledon. In 1989, a new process was introduced, the so-called "White Market," in which the Club buys back tickets from debenture holders in order to resell them at higher cost to existing Debenture and Marquee holders. Membership in the All England Lawn Tennis Club helps, as members are entitled to purchase two tickets for each day of the championship. Tickets are also bought by corporations, which use them to reward favored employees and to woo clients.
Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Revie, Alastair. Wonderful Wimbledon. London: Pelham, 1972. Robertson, Max. Wimbledon: Centre Court of the Game. 3rd ed. London: BBC Books, 1987.
The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club www.wimbledon.org
formerly, a municipal borough in the county of Surrey, Great Britain. In 1963 the borough was incorporated into the Merton Urban District (population, 175,000 in 1974) of Greater London. Wimbledon is linked with London by a subway line and a railroad. The All-England Lawn Tennis Championships, the unofficial world championships, are held annually in Wimbledon.
The Centre Court at Wimbledon, where the championships are held, is off-limits to members and everyone except the grounds staff. On the Saturday before the competition begins, four women members of the club play two or three sets to "bruise" the grass and make sure the courts are in good shape.
The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club
London, SW19 5AE United Kingdom
44-20-8944-1066; fax: 44-20-8947-8752