Wimbledon and the All England Club: A Look Inside
This week, with one of the most-anticipated sporting events in the UK underway, all eyes are turned to Wimbledon. Arguably considered the most prestigious of the four major Grand Slam tournaments to take place every year worldwide, Wimbledon sets itself apart by being the oldest tennis tournament in the world, having been played at the All England Club since 1877. In addition to its age, Wimbledon also is the only remaining Grand Slam tournament to still be played on a grass court, the very same surface that the game was played on at the beginning of the club, so many years ago.
The all England Club is a members-only private club that was originally founded in 1868 as The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. By the 1880’s, despite its dual-sport moniker, the club was almost exclusively dedicated to the pursuit of lawn tennis. The early tournaments were handled quite a bit differently than those of today; men’s singles was in fact, the only event on offer in the formative years. As the sport gained momentum and popularity, Ladies’ singles and doubles were added, along with men’s and mixed doubles. Interestingly, those that were lucky enough to be among the reigning champions of the club tournaments in the early days did not have to work their way up through the rounds of play as they have to today. Reigning champions played only in the final rounds of the tournament, against challenging players who had come up through the various rounds of play to make it into the final round.
The all England club has 19 grass courts that are used in tournament play, as well as another five red shale clay courts, three Continental clay courts, one American green clay court, five indoor courts, and an additional 22 grass courts used for practice sessions. The grass courts at the All England Club are one of the defining features of the Wimbledon experience, and nearly a ton of grass seed is used each and every year in maintaining these courts. Since 2001, the grass tournament courts at Wimbledon have been sown with 100% Perennial Ryegrass, though in the past, 30 percent of the court grass consisted of Red Fescue. The change was made in 2001 after research showed that making the switch to 100% Ryegrass would be the best way to preserve the durability and look of the courts without affecting the overall speed of the game. However, the bounce of a grass tennis court is largely determined by the underlying soil, as opposed to the type of grass. Therefore, the courts are regularly rolled to a flat surface, then covered and dried in order to preserve a consistent underlying soil structure.
At the epicentre of the club is Centre Court, which seats 15,000 and hosts all of the final matches for the men’s and womens’ singles, as well as the doubles tournaments. In 2009, a major renovation was undertaken in which the club had a retractable roof installed over Centre Court, which allows the roof to be closed (in about ten minutes or so) in the instance of inclement weather.
The club has a reputation for being steeped in tradition. Perhaps the most talked-about and public example of this is the frequently discussed topic of player dress code. It is well known that all players who are participating in a tournament at the All England Club are expected to wear all white. This is a point that is not negotiable with the club, as seven-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer found out the hard way this year. In his first that would put him in the running to become the record-breaking eight-time Wimbledon champion, Federer wore an all-white ensemble with small orange accents. However, the soles of his custom-made Nike shoes were a striking, bright-orange. In response, the All-England club asked Federer to change his shoes before he went on to play his second-round match of the tournament. He did as he was asked, and subsequently lost the match. Is this just a coincidence? Of course it is, but it illustrates the point that when it comes to tradition, it does not matter who you are at the All England Club; the rules apply to everyone.
In addition to Wimbledon and the club tournament season, the All England Club also boasts some offerings for the general public. Within the All England Club is a museum which takes visitors on a virtual tour of the history of the game of tennis, gives inside looks into certain inner sanctum areas where some of the greatest names in tennis have spent their time pre and post-match, and boasts a collection of memorabilia that many players have generously donated to the museum over the years. There is even a holographic version of former champion-turned-commentator John McEnroe who takes time out to “speak” to visitors at the McEnroe exhibit; McEnroe is celebrating his 36th year of association with Wimbledon and the All England Club this year.
The museum also hosts interactive exhibits, one of the most popular being the Centre Court 360 experience, where guests can experience a unique viewing experience of Centre Court. The museum hosts other rotating exhibits as well. Two of the most recent have been “Tennis at the Olympics” and “Tennis on the Riviera”.
In addition to the museum, the club also offers guided tours of the facilities, as well as educational outreach programmes for groups of all ages, from primary school-age children to university students and community learners. Potential visitors should be warned however, that space fills-up fast, and it is advisable to book ahead if you want to schedule a guided tour or an educational outreach day at the facility.
The historic British appeal of the All England club extends well beyond the excitement of the tennis season and ceremony of the Wimbledon tournament to include some wonderful attractions for people of all ages. If you are a fan of the game and are going to be visiting the London area, a trip to the All England Club should definitely appear on your “don’t miss” list of activities.