British Tennis: it’s Wimbledon’s Grass or Nothing!


Le tournoi de tennis le plus prestigieux au monde, celui de Wimbledon, vient de prendre fin. L’occasion de revenir sur l’histoire de ce qui est devenu une institution. Situé dans le quartier éponyme de Londres, le troisième grand chelem de l’année a offert au public la quintessence du tennis mondial, dans un environnement qui entretient des traditions «british». 


 From the birth of tennis to Wimbledon’s establishment: an English legacy


Tennis is an English adaptation of a French game called “jeu de paume”. The first throw-in being made in fifteen steps, then thirty, then forty, which how the particular way of counting points in modern tennis originated. Following the battle of Azincourt (1415), the duke of Orléans was imprisoned for two decades in England. On the occasion of his captivity to Wingfield in the county of Norfolk, the duke introduced real tennis in England which he practiced almost daily.

Tennis was born between 1858 and 1870, more than four centuries later. Tennis in England is also called Lawn Tennis (tennis on grass) as opposed to “Real tennis”  (jeu de paume). The word “tennis” comes from the old French word “hold” (“tenez”), which one used to say to his (her) opponent at serving time. The word, deformed in average English “tenetz “, “teneys ” or ” tenes”, eventually became “tennis”. It seems also that the first tennis tournament took place in August, 1876 on a court fitted out on Mister William Appleton’s property to Nahant in the Massachusetts and taken away by James Dwight. The Wimbledon Tournament followed  in 1877. It is thus the oldest still existing tournament.

Wimbledon and its originalities: a timeless tournament

The oldest tennis tournament in the world, Wimbledon has several specificities which distinguish it from other tennis tournaments. Among these the obligation for the players to play in mainly white clothes. Another tradition of the tournament is “Sunday Off”: there is no game the first Sunday of the tournament. The reason for this suspension of activities is an old agreement between the organizers and the inhabitants of the neighbourhood. The suspension of all activities allows people to enjoy a «day without crowds, traffic jams and so on to relax».

Wimb3The Center court is the only court that contains a royal box to welcome the members of the royal family and their guests during the matches (since 1922). Until 2003, the players necessarily had to bow in front of the box after they enter the court in case a member of the royal family was present. However, since 2003, this obligation has been deemed anachronistic, except if the Monarch or the Prince of Wales is in the box. Queen Elizabeth’s last visit happened in 2010.

The near total absence of advertising within the various courts is also another specificity of the tournament (there is only Slazenger for balls and Rolex for time technology).

Wimb5Strawberries and cream are another symbol of the tournament and are massively consumed by the spectators. According to some sources, this tradition was introduced by King George V, for others, it started in 1877. In the last few years, about 28 tons of strawberries and 7,000 liters of cream were consumed during the thirteen days of each tournament.

Some traditions or specificities have not survived time. Until 2009, the name of female players on the board was preceded by the mention “Miss” or “Mrs”. The name of the male players, however,  was not preceded by the mention “Mr.”.  To end what was gradually regarded as a form of discrimination, this tradition was changed: since 2009, only the first name and the name of the players have appeared on the board. However, the umpire still uses the names “Mr, Miss, Mrs” when he or she announces the name of the player or the player who asks for video refereeing.


Today, Wimbledon appears as a tournament which allies history and modernity. The tournament started welcoming women athletes as early as in 1884. It has known how to keep its own specificities while innovating: its retractable roof makes it possible to cover the center court in case of bad weather. So, the lawn was adapted to modern tennis and the new forms of tennis because in 2001, the composition of the lawn was modified to reduce the difference with other surfaces. More than a grand slam, the tournament is a symbol all around the world!

This year, Serbian player Novak Djokovic, currently ranked World number one, defeated seven- time-winner Roger Federer in the tournament’s final. Czech player Petra Kvitová, who won the women’s title this year, reached her career-high ranking of world number 2 in October 2011, when she won Wimbledon for the first time (and thus became the first Grand Slam winner born in the 1990s).


Oussama BEN DHIAB & Clément MYROPE


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