The top ranking that the English have assigned themselves stems from a historical event. In fact, the Wimbledon tournament and the birth of tennis are two stories that became intertwined in 1877. This was precisely the year when the All England Lawn Croquet Club took possession of the lapsed patent for the game of tennis, purchased it, changed its rules to define the theoretical and practical limits of modern tennis and turned the name of its own grounds to the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club — the current facility hosting Wimbledon. The site of the prestigious tournament is the only one that has not felt the need to link its name to a legendary personality such as the French aviator Roland Garros or the complex hosting the U.S. Open, Flushing Meadows Park.
Wimbledon is the only tournament that cocks a snook at unrelenting technological progress. With its lawned surface, kept rigorously to a height of 8mm, the Championships are the only Grand Slam event on grass. And if you are as meticulous as an Englishman, try writing to the Twitter account of the head groundsman: 140 characters texted to @Wimbledon Guardian and all your curiosity will be satisfied. So much tradition, but tradition immersed in a path marked by innovation.
In fact, it was at Wimbledon that Spencer Gore, the tournament’s first winner, invented the volley in 1877. The way he played at the net was so completely unknown that a committee had to meet to give its final approval to the victory.
But history can equally play tricks: a year later the American Frank Hadow exhibited the lob against Gore, a venomous shot hit high over the opponent’s head.
The American champion Jimmy Connors gave an insightful description of the atmosphere at Wimbledon: “New Yorkers love it when you spill your guts out there. Spill your guts at Wimbledon and they make you stop and clean it up. An obsession with cleanliness reflected in the rigid dress-code in vogue both amongst spectators and on the court. Just try ignoring the all-white rule as his majesty Roger Federer did when he went on court with his orange-soled shoes and even
you could receive a warning from the umpire. But despite its rigour, Wimbledon can also be gentle. In fact, if you happen to attend a match, you could taste the famous strawberries and cream (accompanied by a glass of Pimm’s) that have made the tournament what it is. Or, you could kill time by enjoying an italian espresso, now routinely available on the stands. But woe betide if you want to immortalise the moment with a selfie stick: these are banned from the stands!
that’s what strikes you
After years of history and tradition, it is still difficult to accurately describe the atmosphere of such a unique tournament.
Perhaps the words of the Spanish champion, Rafa Nadal, can help us really understand the Grand Slam’s most prestigious tournament: “The silence, that’s what strikes you. The trimmed grass, the rich history, the players dressed in white, the respectful crowds, the venerable tradition — not a billboard advertising in view — all combine to enclose and cushion you from the outside world”.