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This most English tradition combines celebrities, fashion, and fancy drinks, but never veers from its purpose: tennis. Writer Cat Allen takes us to the stands and Centre Court.
Text by: Cat Allen
Country: England

oft thuds of officially weighted 2.10-ounce balls landing on brandished rackets, the respectfully hushed crowd and bowls upon bowls of cream-drenched strawberries can mean only one thing: England’s annual Wimbledon Tennis Championship.

Every summer, starting on the Monday falling between the 20th and 26th of June and lasting until mid-July, the world’s top tennis players and thousands of spectators swarm to one of London’s most famous boroughs.

Competition at Wimbledon is fierce. The objective is to find the year’s champions for the five main events: Men’s Singles, Ladies’ Singles, Men’s Doubles, Ladies’ Doubles and Mixed Doubles. With a combined prize pot of a staggering £25,000,000 (almost $40 million USD at time of writing), it is no surprise that hundreds of competitors travel from around the world. However, it is certainly not simply the financial gain that is the main draw; winning Wimbledon is a huge—often considered the biggest—accomplishment in the world of tennis. The tournament is not only the oldest of its kind, but it is also revered as the most exclusive. The winners don’t just receive the glory, the fame, the prize money, and the huge trophy—they also receive the highly prestigious title of Wimbledon Champion.

The annual competition is taken very seriously and is one of just four of its type worldwide. Wimbledon is the only remaining Grand Slam tournament to maintain the traditional use of grass lawns. With the courts still (largely) lacking in advertising and with the infrequent, yet possible, attendance of the Queen, players and spectators around the world have called Wimbledon one of a kind. Former World No.1 tennis pro Boris Becker was famously quoted as saying it is the “most important tournament of them all.”

During the two-week tournament, an impressive 660 matches are scheduled, played and won. Each match consists of points, games, and sets, carefully regulated by umpires, who ultimately have the final say in any disputes. A match is won when a player or a doubles team wins the majority of prescribed sets. Matches at Wimbledon are played with a best of three sets rule, apart from the Men’s Single and Men’s Double matches, which have the best of five sets rule. The losing player is referred to as “leaving” the tournament, and the winner of the match continues to the next round. The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, where Wimbledon always has been held, contains 19 courts. The Grand Finals, well-attended and broadcast worldwide, are played on the most important of the 19, Centre Court.

Centre Court can hold 15,000 spectators and has been home to dreams realised and hopes shattered since the first Championship in 1877. For those people not lucky enough to be in attendance courtside, or even to be within the grounds watching on one of the huge 40-square-meter screens, the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) has exclusive broadcasting rights, and last year’s Men’s final was viewed by 10 million people.

A recent addition to Centre Court is a huge retractable roof, not as some might think for shade, but to protect from the infamous inclement weather in England. Rain regularly disrupts play—the last time play ran through continuously was in 2010. For this reason, the new roof has been extremely popular in the last few years among spectators and players alike.

Possibly helped by the rain, Wimbledon is undoubtedly considered as an extremely important symbol of Englishness, the epitome of the country’s high society. Matches are regularly attended by celebrities as well as members of the royal family. The Queen, though, doesn’t attend annually, and she was last seen in the Royal Box in 2010. The crowd is usually dressed up to the nines in their finest garments, and often the event is as much about the fashion and who is sitting where and with whom, as about what is happening on the court. There are also various traditions such as delicious strawberries and cream sold by the bowl, champagne, and of course Pimms, a very English gin-based liqueur served with lemonade, oranges, mint, lemon and cucumber. The ultimate Wimbledon accessory: 230,000 glasses of the beverage were consumed during last year’s championship alone.

TeaTime chatted with a few Wimbledon fans, to ask them what keeps them going back every year, and why it is such a special event.

Kirsty, 28, from the south of England, has attended for the last three years. She loves how it is a chance to see Londoners actually talk to each other.

“I also go to experience that quintessential English feeling, and of course to drink Pimms and eat strawberries!” Last year she arrived with her boyfriend Gary at 7 a.m. to wait in line for tickets, and found there were already hundreds of people with the same idea. However, the festival atmosphere helped the hours fly by, and soon enough they were sitting on their blanket atop Henman Hill, the famous mound outside of Centre Court (originally named after Tim Henman, the 1996 No. 1 player within the UK.) The mound is now more often referred to as Murray’s Mound, after Andy Murray, the winner of 2013’s Wimbledon. It is the perfect location to watch the huge screens displaying the latest action. She says her favourite thing about Wimbledon is the “ball boys and girls. They are just hilarious to watch and should feature more on the BBC coverage!”

Two hundred and fifty ball girls and boys attend each year. Their fast reaction times to any stray balls are paramount in helping to speed up play, reducing inactive time during the matches. Their average age is just 15 years old, they have been used at Wimbledon since 1920, and they all work on a voluntary basis.

Wherever you watch Wimbledon, whether it be courtside or in your living room at home, we get the impression that the strawberry treats and the celebrity-spotting is just a bonus, and that Wimbledon really does preserve tennis as the main attraction. Once the umpire calls for quiet, the ball girls and boys are in place ready to collect, absolute silence resounds and the glasses of Pimms are forgotten. The only sounds throughout the matches are the balls connecting with rackets, the groans of exerted effort from the players, Slazenger tennis shoes moving on the 8-mm-long grass, and the crowd’s polite applause or shouted encouragement after a scored point or impressive rally. Then, as required by the umpire, silence returns. It is certainly a stark contrast from the stands 15 miles away at the Arsenal’s Emirates football stadium.

Wimbledon is not just the name of the Championship, it is in fact a lovely, leafy community located southwest of England’s capital city, London. Wimbledon consists of a town and a neighbouring village, with houses in the latter reaching up to £30 million! Found towards the end of the District Line on the London Tube, it is a popular and prestigious part of the city to reside in. It is no surprise then that this was the venue chosen for the tournament all those years ago.

We chatted to John, originally from Surrey, who has lived in Wimbledon Village for over 20 years. “My father would watch the Wimbledon Tennis Championship on TV every year, following his favorite players and shouting at the TV when he disagreed with a line call,” he recalls, when reminiscing about where his love for the tournament started. His interest in the game of tennis grew and led him to join one of the clubs in the village. He remembers how he had “always dreamt of going to the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club at Wimbledon to see the famous championship and to see close up the players I admired”.

This dream was realised, and his first live experience stays with him to this day, “I was overwhelmed by the size, spectacle, and grandeur of the event; on TV it looked small!” Many years later, he continues to attend yearly and loves seeing his little village so full of people from around the world, “it feels like a holiday atmosphere”. When asked about the best tennis highlight, John doesn’t hesitate to recall when he was given tickets to 2010’s Wimbledon Final, which he attended with his Dad. Sitting in Centre Court, “the excitement was overwhelming” and it certainly helped having some of the best seats in the house. “We were sitting so close to the players, you could see the look on their faces”.

So, if tennis, sporting events, pure English tradition, strawberries, champagne, or indeed all of the above sound appealing to you, the next time you are in England during Wimbledon season, grab a blanket, jump on the tube, be prepared to queue for a few hours, but then prepare yourself to watch the balls fly by and soak up the atmosphere. On all accounts, it sounds well worth the wait.

Wimbledon Top facts

Favorite Places to Visit and Things to Do:

● The other Grand Slam tournaments are the Australian Open, U.S. Open, and French Open.
● Wimbledon is known for its strict rules, with an ‘all white’ uniform rule being introduced in 1963, revised to the ‘nearly all white’ rule in 1995.
● Fifteen thousand bananas are consumed by players ever year.
● There can be 38,500 spectators within the grounds at any one time.
● At last year’s Wimbledon, 142,000 portions of strawberries and cream were served.
● The longest ever match played was in 2010, played on Court 18, and lasted for three days.
● The fastest men’s serve ever came from Taylor Dent in 2010, with an incredible 148 mph. The women’s fastest was Venus Williams in 2008 with an equally impressive 129 mph.
● An incredible 54,250 tennis balls are used throughout each Championship.



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The Wonders of Wimbledon

England’s annual Wimbledon Tennis Championship is a very English tradition that combines celebrities, fashion, and fancy drinks. While you enjoy the tennis matches, you can indulge in bowls of strawberries drenched in cream and delicious champagne!

Every summer, from mid-June to mid-July, the world’s top tennis players and thousands of spectators swarm to one of London’s most famous boroughs. Wimbledon is not just the name of the championship, it is the name of a lovely community in the southwest of London. It is a popular and prestigious part of the city to live in.

The annual competition is very serious and is one of only four such competitions worldwide. According to former World No. 1 tennis pro, Boris Becker, it is the most important tournament of them all.

The tournament is held at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, which has 19 tennis courts. During the two-week tournament, 660 matches are played and won. Each match consists of points, games, and sets, carefully regulated by umpires, who settle any disputes. The Grand Finals are always well-attended and played on the most important of the 19 courts, Centre Court. They are also broadcast worldwide by the BBC.

So, if you enjoy tennis, strawberries, champagne, and pure English tradition, next time you are in England during Wimbledon season, you might try to watch a game or two.

 

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The Wonders of Wimbledon

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The Wonders of Wimbledon

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