I love the smell of fresh-cut grass in the morning, but I hate seeing my favorite professional tennis players slipping and falling-down on the grass courts at Wimbledon.

When did Championships Wimbledon start, and why on grass?

The original name of the "club" where it was played and some history might explain.

The very first Wimbledon tournament was played in front of 200 spectators at the prestigious All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club in July, 1877. For all you younger readers, croquet was a game using mallets to drive wooden balls through a series wickets (or gates) set out on a lawn. Your grandparents played it at summer family gatherings, you really must buy a set and try it!

Gentlemen’s singles was the only event for the first, and for the next several, years. A field of 22 players competed, with the winner, Spencer William Gore, collecting 12 guineas (a British coin no longer in use) plus a silver trophy cup. Ladies singles competition was added in 1884.

The tournament turned professional in 1968, with prize money of 2,000 British pounds going to the gentlemen’s singles winner, and 750 British pounds to the ladies singles winner. (1.00 GBP currently = $1.64 USD).

Prize money has steadily increased over the years, and this year, it's now an equal pay tournament with a whopping $2.9 million going to both the gentleman’s and the ladies singles champions.

The global popularity of this sporting event is also part of the problem for the grass courts, because so many folks want to see it, live, in person.

The grass on center court is meticulously grown and groomed all year long, for play only during the two weeks of the tournament. Thankfully, center court, with seating for 15,000, now has a retractable roof to keep out rain during play.

The courts are beautiful and fresh (sometimes slippery) for the players at the start of the tournament, but they quickly degrade, and, by the finals, the surface on center court usually resembles a dirt baseball field around the baselines.

Players can move more aggressively as the grass wears away, but they very often lose their footing when they have to move forward into the court where the grass has survived. What to do?

I would suggest a change to hard courts, but if they insist on keeping the tournament on grass, I would like to to see them add many more courts (and another stadium or two) and save center court for the semi-finals and finals only. This would prevent the excessive wear and provide the late-round players with a more uniform playing surface.

Incidentally, the U.S. Open was originally played on grass before it switched to clay, and then to hard courts. Jimmy Connors is the only player to win the U.S. Open on all three surfaces.

Only about 200 spectators watched the very first Wimbledon, but now more than 20 million are expected to be watching the finals. Worldwide, total viewership of this tournament ranks in the top five, along with the Olympics and the Tour de France.

Some other interesting facts about Wimbledon:

  • Perennial rye grass is the species of choice. It's trimmed to about a 1/4 inch daily during the tournament.
  • Before it was televised, the tennis balls used were white in color.
  • Harris hawks are used to deter pigeons from getting in the way.
  • The main draws starts with 128 singles players.
  • The longest tennis match ever played was 11 hours long, and happened here, in 2010.
  • The last American men's player to win singles was Pete Sampras in 2000.
  • The last American ladies singles player to win was Serena Williams in 2016. (Williams was also the runner-up in last year's singles final, losing to Germany's Angelique Kerber.)

Thinking about throwing a Wimbledon theme party this year? Here are a few ideas:

Cut your front lawn extra short and decorate your mailbox with tennis balls so your guests can easily find your house when they arrive. Only white clothing for players is another Wimbledon tradition, so you could require your guests to wear white to your breakfast at Wimbledon party.

Along with proper attire, Wimbledon officials expect proper etiquette, so in your invitations, you could also mention that guests will be required to bow or curtsy when they arrive.

Coach Brian Walters is a certified tennis instructor with 25 years of experience based in the Lake Minnetonka area. He blogs and offers free tennis tips on his website www.target-tennis.com. You can also reach him at info@HitTheYellowBall.com.


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