(1) 1877
Wimbledon and how it all began

Version française - French version
French translation

Next story :The early years of the Men's French 
Championship: 1891-1914

It was in 1874 that a certain Major Wingfield took out a patent for " a new portable court for playing the ancient game of handball". Tennis had been born. The game came in a box complete with rackets, balls, net and posts. One now only needed a suitably prepared flat lawn.

The success of the game was immediate and widespread. The first competition to be organised was in 1877 at Wimbledon by the "All England Croquet Club". The name of this club was quickly changed to the "All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club", an organisation which still exists and is based in Worple Road, Wimbledon, a suburb of London. There were 22 participants to the competition in the first year. This increased to 34 the year after and then 45 by 1879. What was initially a tournament for men's singles only, was extended to men's doubles in 1879 and to women's singles in 1884.

Three pictures of Wimbledon in the early days
It is from these early years of competition in what was to become known as the home of tennis, that we find the names of the first great stategists of the game:
Gore, who was the very first champion in 1877, won the title through his decisive volleying of the ball. Much to the surprise of his opponents, he often managed to pass his racket over the net to play the ball before it had crossed. Hadow, his successor in 1878, won by his invention of the lob which he used to counter Gore's aggressive volleying.

Ernest Renshaw
Tobacco card, 1928
William Renshaw was the inventor of the smash. He took the title seven times during the eighteen eighties and the doubles title a further seven times with his twin brother Ernest! The Renshaw brothers travelled regularly to the Cote d'Azur in the south of France where they inaugurated the first tennis courts at Cannes in 1885.

Lawford, the eternal rival of the Renshaw brothers, always deemed that a good base line player would always succeed over a volleyer of the ball such as William Renshaw. This same debate continues on today some 120 years later!
Tennis spread quickly beyond the borders of England. In 1881, the Americans opened their own tournament at Niewport Casino. The French opened theirs in 1891 followed by the Australians in 1905. The game had rapidly gained recognition as a universal sport and was part of the first Olympic Games of 1896. It remained part of the Games until 1924.
International fixtures were few and far between prior to  the beginning of the twentieth century. It was from the very outset of this new century, however, in 1900, that a young American student, Dwight Davis, threw down the gauntlet to the English. He set down the rules for a competition among teams of players from different lands. To win, intrepid teams of tennis men had to undertake long journeys across the oceans of the world. The USA Lawn Tennis Association registered and agreed the conditions for the competition with the Lawn Tennis Association in London. Dwight then pitched a team of the best American players against an equivalent British team in a series of games including both singles and doubles matches. The winners, who were of course Dwight’s compatriots, picked up a cup that gained fame almost over-night and became known as the “Davis Cup”. The competition immediately allowed national champions to prove themselves on the international stage. 

Wimbledon : Single men final 1892

The Australian Norman Brookes, for example, took the title at Wimbledon in 1907, bringing to a close the reign of the Doherty brothers. Whilst in Europe, the Australian national team also won the Davis Cup. It was the end of an era. The birth of international tennis was upon us. It was also in the same year of 1907 that Wimbledon welcomed a member of the Royal Family for the first time. This was the future King George V.
While the Davis Cup was coming of age, Wimbledon had already established itself as the most prestigious tournament on grass. It was now known as the “World Lawn Tennis Championship”. Brookes had opened the road for others to follow. Only two English players were to subsequently prove dominant at their home championship since this time: Arthur Gore (1908-09) and Fred Perry (1934-36).

Final between the Renshaw twins. They met three times at this stage of the
competition : 1882, 83 et 89. William win all three finals!

    H.Lawford (1887)

Next story : The early years of the Men's French Championship: 1891-1914

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Mars 2000.