Every year in June and July, thousands of people visit a small corner of South West London for the world’s oldest and one of the most famous tennis tournaments: Wimbledon. Considered the most prestigious of the Grand Slam tournaments, the All England Tennis Club first held the All England Lawn Tennis Championship in 1877, and from its humble beginnings with just 200 spectators, the tournament today is world-famous and crowds flock to it.
A very British tradition
The British are very proud of Wimbledon, and the event reveals other British characteristics: our love of an underdog, and the yearly hope that someone British will actually win the competition. Before Andy Murray’s win in 2013, the last British mens singles champion was Fred Perry in 1936 and the last British woman to win a singles trophy was Virginia Wade in 1977. That doesn’t stop the nation convincing itself each year there will be a British winner at the end of the tournament!
Wimbledon is full of traditions, as you would expect from a tournament that is so old. It is the only Grand Slam contest that has royal patronage and is still played on grass courts. Players must adhere to a strict dress code of white outfits: the ‘predominantly in white’ rule was introduced in 1963 and became ‘almost entirely in white’ in 1995 (off-white and cream are not allowed!). While there is not an official dress code for spectators, torn jeans, sports shorts, running vests and dirty training shoes are not allowed.
Strawberries and cream
Another famous tradition is to eat strawberries and cream whilst at Wimbledon and spectators eat a lot of them! About 28,000 kilograms of Grade One Kent strawberries are eaten during the championship; that’s about 8,615 servings each day, served with 7,000 litres of fresh cream.
New balls, please
As befits the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament, the Wimbledon tennis balls are treated with huge care. Over 50,000 balls will be used throughout the tournament, and all of them are stored at precisely 68 degrees Fahrenheit to achieve the right bounce.
Other fun facts
Every day at 9am, Finnegan the falcon flies around the grounds for an hour to ensure that the local pigeon population doesn’t spoil the fun and mess the courts.
Twenty-two lawn mowers and a team of 28 gardeners ensure that the grass is kept to exactly 8mm in length, and 6,000 people are hired each year to ensure the championship runs smoothly.
The ball boys and girls are pupils from local schools who have been recommended by their headteacher. Ball boys and girls must undergo a series of written and fitness tests before they are accepted.
In 1997, the organisers put a big screen on Aorangi Terrace, a grass hill within the grounds of Wimbledon, and a new tradition was born when people who didn’t have tickets for actual matches in the contest could sit and watch the action on the big screen. The hill quickly became known as Henman Hill (named after a popular English player of the time), and it has become one of the most popular aspects of the contest. Today it is possible to buy a cheap £10 ticket and sit on the hill (these days called Murray Mound) and enjoy watching the matches.
Wimbledon only lasts a fortnight but it is a fortnight packed with traditions and clues to the psyche of the British nation. If you’re lucky enough to be in London when the competition is on, get a cheap ticket, join the crowds on Murray Mound, enjoy the atmosphere and eat your fill of strawberries and!
Prestigious: having a high status
Underdog: a competitor thought to have little chance of winning
Patronage: support given by a person
Strict: demanding that rules are obeyed
Lawn mower: a machine for cutting grass
Fortnight: two weeks
Psyche: the soul, mind or spirit
This blog has been written at level C1. Practise your reading and listening by reading the blogs below.
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