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Anyone for Tennis? 7 Wimbledon Questions Answered

The Championships, Wimbledon are in full swing at London's All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. In an article that we first ran last July, Ethan Trex answers a few questions about the world's oldest tennis championship.

How long has Wimbledon been around?
The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club hosted the first tournament in 1877. There was only a men's draw that year, and Spencer Gore bested a field of 22 players to win the first title. Two hundred spectators shelled out a shilling apiece to watch Gore triumph in the finals. In 1884 the tournament expanded to include men's doubles and ladies' singles. Maud Watson beat out twelve other women to claim the inaugural ladies' championship.

British players dominated Wimbledon early in its life; the first foreign champion didn't come along until American May Sutton won the ladies' championship in 1905. Since then, though, things haven't been quite so rosy. There hasn't been a British champion since Virginia Wade won the ladies' draw in 1977, and since then no other British player has even made the finals.

The professional tennis version Wimbledon that we know has really only been around since 1968, though, since the field was closed to professionals for 90 years. After decades of amateur competition, Wimbledon first allowed professional players in 1968, when Rod Laver and Billie Jean King won the singles' titles.

Why are the players wearing so much white?

Because they have to. The All England Club's dress code dictates that players have to wear predominantly white clothing throughout the tournament, a rule unique to the Wimbledon among its Grand Slam brethren. The rule has predictably been the cause for some consternation among players, notably a young Andre Agassi, who didn't like the suppression of his inimitable bright-colors-and-flowing-mullet style. Agassi went so far as to completely skip the tournament from 1988 to 1990, citing the dress code as part of his reason for anne-white.jpgstaying away, although pundits speculated his real hesitance had more to do with his game being ill-suited for grass courts.

Another dress code controversy sprung up last year when Tatiana Golovin took the court. Although her outfit was the prescribed white, she had on bright red underwear that showed on many shots. After a delay, the knickers were deemed short enough to be considered underwear and not part of her actual ensemble. American Anne White, on the other hand, didn't get so lucky at the 1985 Championships. She started a match in a stunning all-white lycra body suit. When the match was later stopped due to darkness, she was told to wear more appropriate threads for the next day; she lost the third set in her more traditional duds.

Who's been the most dominant at the Championships?
Hard to say for the gentlemen, although there are a lot of great choices. Roger Federer is gunning for his sixth title this year, which would put him one behind Pete Sampras' record of seven career Wimbledon championships. Like Federer, Bjorn Borg won five straight titles (1976-80), and William Renshaw won six (1881-86).

Things are a lot clearer on the ladies' side: Martina Navaratilova owned Wimbledon. Her nine singles titles are a record, as is her run of six straight between 1982 and 1987. Even more impressively, Navratilova added another seven ladies doubles titles and four mixed doubles titles. She was also ageless; her final mixed doubles title came in 2003, when she was 46 years old. Only Billie Jean King, who had six singles titles, 10 doubles titles, and four mixed wins can match Navratilova's 20 combined Wimbledon championships.

wimbledon-strawberries.jpgWhat should a spectator munch on?
Wimbledon's longtime favorite snack is strawberries and cream. In the tournament's early days, strawberries were a very limited seasonal item with availability that happened to coincide with annual tennis event. As the years passed, strawberries and cream became a treasured part of the fan experience. According to one estimate, each year tournament spectators chomp through 27,000 kilos of strawberries and 7,000 liters of cream. Like everything else at Wimbledon, the snack is steeped in tradition: according to the New York Times, the berries are of the Elsanta variety and are picked the day before they're served, and the accompanying cream must contain at least 48% butterfat.

What's the story on the trophies?
The men's trophy has been around since 1887; it's a silver gilt cup with pineapple on top. Its inscription isn't going to win any points for humility: "The All England Lawn Tennis Club Champion of the World." Each gentlemen's champion gets a 8-inch replica of the 18-inch trophy as a memento of his win.

The winner of the ladies' singles draw gets a sterling silver salver, or flat tray, that's known as the Venus Rosewater Dish. According to Wimbledon's website, the trophy, which has been awarded since 1886, depicts various scenes from mythology, including a large central figure of Temperance and an outer ring of Minerva overlooking the seven Liberal Arts. Ladies' champions receive a take-home replica of the Venus Rosewater Dish.

Of course, the champions don't just win this hardware; they also get cash. This year, both the singles champions will pick up 850,000 pounds for their efforts.

What are the words above the players' entrance to Centre Court?
Players take the court at the All England Club's most famous court beneath an excerpt from Rudyard Kipling's "If" that reads "If you can meet triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same"¦"

Do the players have to bow and curtsy to the Royal Box?
Not always. Until 2003, a rule required players to bow or curtsy to the royal family's box upon entering or leaving Centre Court. In 2003 the rule was modified so that players only had to bow or curtsy if the Queen or Prince Charles happened to be making an appearance in the box that day. That ruling effectively meant no bowing or curtsying; when the rule went into effect, the Queen and Prince Charles hadn't attended Wimbledon since 1977 and 1970, respectively. Interestingly, the rule was the brainchild of the president of the All England Club, who just happened to also be a member of the royal family, Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent.

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Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?
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Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.

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