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Wimbledon traditions: longstanding, amended and one of the worst

Wimbledon traditions: longstanding, amended and one of the worst

The Championships, Wimbledon, or simply Wimbledon, is the oldest tennis tournament in the world and is generally considered the most prestigious. It has been held at the All England Club in the London suburb of Wimbledon since 1877, and is the only one still played on a natural surface, grass.

Tradition is a very strong part of Wimbledon which accounts for a lot of the tournament's charm. Sadly some of the traditions have been amended to accommodate an ever-changing world, but most still remain in place 130 years later.

Wimbledon traditions include club colors and uniforms, a strict dress code for competitors, ball boys and girls, the eating of strawberries and cream, referring to players and royal patronage.

In 2009, Wimbledon's Centre Court was fitted with a retractable roof to ensure against the possibility of rain delays interrupting Centre Court matches during the tournament. The roof is just the latest example of adapting to a changing tennis world while preserving the traditional foundations upon which the tournament is based.

Club colors and uniforms

As far back as 1909 the All England Club embraced the colors of green and purple as the club colors.  Green clothing was worn by the chair umpire, linesmen, ball boys and ball girls until the 2005 Championships; however, beginning with the 2006 Championships, officials, ball boys and ball girls were outfitted in new navy blue and cream colored uniforms from American designer Ralph Lauren.  For the first time, in 2006, all officials were dressed in navy blue and cream uniforms.  This marked the first time in the history of the Championships that an outside company was used to design Wimbledon clothing. 

Competitor Dress Code

Competitors are still expected to adhere to the 'all-white' dress code imposed upon the championships since the first tournament in 1877.   All tennis players participating in the tournament are required to wear all white or at least almost all white clothing, a long time tradition at Wimbledon. Wearing white clothing with some color accents is also acceptable. 

Historically 1920 was the first year in which a woman played without wearing a corset, and it took until the 1930s until shorts were acceptable on either men (in 1933) or women (in 1939).

Ball boys and ball girls

In the championship games, ball boys and girls, known as BBGs, play a crucial role in the smooth running of the tournament, with a brief that a good BBG "should not be seen. They should blend into the background and get on with their jobs quietly." From 1947 ball boys were supplied by Goldings, the only Barnardos school to provide them. Previous to this, from the 1920s onwards, the ball boys had been provided by The Shaftsbury Children's Home. Since 1969, BBGs have been provided by local schools. BBGs have an average age of 15, being drawn from the school years nine and ten. BBGs will serve for one, or if re-selected, two tournaments.

Typically, BBGs work in crews of six, 2 at the net, 4 at the corners, and crews rotate one hour on court, one hour off, (two hours depending on the court) for the day's play. Crews are not told which court they will be working on the day, to ensure the same standards across all courts. With the expansion of the number of courts, and lengthening the tennis day, as of 2008, the number of BBGs required was around 250. BBG service is seen as a privilege but it is also paid, with a total of £120-£160 being paid to each ballboy/girl after the 13-day period. BBG places are split 50:50 between boys and girls, with girls having been used since 1977, appearing on centre court since 1985.

Prospective BBGs are first nominated by their school head teacher, to be considered for selection. To be selected, a candidate must pass written tests on the rules of tennis, and pass fitness, mobility and other suitability tests, against initial preliminary instruction material. Successful candidates then commence a training phase, starting in February, in which the final BBGs are chosen through continual assessment. The training includes weekly sessions of physical, procedural and theoretical instruction, to ensure that the BBGs are fast, alert, self confident and adaptable to situations. 

Strawberries and cream

The longstanding Wimbledon tradition of eating strawberries and cream is also widely loved: in one recent year, spectators consumed 59,000 pounds of strawberries and nearly 2,000 gallons of cream.

Referring to players

Unlike other tournaments, Wimbledon still employs old world charm, and the men's and women's events are known as 'gentlemen's' and 'ladies' events. Prior to 2009 female players were referred to by the title "Miss" or "Mrs." on scoreboards. In the past married women tennis players were referred to by their husband's name, but thankfully this little bit of patriarchy has been changed. For the first time during the 2009 tournament, players were referred on scoreboards by both their first and last names. For example "Andy Murray" and not "A. Murray".

When addressing the ladies during matches they are still referred to as 'Miss' or 'Mrs.', yet no man is ever referred to by his title, 'Mr.'. The title "Mr." is not used for male players who are professionals on scoreboards but the prefix is retained for amateurs, although chair umpires refer to players as "Mr." when they use the replay challenge.

If a match is being played with two competitors of the same surname (e.g. Venus and Serena Williams, Bob and Mike Bryan), the chair umpire will specify whom they are referring to by stating the player's first name and surname during announcements (e.g. "Game, Serena Williams", "Advantage, Mike Bryan").

Royal family and bowing or curtsying

The royal family has, over the years, been an ardent supporter of the Wimbledon Championships. The late Princess Diana was often seen in the Royal box witnessing the battles below with keen interest. The Queen is currently patron of the All England Club and the Duke of Kent is presiding president. Previously, players bowed or curtsied to members of the Royal Family seated in the Royal Box upon entering or leaving Centre Court. In 2003, however, the President of the All England Club, HRH The Duke of Kent, decided to discontinue the tradition. Now, players are required to bow or curtsy only if the Queen or the Prince of Wales is present.

New tradition: retractable roof

Wimbledon weather is traditionally fickle so it could be sunny in the morning and then in the afternoon enough showers to interrupt play. Embedded in the long train of traditions at Wimbledon is the ability to change and adapt to the times, and a big change this year is a retractable roof on center court.

Ian Ritchie, who is the chief executive of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, says the roof will be a big plus for the championships once those inevitable rain drops start to appear.

Yellow tennis balls

Until 1986, Wimbledon refused to use yellow tennis balls, which are more easily captured by television cameras. Prior to 1986, Wimbledon used the traditional white tennis ball.

Television coverage

For over 60 years, the BBC has broadcast the tournament on television in the UK, splitting time for the many matches it covers between its two main terrestrial channels, BBC One and BBC Two. The BBC holds the broadcast rights for Wimbledon until 2014 and it distributes its commercial-free feed to outlets worldwide. The Wimbledon Finals are obliged to be shown live and in full on terrestrial television (BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5) by government mandate.

Americans have made a tradition of NBC's "Breakfast at Wimbledon" specials on the weekends, where live coverage starts early in the morning (the US being a minimum of 5 hours behind the UK) and continues well into the afternoon.

Wimbledon was also involved, unintentionally, in a piece of television history, on July 1, 1967, when the first official color broadcast took place in the UK.


The majority of centre and show court tickets sold to the general public are made available by a public ballot that the All England Club holds at the start of the year. A ballot for tickets has been held since 1924. Successful applicants are selected at random by a computer.

The All England Club, through its subsidiary The All England Lawn Tennis Ground plc, issues debentures to tennis fans every five years to raise funds for capital expenditure. Fans who invest in the club receive a pair of tickets for every day of the Wimbledon Championships for the five years the investment lasts. Only debenture holders are permitted to sell on their tickets to third parties. In 2007 a group of debenture holders in the All England Club created the first website allowing debenture holders to sell tickets directly to members of the public. The new website allows debenture holders to sell their own tickets without paying a middle man, thus making the tickets themselves considerably cheaper for consumers.

Wimbledon is the only grand slam where fans without tickets for play can queue up and still get seats on Centre Court, Court 1 and Court 2. Beginning in 2008, there is a single queue, allotted about 500 seats for each court. When they join the queue, fans are handed vouchers with a number on it and the following morning when the line moves towards the Grounds, stewards come through the line and hand out wristbands color-coded to the specific court. The voucher is then redeemed at the ticket office for the ticket.

To get into the show courts, fans will normally have to queue overnight at Wimbledon. This is done by fans from all over the world and is considered part of the Wimbledon experience in itself. Those planning to queue overnight are advised to bring a tent and sleeping bag. Times to queue up vary according to the weather, but anyone queueing up before 9PM on a weekday should be able to get a show court ticket. Queuing for the show courts ends after the quarter finals have been completed.

Middle Sunday: Wimbledon's Worst Tradition

There is a long Wimbledon tradition in which there is no play on the middle Sunday of the tournament so tennis fans will have to sit and watch the grass grow, or watch repeats of previously played matches. Middle Sunday is considered a day of rest for the Wimbledon players, but for sports fans around the world who like to spend their day of rest watching sports on TV, they cannot enjoy any live Wimbledon tennis. 

Sources:  Smithsonian Magazine, Voice of America, Wikipedia, Wimbledon

Posted by Amanda, in General.

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