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Tradition reigns at Wimbledon 140 years after the tennis tournament began

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 29-06-2017 Fred Bowen
Wimbledon is the world’s oldest tennis tournament, dating to 1877. René Lacoste won the men’s title in 1928. Male competitors typically wore long pants in those days. © AP Wimbledon is the world’s oldest tennis tournament, dating to 1877. René Lacoste won the men’s title in 1928. Male competitors typically wore long pants in those days.

Wimbledon is the most famous tennis tournament in the world. The best male and female players will gather at the All-England Club near London on Monday for the 2017 championships.

Wimbledon is also the world’s oldest tennis tournament, so it has a long history. Let’s look at some of it.

Wimbledon in numbers (Photos)

The Wimbledon Championships in numbers

Wimbledon was originally a private club for rich folks in England who used the club’s smooth green lawns for another game: croquet. In the 1870s, however, a new game called lawn tennis became popular, so the club added grass tennis courts.

In 1877, Wimbledon held its first championship, but only for men. Twenty-two players competed for the men’s singles title. Spencer William Gore beat William Marshall in the final, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, in 48 minutes. Two hundred spectators paid a shilling (about $5.50 in today’s money) to see the match.

Wimbledon held its first women’s championship in 1884. Out of 13 entrants, Maud Watson emerged as the champion, beating her sister Lilian in the finals.

Spain’s Lili de Alvarez, left, and Germany’s Cilly Aussem, who competed in 1928, wore hats and white dresses instead of the shorts and skirts seen at Wimbledon today. © AP Spain’s Lili de Alvarez, left, and Germany’s Cilly Aussem, who competed in 1928, wore hats and white dresses instead of the shorts and skirts seen at Wimbledon today.

For many years, the men did not play in shorts and short-sleeved shirts. They played in long-sleeved white shirts and long white pants. The women wore hats and white dresses instead of the shorts and skirts of today.

The early players were all from England. The first foreign player to win at Wimbledon was an American woman, May Sutton, in 1905.

Another thing that was different about those early Wimbledon championships: All the players were amateurs. No one received prize money from the club.

Wimbledon finally allowed professional tennis players to compete in 1968. The first men’s singles champion during what has been called the “open era” received 2,000 pounds (worth a little more than $40,000 today) while the first women’s champion received 750 pounds (about $15,200).

That’s right: The men’s champion got more money than the women’s champion. That didn’t change until 2007. Now, the men and the women receive the same prize money — and a lot more of it. Each singles champion this year will take home about $2.8 million.

Some other things have changed over the years. There are more players — the men’s and women’s singles fields have 128 players each — and they come from more countries. There are also championships for players ages 14 though 18. Tickets cost a lot more than a shilling, and the matches are televised to an estimated 1 billion people worldwide.

But some traditions still hold at Wimbledon. The matches are played on grass at the same club where it all started, and the players must wear white or mostly white clothes when they play.

Serena Williams competes during the 2016 Wimbledon women’s singles, which she went on to win. © Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images Serena Williams competes during the 2016 Wimbledon women’s singles, which she went on to win.

It is still Wimbledon — the most famous tennis tournament of all.

Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 22 sports books for kids. His latest book — “Outside Shot” — was published in March.

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