The successful recipe that is Wimbledon has a number of key ingredients.Its traditions, its international renown, the quality of its administration, the pristine standard of its grass courts, even its strawberries and cream all combine to make it the premier tournament in the world.To this mix, however, has to be added the quality of the players who have graced its courts over the decades.It is the veritable Mecca of the game and of all the Grand Slam events, the one most revered by competitors and fans.
The first Championships were played in 1877, the All-England Club itself having been founded nine years earlier in 1868.A relatively sedate affair in those early days, tennis was played by ‘ladies’ and ‘gentlemen’, always amateur, for whom being seen to want to win was considered vaguely unseemly.Fashions of long trousers and long dresses for the ladies aptly reflected the game’s Victorian traditions.
From the beginning, Wimbledon was, at least informally, the world’s premier event, in a world where tennis was only beginning to take hold. In that era, there were a number of multiple winners of the singles’ events.In the men’s, it was William Renshaw (7), the Doherty brothers (9 combined) and Anthony Wilding (4).Among the women, the multiple winners were Misses Dodd, Sterry, Hillyard and Lambert Chambers – the stars of their era.
Tennis began to change after the First World War with new post-war societal attitudes, the Roaring Twenties and the arrival of a crop of Americans and Australians who did not always share the traditional, sedate attitudes towards the game.While maintaining respect for its own traditions, Wimbledon also saw the need to move with the changing times.
In the 1920s, Wimbledon saw many great champions.Chief among these was the great American, Bill Tilden who dominated the decade.Also strong were the French ‘Four Musketeers’, Cochet, Lacoste, Borotra and Brugnon.In the women’s game, the 1920s was also the era of the great Frenchwoman, Suzanne Lenglen, again dominant for most of that period.
The 1930s ushered in a new era of players which included the great Americans, Don Budge, Ellsworth Vines and Adrian Quist, the great British champion, Fred Perry and his compatriot Bunny Austin and the German aristocrat, Gottfried von Cramm.Budge, one of only three holders of the coveted One-Year Grand Slam (the others being Rod Laver and Roger Federer), won the Wimbledon singles twice (in 1937 and 1938).A great champion, many have mused on the possibilities had Budge’s career not been foreshortened by the intervention of the war.
In the women’s game, the era of Lenglen made way for another woman, Helen Wills-Moody who was herself to become the dominant woman player of the late 1920s /early 1930s. Reflecting her dominance, between 1927 and 1938, she won eight Wimbledon singles titles.Other notable women players at Wimbledon at that time were Helen Jacobs, Dorothy Round and Alice Marble.
World War Two marked another watershed in the game (Wimbledon was not played during the war years), with a new crop of players, many of them American, arriving on the scene.Chief among these were Jack Kramer (the ‘father’ of professional tennis), Pancho Gonzales, Tom Brown , Ted Schroeder, Frank Parker, Bob Falkenberg, Vic Seixas and Tony Trabert.The Australians Frank Sedgman, Ken McGregor and John Bromwich also shone at Wimbledon in those years.Among the women, the notable players were Maureen, ‘Little Mo’ Connolly, Louise Brough, Margaret Du Pont, Althea Gibson and Doris Hart.
In the mid 1950s, two young, energetic Australians hit the scene in the form of Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall, the former winning Wimbledon twice and the latter (thought to be the greatest player never to have won Wimbledon) appearing in four finals in the period 1954-1974.The 1950s were interesting in being a decade in which no individual man or woman dominated Wimbledon in the way some had before or have since.
The 1960s was the era of the Australian at Wimbledon.Rod Laver won the Men’s singles in 1961, 1962, 1968 and 1969, his Wimbledon career interrupted by his pro career.Australians also won the men’s in 1960, 1964, 1965, 1967, 1970 and 1971 – a total of 9 out of 11 years.Roy Emerson also amassed an impressive total of Wimbledon doubles titles during this period which also featured fellow Aussies, John Newcome, Tony Roche, Fred Stolle and Rosewall.Among the women, Margaret Court dominated Wimbledon for the early 1960s, closely followed by the young American, Billie-Jean King.Both players were to go on to amass an impressive list of titles at Wimbledon in singles, doubles and mixed.
Newcome, the Australian, Stan Smith, the American and Romanian, Ilie Nastase were the masters of Wimbledon of the early 1970s.Then along came a new crew of youngsters in the shape of Jimmy Connors (who won his first Wimbledon in 1974), Bjorn Borg (5-time winner) and John McEnroe (3-time winner).McEnroe also managed an impressive haul of Wimbledon doubles’ titles, in combination with Peter Fleming, to add to his singles’ wins.
Running in parallel with the men of the 70s, were the outstanding women’s talents of Billie-Jean King, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Evonne Goolagong, all of whom registered impressive wins at Wimbledon in the 1970s and 1980s.Navratilova holds the record of most titles in the Ladies’ Singles in the Open era with nine, one ahead of Wills-Moody who holds the record of eight in the amateur era.To that are added her impressive tally of doubles and mixed titles.
The early 1980s were marked by the titanic struggles between McEnroe, Borg, Connors and Lendl, only Lendl of the four unsuccessful at winning a Wimbledon title.Later in the decade, the event was dominated by Boris Becker, Pat Cash and Stefan Edberg .Doubles also produced multiple title winners in the shape of the ‘Two Macs’, Peter McNamara and Paul McNamee of Australia.
In the women’s singles, Navratilova and Evert were the star players early in the decade, but in the second half of the 1980s, Steffi Graf knocked Navratilova off her Wimbledon pedestal.Navratilova and Pam Shriver were virtually unassailable in women’s doubles throughout the decade.
The 1990s at Wimbledon began with titles won by Edberg and Michael Stich, but soon became the decade of Pete Sampras and to a lesser degree, Andre Agassi.So dominant was Sampras, that in that decade, he won seven Wimbledon singles titles.Steffi Graf won five singles titles and Navratilova, Novotna, Martinez, Hingis and Davenport all winning one each.Sampras’ and Graf’s dominance at Wimbledon was essentially a reflection of their overall dominance in the game, but their respective games were also ideally suited to Wimbledon conditions. .
Men’s doubles was almost the total preserve of the ‘Woodies’, Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodford who secured five titles together in the decade.The most outstanding women’s pair was that of Gigi Fernandez and Natalia Zvereva who also won five titles. Interestingly, the 1990s showed very little of the levels of ‘crossover’ between singles and doubles evident in earlier decades.
By definition, the nearer one approaches the present, the less it feels like history.Many of those in the ascendant in the early Noughties are, indeed, still with us. The Noughties was unquestionably the decade of Roger Federer, a player with a game tailor-made for Wimbledon’s grass.In that decade, he amassed six singles’ titles, adding a further one in 2012.His most regular fellow finalists were Nadal and Roddick, but with both Murray and Djokovic biting at his heels.
Among the women, with the exception of Amelie Mauresmo , Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova, all the singles titles since the millennium have been won by the Williams sisters.They have five apiece and in Serena’s case, the prospect of more to come.
Men’s doubles saw Woodbridge and Bjorkman win three titles in the early part of the decade, to be overtaken eventually by the Bryan brothers and others as the decade progressed.In the women’s, the Williams sisters took five titles since 2000 with a motley group taking the remaining titles.
Over the history of Wimbledon, many players clearly straddled the neat delineations of decades.By the same token, many players have become closely associated with particular decades – for example, Laver in the 60s, Borg in the 70s, Sampras in the 90s and Federer in the Noughties. They all gave a special flavour to those periods and in the process, helped make Wimbledon the great tournament it is.
14 June 2013