The Championships at Wimbledon started
in 1877 and the inaugural tournament
was a far cry from today's two-week
celebration of tennis.
The competition was set up in an effort
to raise money for the repair of a roller
and comprised of 22 entrants in the
It was the first organised tennis tournament
in the world and the 27-year-old W Spencer
Gore finished as champion - receiving
12 guineas for his efforts. The success
of the tournament - bar the rain on
the day of the final - ensured that
it returned 12 months later and was
going to become a constant on the sporting
Since 1877, the Championships, as they
are fomallly known, have only ever been
disrupted by the World Wars, four years
being lost during the First and six
during the Second.
For the first 30 years Britons dominated
proceedings, with the likes of Ernest
and William Renshaw and Laurie and Reggie
Doherty to the fore.
The Renshaws created such an interest
in the game that the 1880s were dubbed
the 'Renshaw Rush' as people took to
America's May Sutton became the first
overseas champion, winning the women's
title in 1905, and was followed two
years later by Norman Brookes as the
first men's champion from outside the
The Australian's victory was a watershed
in the men's game and only two British
men have won the title since.
Following the cessation of play during
the First World War, the Championships
resumed in 1919 under the spell of Suzanne
Lenglen who won five titles in a row.
And in 1922 they moved to a new site
on Church Road, the one that is familiar
to tennis fans around the world today,
although it has undergone some major
The Centre Court housed less than 10,000
spectators, with standing for 3,600,
which helped popularise the game.
America's Bill Tilden, one of the game's
greatest players, won back-to-back post-war
titles, but within three years French
men were following Lenglen's lead in
dominating their event.
Known as the 'Four Musketeers', Jean
Borotra, Jacques Brugnon, Henri Cochet
Lacoste won six singles and five doubles
titles between them over the course
of a decade.
The haul included every singles title
from 1924-29 in a golden era for French
Lenglen's six titles were bettered
by Helen Wills-Moody, eight times a
singles winner in the 1920s and 30s.
However, the big story of the immediate
pre-war era was Fred Perry's hat-trick
of titles. Perry won each of his finals
in straight sets, the third in an astonishing
40 minutes, before he turned professional.
His first title came in 1934, the same
year that Dorothy Round won the women's
singles to set the seal on a British
The home crowds never had it so good.
Wimbledon goes international
Tennis returned to Wimbledon after the
Second World War in 1946 and it was
immediately apparent a new era had begun.
Post-war Wimbledon was a far more international
event than it had been prior to the
outbreak of war.
The 1930s British renaissance, with
Fred Perry and Dorothy Round to the
fore, gave the home crowd something
to cheer and hinted at a resurgence
in domestic dominance.
But come the resumption it was America
and the Stars and Stripes that were
At least one American reached each
of the first six post-war finals - men
and women - with only one, the first
men's final, not being won by an American.
Frenchman Yvan Petra took the plaudits
instead and has a place in history as
the last man to be crowned champion
having played in trousers.
But if the American men enjoyed success
at Wimbledon, for their female compatriots
it was a case of total domination.
Billie Jean Moffitt (King) came on the
scene in the sixties
The first 10 post-war women's finals
were all-American affairs with the first
13 champions hailing from the 'other
side of the pond'.
Louise Brough, Pauline Betz and Maureen
Connolly vied for the title with 'Little
Mo' winning three times, one coming
in her 1953 Grand Slam, before her career
was ended by a riding accident when
she was 20.
The last in the list of American heorines
was Althea Gibson who became Wimbledon's
first black winner in 1957, before succesfully
defending her title 12 months later.
The American hegemony was finally broken
by Maria Bueno in 1959, the Brazilian
winning back-to-back titles before Angela
Mortimer and Christine Truman contested
the first all-British final since 1914.
During the 1960s, Australia's Margaret
Smith and American Billie Jean Moffit
first came to prominence.
The pair met in the 1963 final, when
Smith came out on top. One of the pair
was involved in each final for the next
decade, be it under their maiden or
Smith's victory made her the first
Australian woman to win at Wimbledon
and came in a rare year when a fellow
Australian did not take the men's title.
Rod Laver led the Australian post-war
charge with two singles titles
The 1950s and 1960s were a golden age
for Australian men's tennis at Wimbledon
with Lew Hoad, Ashley Cooper, Neale
Fraser, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson and John
Newcombe all taking the title.
In addition, Ken Rosewall, Martin Mulligan,
Fred Stolle and Tony Roche played finals
The most successful of the group, before
the advent of the Open era, were the
trio of Hoad, Laver and Emerson.
Each of them won back-to-back titles,
with Laver adding another two when tennis
In effect, it gave him four in a row
as he was 'persona non grata' in SW19,
having turned his back on the amateur
game after winning in 1962 as part of
his first Grand Slam.
Newcombe won the final amateur Wimbledon
in 1967 - the first in colour on television
- and added to his haul with titles
in the seventies.
The Open era of the Wimbledon Championships
has been dominated by four players.
In the men's game Bjorn Borg and Pete
Sampras won a remarkable 12 times between
them in 25 years.
And of the women, Martina Navratilova
lifted the ladies trophy on nine occasions,
to add to 10 doubles titles, while Steffi
Graf captured seven singles titles of
But that quartet are just four on a
roll call of celebrated champions since
the start of the Open era in 1968, during
which time there have been 31 different
In the first professional Wimbledon,
Rod Laver - in his second Grand Slam
year - and Billie Jean King set the
ball rolling with victory.
Laver's win was among five successive
titles won by Australians, with John
Newcombe claiming three.
Margaret Court followed Laver's lead
in 1970 with victory in her Grand Slam
But as well as some of the game's most
celebrated champions, Wimbledon also
hosted some unlikely winners in the
The 1973 tournament was beset by a
players' strike which saw 79 players
- and 13 of the 16 seeds - withdraw,
leaving Jan Kodes, the new number two
seed to take the title.
Two years later Arthur Ashe was an
equally unlikey victor beating the overwhelming
favourite Jimmy Connors in one of the
And a further two years on, Virginia
Wade enjoyed one of the most acclaimed
wins - a home victory in the Queen's
silver jubilee year.
By the time Wade's win was hailed by
a rendition of 'For She's a Jolly Good
Fellow' in 1977, Borg was the dominant
force in the men's game.
His run of five successive victories
stretched from 1976 until 1980, when
Borg and John McEnroe served up a treat
of a final that included one of the
game's most memorable tie-breaks.
Despite McEnroe winning the battle
in an engrossing 34-point fourth-set
shoot-out, Borg won the war - although
the American gained revenge a year on
when the Swede lost the final before
Navratilova was the queen of Centre
Court in the 1980s
The year after Wade's momentous victory,
Navratilova won her first singles title.
She was to dominate the women's tournament
as Borg did the men's, eclipsing King,
her friend and predecessor, with six
successive titles and nine in all.
However, King trumps Navratilova when
it comes to the total number of titles
- 20 to 19.
Graf followed their lead with seven
singles titles as German tennis dominated
Wimbledon on the back of Boris Becker's
startling victory in 1985.
Becker came into the tournament as
an unseeded 17-year-old. He left two
weeks later as the youngest champion,
the first unseeded winner and the first
German to lift the trophy.
His victory and all-action style endeared
him to the crowds and served as a watershed
in the men's tournament.
Out went the likes of McEnroe and Connors
as Becker fought for titles against
fellow grass-court specialists Stefan
Edberg, Michael Stich - another German
- and Sampras.
Sampras savours his seventh
The last of Becker's seven finals came
in defeat against Sampras in 1995, by
which time the American was in his pomp.
That victory secured a first hat-trick
for Sampras, and from 1993, until his
seventh title in 2000, he lost only
once in 57 outings.
He was peerless on Centre Court, and
his absence in 2003 allows somebody
else to step from the shadows.
Goran Ivanisevic became the first wildcard
winner in the memorable Monday final
in 2001 and the Williams sisters have
stood head and shoulders above allcomers
in the women's game.
The future of Wimbledon promises to
deliver a story as exciting and intriguing
as the past.