I have just returned from a visit to the land of my birth, where everyone currently is obsessed with the start of Wimbledon — the oldest and, according to the British at least, most prestigious tennis tournament in the world.
The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club has hosted the tournament at Wimbledon in Southwest London since 1877. Nowadays, Wimbledon is one of the top four major tennis tournaments, known as the Grand Slams, and takes place every summer following the Australian and French opens and before the United States Open.
In a very British way, Wimbledon fiercely defends its historical traditions. For example:
• Wimbledon is the only major tournament still played on grass, due to the game’s British roots as “lawn tennis;”
• Because of the difference in skills required to play on grass, Wimbledon ignores world rankings and sticks to its own seeding system;
• Wimbledon is the only tournament where players are still required to wear 90 percent white colors;
• Tournament officials, ball boys and girls and other support staff also are required to wear traditional outfits;
• On most courts, the score is changed manually rather than electronically;
• Strawberries and cream are traditionally enjoyed, as the two-week tournament coincides with the brief, but delicious, English strawberry season;
• Centre Court is expensive, prestigious and where the most important matches are played. The British love to watch the royal-family members, who are always given the best seats there. Although now that Princess Catherine has retired from public view during the last month of her pregnancy, the media will have much less to comment on than usual.
Because Wimbledon is played during the British summer, a major concern is rain. Over the years, matches have been suspended for days because once the grass gets wet; it takes a while for it to dry.
In the past, rain has caused players to go on and off the court many times, uncertain when play could continue. Spectators who often had to wait hours in line (or “queuing,” as we say in the United Kingdom) to get tickets for Wimbledon could arrive on-site and spend an entire day there without seeing anybody play because of the unreliable British weather.
In 2009, a retractable roof was installed at Centre Court, so that the matches on this vitally important court could be completed on rainy days.
This year, Wimbledon excitement has reached fever pitch in Britain, as everybody there is hoping that Scottish-born Andy Murray will win. Last year, he famously cried on Centre Court after losing to Roger Federer in the final during the queen’s diamond-jubilee celebration year. Fred Perry from Stockport in northwest England was Britain's last male grand-slam singles champion when he won Wimbledon in 1934-36.
The 26-year-old Murray has gained valuable experience and success in the last 12 months. He won a gold medal last summer at the Olympics in London, and then claimed his first grand-slam trophy in the U.S. Open last fall.
It is interesting to consider how Murray’s desire to win is almost contradictory to the traditional British sporting attitudes of being a “good loser.” While this view is becoming outdated in the U.K., it’s true that in previous generations, top British schools encouraged their young gentlemen pupils to be gracious losers in the sporting arena. Phrases such as “It is all about the game not about winning,” and “Never mind, jolly good show, old chap,” used when people lost at sport, are immortalized in old-fashioned British novels and never fail to confuse my highly competitive, 100 percent American husband.
I leave you with a quote from Billie Jean King, who dominated women’s tennis during the 1970s and 1980s: “Tennis is a perfect combination of violent action taking place in an atmosphere of total tranquility.”
God bless America! (But go Andy Murray!)
Francis grew up in London, England, and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009 with her American husband, Carl, and English dogs. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.lesleyfrancispr.com.