9 July 1877

The first Wimbledon Tennis Championships begins.

On 9 July, 1877 the first Championships began at the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon.

It is the oldest tennis championship in the world, and is the only ‘grand slam’ event played on grass.

There was only one event in 1877 – the gentlemen’s singles. A field of 22 took part, having paid the one guinea entry fee. It was won by 27-year-old Old Harrovian and ex-Surrey country cricketer, Spencer Gore, who defeated William Marshall 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 in front of a crowd of around 200 spectators.

Entrance fee for spectators was a shilling, and the prize for the winner was £12 – roughly £1,300 in today’s money.

Things have changed greatly since then, of course. It’s much more lucrative, for one. This year’s singles winners took home £1,760,000. First round losers were given £27,000.

The number of spectators has gone up somewhat, too. At any one time, there are around 38,500 of them in the grounds, who get through 200,000 glasses of Pimms, 28,000 kilos of strawberries and 7,000 litres of cream. They bought 28,600 ‘official’ towels, and 10,000 umbrellas.

There is no information about what sort of profit the first championships made. But in 1879, the first year for which figures are available, there was a ‘surplus’ of £116. In 2013, that figure was £35,107,812 – 90% of that is handed over to the Lawn Tennis Association to be used to develop British tennis.

9 July 1877

The first Wimbledon Tennis Championships starts.

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On July 9, 1877, the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club begins its first lawn tennis tournament at Wimbledon, then an outer-suburb of London. Twenty-one amateurs showed up to compete in the Gentlemen’s Singles tournament, the only event at the first Wimbledon. The winner was to take home a 25-guinea trophy.

Tennis has its origins in a 13th-century French handball game called jeu de paume, or “game of the palm,” from which developed an indoor racket-and-ball game called real, or “royal,” tennis. Real tennis grew into lawn tennis, which was played outside on grass and enjoyed a surge of popularity in the late 19th century.

In 1868, the All England Club was established on four acres of meadowland outside London. The club was originally founded to promote croquet, another lawn sport, but the growing popularity of tennis led it to incorporate tennis lawns into its facilities. In 1877, the All England Club published an announcement in the weekly sporting magazine The Field that read: “The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon, propose [sic] to hold a lawn tennis meeting open to all amateurs, on Monday, July 9, and following days. Entrance fee, one pound, one shilling.”

The All English Club purchased a 25-guinea trophy and drew up formal rules for tennis. It decided on a rectangular court 78 feet long by 27 feet wide; adapted the real tennis method of scoring based on a clock face—i.e., 15, 30, 40, game; established that the first to win six games wins a set; and allowed the server one fault. These decisions, largely the work of club member Dr. Henry Jones, remain part of the modern rules.