The grass-court phenomenon

The sight of players delivering thunderous serves before rushing to the net to finish the point with powerful volleys is symbolic to one tennis tournament- the most prestigious of them all- The Wimbledon.

Roger Federer, one of Wimbledon's all-time greats, taking serve at the centre court of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.   -  Getty Images

For two weeks in July, the greatest Tennis players, clad in all-whites, will assemble on the lush green lawns of Wimbledon, each looking to etch their names in history.

The sight of players delivering thunderous serves before rushing to the net to finish the point with powerful volleys is symbolic to one tennis tournament- the most prestigious of them all- The Wimbledon.

Along with a spot in eternal history, the winners of the championship also pocket a whopping £2.2 million in the singles category, £400,000 each for the doubles winners and 100,000 each for mixed doubles winners, taking the total tally for this year's tournament to £31.6 million.

With the Wimbledon set to get under-way on 3 July, we delve into the glorious history of the iconic tournament.

Humble beginnings

The first version of the tournament dates back to 1877 and was organised by The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. The club subsequently dropped the word “croquet” from its title in 1882, but was later restored keeping in mind public sentiment. The club is better known as the All England Club today.

The inaugural tournament was won by a gentleman named Spencer Gore, who is credited to having invented the serve and volley technique. The sport of Tennis was itself in its very nascent stages and was dominated by baseline play. Gore developed the then unique, but now brilliant idea of rushing to the net after his serve and volleying the return away from his opponent, leaving them utterly perplexed. The very next edition in 1878 saw the development of a counter to this practice by Patrick Francis Hadow, who came up with the ingenious idea to play a lob shot over the head of the opponent who was rushing to the net to play a volley. The stroke saw him eventually clinch his first and only Wimbledon crown, that year.

For the first seven editions, the participation was limited to only men. It was only in 1884 that the organisers added Ladies’ Singles and Gentlemen’s Doubles as a part of the tournament. Ladies’ Doubles and Mixed Doubles were later added in 1913, taking the total number of events at the tourney to five.

Junior Championships for boys was introduced in 1947 and the same for girls was implemented the next year. Doubles competition for the junior level was added in 1982.

As of today, the Wimbledon hosts five major competitions for adults and the junior championships as well.

Surface of play

Grass is said to be the original surface of play, thereby leading to the sport being named Lawn Tennis. While all four Grand Slams were initially played on grass, Wimbledon is the only grass-court Grand Slam played today. The US Open and Australian Open have switched to hard-courts, while the French Open is played on clay.

Playing on grass-courts is rather challenging as the ball zips off the grass, making it the fastest surface to play on. Players have to deal with balls zooming off the surface and it also keeping low at times, making it a skill to excel on grass.

This is one of the reasons why the tournament has been dominated by traditional serve and volley players. This is a technique where after serving, the player rushes to the net to volley his opponents return on the full, thereby finishing the point before it gets to more than three strokes.

Huge serves and powerful volleys are almost a pre-requsuite to perform on the surface.

Traditions

Being the oldest tournament in the sport, the Wimbledon is host to a wide number of strictly adhered to traditions.

- All players must be clad in suitable tennis attire that is almost entirely white. White does not include off-white or cream. Wristbands, Caps, socks and any other accessories worn by the player must also be predominantly white.

- The "Men's" and "Women's" competitions are referred to as "Gentlemen's" and "Ladies'" events.

- Players had to bow or drop a curtsy to members of the royal family, seated in the Royal Box in the Centre Court. However, this tradition was done away with in 2003 and is now enforced only if The Queen or The Prince of Wales is present in the royal box.

- Wimbledon also maintains the longest running sponsorship in sporting history with Slazenger. The British sporting goods manufacturer has supplied tennis balls for the tournament since 1902.

When is it held?

The tournament was initially held between the end of June and beginning of July, however there have been changes in the ATP calendar of late. Wimbledon will begin on the first Monday of July and continue for the next 14 days, ending with the Gentlemen's Singles final on the second Sunday.

The Open-Era and notable winners

It was only in 1968 that professionals were allowed to compete in the Wimbledon- signalling the onset of the “open era”. A professional was defined as someone who's derived his primary source from playing tennis tournaments.

Wimbledon is known for the crashing out of top players in the first few stages of the tournament but there have been a few players who have managed to maintain a continued dominance of the tourney.

*Bjorn Borg (1976-80) and Roger Federer (2003-07) have won the big W for five consecutive years. In the women's category, Martina Navratilova won the Championship for six years in a row, between 1982 and 1987.

Federer now looks to better the record held jointly by Sampras and him, as he looks to secure a eighth Wimbledon crown.

*Bjorn Borg has a marvellous 51-4 win loss ratio, adding up to a 92.7% win percentage between 1973-81. The German Steffi Graf absolutely dominated the women's category and notched up a spectacular 75 wins out of 82 games, taking her win percentage to 90.3%.

*Pete Sampras and Roger Federer hold the record for the most number of Wimbledon titles, with seven wins each, while Martina Navratilova secured nine titles.

*Andy Murray was the first British male to win the Wimbledon in 2013, 77 years since Fred Perry did so in 1936. Murray won the Wimbledon once again in 2016 and will look to defend his title, amidst tight competition from the usual suspects including Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Stanislas Wawrinka. He could also face a stiff fight from the likes of Nick Kyrgios, the Zverev brothers, Dominic Thiem and Marin Cilic.

Prize Money

Until 1968, the winners were only given trophies and no prize money was awarded to them. The Gentlemen's Singles champion is awarded a silver cup, which bears inscription, "All England Lawn Tennis Club Single Handed Championship of the World." The Ladies' Singles winner is presented with a silver salver, which is commonly known as the “Rosewater Dish.”

Prize money was awarded only from 1968, the year when professionals were allowed to compete at the tournament. The Gentlemen's champion won £2,000 while the Ladies champion £750. This is a stark contrast to what they receive today, which is over 200 times of their initial fee.

Since 2007, both the men's and women's champion received the same amount as their prize money. However, this move faced quite a lot of criticism. The argument was that the pay structure was unfair because while men's games were best of five sets, the ladies' matches were only best of three. This implied that men spent a lot more time on the court as compared to their female counterparts and both of them receiving the same fee was not fair.

However, it was decided that the decision will stay, given that female players worked just as hard as the males and that longer contests do not necessarily deserve greater pay.

Greats to have faltered

While many players have dominated the Wimbledon for years at a stretch, there have been many legends who have simply been unable to shine on the grass-court. Take the case of Ilie Nastase, who participated in 13 editions of the tournament and made it to the finals only twice to only lose both of them. While the Romanian great holds the record of being the first male player to have won the French Open without dropping a set in 1973, he simply could not prove his worth in grass.

The iconic Ivan Lendl – rated as one of the greatest of the sport ever – could never bring his brilliance to Wimbledon. While he won eight Grand Slams on other surfaces, he failed to do so on grass, despite 14 attempts. He will now look to fulfil his dream as he coaches Andy Murray ahead of his title defence at Wimbledon.

While the Wimbledon is used to seeing top-seeds crash out early in the tourney, it also sees a new wave of players who come up to make a name for themselves. One prime example of this would be Dustin Brown, who shot to fame after he sent two-time champion, Rafael Nadal, packing his bags after their second round encounter in 2015.

With the likes of upcoming players such as the Zverev's and Nick Kyrgios, this year's tournament promises to be an interesting one with loads of upsets and setting of new records.

Will Andy Murray successfully defend his title or will Federer make history by clinching his eighth Wimbledon or will Nadal become the first since Federer to win the Wimbledon after winning the French Open as well? The grass-courts will have all the answers.

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