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Wimbledon is today the unchallenged Mecca of world tennis where acolytes come to do homage every year.

india Updated: Jun 24, 2003 11:22 IST

Around 1875, the All England Croquet Club was facing a virtual crisis. Membership was at an all-time low, thanks to the growing popularity of a new sport patented by Major Wingfield the year before. It was this game, which came complete with rackets, nets and posts, that gradually evolved into what we today know as tennis.

No matter how humble its beginnings, the popularity of tennis was never in doubt. In fact, in 1877 when the newly formed "All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club" hosted the inaugural edition of the amateur Men's Lawn Tennis Championships, 22 participants battled it out for the honours.

Spencer Gore eventually wrote himself into the history books as the first Wimbledon champion.

A succession of firsts then followed. Men's doubles was added in 1879 to what had essentially begun as a single's tournament. Women made their entry at Wimbledon in 1884 and Maud Watson emerged as the first Ladies Champion.

The ladies' doubles and mixed doubles came in 1913.

Although the popularity of the tournament had been growing rapidly through the 1880s with the Renshaw twins, Wenest and William demolishing everything in sight, the crowning glory came in 1907 when Wimbledon welcomed its first Royal. The Prince of Wales attended the Championships, and the involvement of British Royals is a tradition that continues till date.

Wimbledon moved to its present residence at Church Road in 1922 at an expense of £140,000. However the migration brought with it a share of misfortune. The outbreak of World War II forced suspension of match play between 1940 and 1946.

The Center Court itself was devastated by a German blitzkrieg in 1940 and restoration would take nine long years.

There is a lot that tennis lovers have to thank the Championships for. It was of course the first organized tournament in history that inspired others in its wake - the American tournament in 1881, the French in 1891 and the Australian in 1905.

Wimbledon was also the first to go "Open" in 1968 when the International Lawn Tennis Federation, bowing to popular demand, relented upon its earlier stance barring professionals from the tournament.

Wimbledon is today the unchallenged Mecca of world tennis where acolytes come to do homage every year.

First Published: Jun 18, 2003 20:33 IST