Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Traditions of Wimbledon

Tim Henman vs Jarkko Nieminen on Centre Court ...Image via Wikipedia

With the Wimbledon Tennis Championships due to start in under a week - the world's attention will soon be focused on what is normally a quiet corner of south west London. As one of the four Grand Slam tournaments, Wimbledon draws in the world's best players, because for many players winning a tournament like Wimbledon will be the pinnacle of a career. It remains the only major championship played on grass, which is certainly not the least of its quirks, in fact, it is a championship marked out by some of its eccentricities. Below we've picked out some of these traditions that make Wimbledon such a unique event.

The Queue

Wimbledon remains one of the few major sporting events that holds back a number of tickets for its most high profile events. While most Wimbledon tickets are sold through the oversubscribed ballot and Wimbledon's debenture scheme, around 500 tickets per major court for every day (apart from the semi finals and finals) are held back for people who are prepared to queue and pay cash at the turnstiles. The queue for tickets has become such an institution that it sees fans return year after year to patiently wait for the chance to see the world's top players in action. It is often described as a street party by those who camp on the hard concrete pavements overnight and has become so iconic that the museum housed within Wimbledon's grounds has decided to open an exhibition documenting "The Queue" down the years.

Refreshments

A tradition that is thought to be as old as the championship itself is the widely practiced consumption of strawberries and cream, all washed down with a glass of traditional champagne or Pimms. It is estimated that 27,000 kilos of strawberries are eaten along with 7,000 litres of cream every year at the championships, while 17,000 bottles of champagne and 200,000 glasses of Pimms also get put away. The Championships are reckoned to be the single biggest catering operation undertaken in Europe for a sporting event.

Dress Code

Wimbledon enforces a strict dress code for its participants that while seemingly archaic means the Championships can maintain a unique look and feel. Players are required to wear an almost entirely white or off-white outfit. For ladies, outfits that reveal too much in the cleavage area could result in them not being allowed on court until they have "covered up". While this may seem somewhat draconian, a number of the top players have classically designed outfits prepared by their kits sponsors specifically for the Championships. Furthermore, when the Olympics come to London in 2012 the tennis will be held at the All England Club and players will be encouraged to wear whatever colors they feel, in part, so that the all white uniforms worn during the Championships maintain their distinctive style.

Ball Boys and Girls

Often referred to as BBGs, this team of helpers are fundamental to the successful and smooth running of the championships. The BBGs are selected from schools in the local area following trials where around 250 make the cut from a field of about 700. In the early years of the championship there were only ball boys and these were selected from charitable organizations that looked after young people including Shaftesbury Homes and Barnados, it wasn't until 1977 that girls got a chance to join in. These days, the split between boys and girls as 50/50 as far as is possible. Once selected the training is tough, it starts in February and requires considerable commitment both after school and at the weekend. However, the finished product means that Wimbledon can boast of having an elite team of BBGs to rival any tournament, which makes life easier for the players - as well as adding to the overall spectacle of the Championships.

So with all this tradition on offer, and not to mention the amazing tennis, Wimbledon 2011 is set to be a bumper year.

Jonathan is a freelance writer who loves tennis and would give practically anything to get his hands on some Wimbledon tickets.

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