The inaugural 1877 Wimbledon Championship was a men's tennis tournament held at the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club in London. It was the world's first official tennis tournament, as well as the first edition of what was later to be called a Grand Slam tournament or Major. The Gentlemen's Singles event was the only competition held that first year, and was contested by 22 competitors. A set of rules was drawn up for the tournament which were derived from those issued in 1875 by the Marylebone Cricket Club. The grass court tournament started on Monday, 9 July 1877 and the final took place on Thursday, 19 July in front of about 200 people. The spectators paid an entry fee of one shilling each, and the prize money for the winner was 12 guineas, plus a silver challenge cup valued at 25 guineas donated by the sports magazine The Field. The tournament made a profit of ¬£10. Spencer Gore, a 27-year-old rackets player from Wandsworth, won the first Wimbledon title, after defeating William Marshall in the final in a match that lasted 48 minutes.
It is believed the origin of tennis lies in the monastic cloisters in 12th century northern France, where the ball was struck with the palm of the hand and was called jeu de paume.Rackets started to be used in the 16th century.[a] This original version of tennis, now called real tennis, was mostly played indoors and was popular among the royalty and gentry while a crude outdoor version called longue paume was played by the populace. The popularity of the game declined in the 17th and first half of the 18th century but during the 1860s several people in England started experimenting with a lawn version of tennis. The invention of the lawn mower in 1827 allowed the creation of smooth, flat croquet lawns that could easily be adapted for lawn tennis and the introduction of vulcanised rubber around 1840 made the development possible of tennis balls with the required bouncing characteristics for use on outdoor grass courts. Major Harry Gem and Augurio Perera demonstrated their game of Pelota (Spanish for ball) and in 1872 created the world's first lawn tennis club at Leamington Spa. In February 1874 Major Clopton Wingfield introduced his version of lawn tennis called Sphairistik√®, described on his patent application[b] as a New and Improved Court for Playing the Ancient Game of Tennis, and he is widely credited with popularizing the new game through his energetic marketing efforts.Sphairistik√®, soon to be colloquially abbreviated to Sticky[c], was sold as a boxed set which cost either five guineas (small) or ¬£10 (large) and consisted of balls, four rackets, poles, pegs and netting. The first article on Wingfield's game was published on 7 March 1874 in the Army and Navy Gazette. In the year following the issuing of the patent more than 1,000 tennis sets were sold, mainly to the aristocracy and upper class. The Sphairistik√® court was hourglass-shaped, wider at the baseline than at the net, the service was made from a single side in a lozenge shaped box situated in the middle of the court and the service had to bounce beyond the service line instead of in front of it.
On 23 July 1868 the All England Croquet Club was founded by six gentleman at the offices of The Field magazine.[d] After a search for a suitable ground the club's committee decided on 24 September 1869 to lease four acres of meadowland at Worple Road, Wimbledon, then an outer-suburb of London.[e] The club had to pay ¬£50 rental for the first year which increased the following two years to ¬£75 and ¬£100 respectively. In 1870 the club built a pavilion and three terraces and in June of that year held its first Croquet Championships. The increasing rent coupled with a waning interest in the sedate sport of croquet was causing financial difficulties and in 1875 the club decided to introduce lawn tennis at its grounds to capitalize on the upcoming interest in this new sport and generate additional revenue. The proposal was made by Henry Jones, a sports writer who wrote extensively in The Field under his nom de plume"Cavendish" and who had joined the club in 1869. The introduction of lawn tennis was approved at the annual meeting and the club's membership fee was set to two guineas to cover both sports. At a cost of ¬£25 one croquet lawn was converted to a tennis court and soon after its completion on 25 February 1875 a dozen new club members were added. In 1876 a third of the ground was handed over to lawn tennis to address the increase of new tennis members. Additionally a committee member, George Nicol, was appointed exclusively dedicated to lawn tennis. Lawn tennis had become so popular that on 14 April 1877 the name of the club was formally changed to All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club (the Club).
A Sphairistik√® lawn tennis court as designed by Major Wingfield in 1874. The hourglass shape was retained in the 1875 MCC rules but replaced by a rectangular court in the AELTC rules which governed the first Wimbledon Championship.
On 3 March 1875 the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) convened a meeting on its grounds to test the various versions of lawn tennis that had been developed and to see if an agreement could be reached to standardize its rules.[f] The meeting was an initiative of John Moyer Heathcote, a leading real tennis player and MCC member. Both Wingfield and Hale were in attendance to demonstrate their tennis games but there is no record of either Gem or Perera being present. The Tennis Committee of the MCC was tasked with framing the rules based on the outcome of the meeting.[g] On 29 May 1875 the MCC, in its capacity as the governing body for rackets and real tennis, issued the Laws of Lawn Tennis, the first unified rules for lawn tennis which were adopted by the Club on 24 June. These were significantly based on the rules introduced by Major Wingfield in February 1874 and published in his eight-page rule-booklet titled Sphairistik√® or Lawn Tennis. The MCC adopted Wingfield's hourglass-shaped court as well as the rackets method of scoring in which each game consisted of 15 points and only the server was able to score. The height of the net was set at 5ft at the posts and 4ft in the centre. Various aspects of these rules, including the characteristic court shape and the method of scoring, were the subject of prolonged debate in the press. The MCC rules were not universally adhered to following its publication and, among others, the Prince's Club in London stuck to playing on rectangular courts. The committee of the Club was also not satisfied with certain aspects of the unified code. To address these perceived shortcomings a sub-committee consisting of Charles Gilbert Heathcote,[h]Julian Marshall and Henry Jones was tasked with the responsibility of establishing the applicable rules for the upcoming tournament. A new set of rules was drawn up, derived from those published by the MCC, and declared 'provisional' and valid for the championship only in order not to offend the MCC:
The court will have a rectangular shape with outer dimensions of 78 by 27 feet (23.77 m by 8.23 m)
The net will be lowered to 3 feet and 3 inches (0.99 m) in the center
The balls will be 2 1‚ĀĄ2 to 2 5‚ĀĄ8 inch (6.4 to 6.7¬†cm) in diameter and 1 3‚ĀĄ4 ounces (49.6 g) in weight
The real tennis method of scoring by fifteens will be adopted [i]
The first player to win six games wins the set with 'sudden death' occurring at five games all except for the final, when a lead of two games in each set is necessary.
Players will change ends at the end of a set unless otherwise decreed by the umpire
The server will have two chances at each point to deliver a correct service
It is these rules drawn up by the Club which formed the basis of the sport and which, with only slight modifications, are still valid to this day.
On 2 June 1877 at the suggestion of founding member and club secretary, John H. Walsh, the club committee decided to organize a lawn tennis championship for amateurs which they hoped would generate enough funds to repair the broken pony roller that was needed for the maintenance of the lawns.
Henry Jones, played a pivotal role in initiating and organizing the first Championship.
The first public announcement of the tournament was published on 9 June 1877 in the weekly country and sports magazine The Field under the header Lawn Tennis Championship:
The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon, propose to hold a lawn tennis meeting, open to all amateurs, on Monday, July 9th and following days.[j] Entrance fee, ¬£1 1s 0d. Names and addresses of competitors to be forwarded to the Hon. Sec. A.E.C. and L.T.C. before Saturday, July 7, or on that day before 2.15 p.m. at the club ground, Wimbledon. Two prices will be given ‚Äď one gold champion prize to the winner, one silver to the second player. The value of the prizes will depend on the number of entries, and will be declared before the draw; but in no case will they be less than the amount of the entrance money, and if there are ten and less than sixteen entries, they will be made up to ¬£10 10s and ¬£5 5s respectively.‚ÄĒ Henry Jones ‚Äď Hon Sec of the Lawn Tennis sub-committee
Players must provide their own racquets and must wear shoes without heels.
The announcement also stated that a programme would be available shortly with further details including the rules to be adopted for the meeting. Invitations were sent to prospective participants. Upon payment of the entrance fee the participants were allowed to practise before the Championship on the 12 available courts with the provision that on Saturdays and during the croquet championship week, which was held the week before the tennis tournament, the croquet players had the first choice of courts. Practice balls, similar to the ones used for the tournament, were available from the Club's gardener at a price of 12s per dozen balls. John H. Walsh, in his capacity as editor of The Field, persuaded his employer to donate a 25 guineas cup for the winner; the Field Cup[k] The cup was made of sterling silver and had the inscription: The All England Lawn Challenge Cup ‚Äď Presented by the Proprietors of The Field ‚Äď For competition by Amateurs ‚Äď Wimbledon July, 1877. On 6 July 1877, three days prior to the start of the tournament, a notice was published in The Times:
Next week at the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club Ground a Lawn Tennis Championship Meeting will be held. The ground is situated close to the Wimbledon Station on the South Western Railway, and is sufficiently large for the errection of 30 "courts".[l] On each day the competition will begin at 3.30, the first ties, of course, beginning on Monday. The Hon. Sec. of the meeting is Mr. J.H. Walsh, while Mr. H. Jones will officiate as referee. The entries are numerous.
The draw for the 22 entrants was made on Saturday, 7 July 1877 at 3:30 p.m. at the Club's pavilion in accordance with the All England Regulations for the Management of Prize Meetings. H.T. Gillson had the honourable distinction of being the first player in the history of modern tennis to be drawn for a tournament. The posts, nets and hand-stitched India-rubber balls for the tournament were supplied by Jefferies & Co from Woolwich while the rackets used were an adaptation of those used in real tennis with a small and slightly lopsided head.
The tournament began on Monday, 9 July 1877 and daily programmes were available for a sixpence. It is not known which player hit the first ball but on the first day, in sunny weather, 10 matches were played which completed the first round. F.N. Langham, a Cambridge tennis blue, was given a walkover in the first round when C.F. Buller, an Etonian and well-known rackets player, did not appear. Julian Marshall became the first player to win a five-set match when he fought back from being two sets down against Captain Grimston. Spencer Gore won his first round match against Henry Thomas Gillson in straight sets. The five second round matches were played on Tuesday, 10 July, again in fine weather. Charles Gilbert Heathcote had a bye in the second round. J. Lambert became the first player in Wimbledon history to retire a match, conceding to L.R. Erskine after losing the first two sets. Julian Marshall again won a five-set match, this time against F.W. Oliver and Gore defeated Montague Hankey in four sets.
The quarterfinals were played on Wednesday, 11 July and left three players, instead of four, in the draw for the semifinals scheduled for Thursday. Gore defeated Langham in four sets, William Marshall beat Erskine, also in four sets, and Julian Marshall lost to Heathcote in straight sets. To solve the situation lots were drawn and William Marshall, a 28-year-old Cambridge real tennis blue, was given a bye to the final where he would play Spencer Gore who defeated Heathcote in straight sets in the only semifinal played.[m] When the semifinal stage had concluded on Thursday, 12 July play was suspended until next Monday, 16 July due to the Eton v Harrow cricket match that was played at Lord's Cricket Ground on Friday and Saturday. The final was further postponed from Monday, 16 July at 4 p.m. to Thursday, 19 July at 3:30 p.m. because of rain. On Thursday it was still showery, causing the final to begin an hour late, at 4:30 p.m. on a dead and slippery court in front of about 200 spectators.[n] There was a temporary three-plank stand on one side of the court offering seating to 30 people. A Centre Court did not yet exist during the first four years of the championship. Marshall won the toss and elected to serve first and was immediately broken by Gore. After the first set was won by Gore it started to rain for a quarter of an hour which further softened the ground and affected the quality of play. The final lasted 48 minutes and Spencer Gore, a 27-year-old rackets player from Wandsworth and at the time surveyor of profession, won the inaugural championship against William Marshall in three straight sets, lasting 15, 13 and 20 minutes respectively. En route to the title Gore had won 15 sets and lost two and won 99 games for the loss of 46. Gore, the volley specialist, had beaten the baseline player, at a time when volleying was considered by some to be unsporting.[o] Some tried to outlaw the volley and a discussion on its pros and cons was held in The Field for weeks after the tournament.
The final was followed by a play-off match for 2nd place in which Marshall, playing his second match of the day, defeated Heathcote in straight sets.
Spencer Gore, the winner of the inaugural Wimbledon Championship.
On the day following the final, 20 July 1877, a report was published in The Morning Post newspaper:
Lawn Tennis Championship ‚Äď A fair number of spectators assembled yesterday, notwithstanding the rain, on the beautifully kept ground of the All England Club, Wimbledon, to witness the final contest between Messrs. Spencer Gore and W. Marshall for the championship. The play on both sides was of the highest order and its exhibition afforded a great treat to lovers of the game. All three sets were won buy Mr. Gore, who, therefore, becomes lawn tennis champion for 1877, and wins the ¬£12 12s. gold prize and holds the silver challenge cup, value ¬£25 5s. The second and third prizes were then played for by Messrs. W. Marshall and G.C. Heathcote (best of three sets by agreement). Mr. Marshall won two sets to love, and therefore takes the silver prize (value ¬£12 12s.). Mr. Heathcote takes the third prize, value ¬£3 3s.
A report in The Field stated: "The result was a more easy victory for Mr Spencer Gore than had been expected.". Gore's victory was regarded as a win of the rackets style of play over the [real] tennis style, and of the offensive style of the volley player ‚Äď who comes to the net, over the baseline player ‚Äď who plays groundstrokes from the back of the court. Gore was a player with an aptitude for many games, he had a long reach and a strong and flexible wrist. His volleying style was novel at the time, a forceful shot instead of merely a pat back over the net. His volleying game was also successful because the height of the net at the post, 5¬†ft (1.52 m) compared to the current 3¬†ft 6 in (1.07 m), made it difficult for his opponents to pass him by driving the ball down the line.
Despite his historic championship title Gore was not enthusiastic about the new sport of lawn tennis. He wrote 13 years after winning his championship title: "...¬†it is want of variety that will prevent lawn tennis in its present form from taking rank among our great games¬†... That anyone who has really played well at cricket, tennis, or even rackets, will ever seriously give his attention to lawn tennis, beyond showing himself to be a promising player, is extremely doubtful; for in all probability the monotony of the game as compared with others would choke him off before he had time to excel in it." He did return for the 1878 Championship to defend his title in the Challenge Round[p] but lost to Frank Hadow, a coffee planter from Ceylon, in straight sets. It turned out be Gore's final appearance at the Wimbledon Championships.
When the tournament was finished Henry Jones gathered all the score cards to analyse the results and found that of the 601 games played during the tournament 376 were won by the server ("striker-in") and 225 by the receiver ("striker-out"). At a time when the service was either made underarm or, usually, at shoulder height this was seen as a serving dominance and resulted in a modification of the rules for the 1878 Championship which were published jointly by the Club and the MCC. The length of the service court was reduced from 26 feet to 22 feet (7.92 m to 6.71 m) and the height of the net was reduced to 4 feet 9 inches (1.45 m) at the posts and 3 feet (0.91 m) at the centre. In recognition of the importance and popularity of lawn tennis the Club was renamed in 1882 to All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC).[q]
On 18 June 2012 a commemorative plaque was unveiled at the former home of The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, in Worple Road, Wimbledon celebrating the first Wimbledon Championships held there in 1877, as well as the 1908 Olympic tennis event.[e] The ceremony was performed by Heather Hanbury, Headmistress of Wimbledon High School; Philip Brook, Chairman of the All England Club, and Cr David T Williams JP, Mayor of Merton.
^The gentlemen were: J.H. Walsh, Captain R.F. Dalton, J.H. Hale, Rev. A. Law, S.H. Clarke Maddock and Walter Jones Whitmore. Walsh, the magazine's editor, was the chairman of the meeting. Whitmore and Maddock were appointed honorary secretary and treasurer respectively.
^ abFive pounds were set aside to fund the search for a ground and The Crystal Palace at Sydenham, Prince's Club in Knightsbridge, Regent's Park and Holland Park were all approached before the Wimbledon location was selected. In 1922 the Club moved to its current location at Church Road. The site of the inaugural tournament at Worple Road now serves as a playing field for the Wimbledon High School.
^The announcement of the meeting was made in The Field of 20 february 1875: "A meeting will be held at the Pavilion, Lord's Ground on Wednesday next, a two o'clock, by the kind permission of the Marylebone Club for the purpose of eliciting the opinions of all who are interested in the game of lawn tennis.
^The members of the MCC Tennis Committee were Spencer Ponsonby Fane, J.M. Heathcote, E. Chandos Leigh, W.H. Dyke and C.G. Lyttelton.
^According to Gillmeister (1998) it was not Charles Gilbert but his brother John Moyer Heathcote who, as a representative of the MCC, was part of the rules sub-committee.
^This was in contrast to the 1875 MCC regulations which prescribed the rackets method of scoring in which only the serving side ("hand in") could score and each game consisted of 15 aces (points). This method was also previously adopted by Major Clopton Wingfield's sphairistik√®, Harry Gem's & Augurio Perera's pelota and John Hales' Germains lawn tennis.
^The term "amateur" as used here has a specific meaning that differs from its current connotation. The distinction between "amateurs" and "professionals" at the time was not so much one of remuneration but more one of social status and class. The "amateur" was a gentleman who was of independent means and belonged to the upper or middle class, whereas "professionals" invariably came from the working class. The construct "Gentleman Amateur" was a method of social distinction and the amateur code was frequently a means of excluding working-class players from competition. The phrase "open to all amateurs" was thus a means to ensure that only people with the desired background would participate in the tournament.
^The Field Cup was handed out to the winner of the gentlemen's singles event until 1883 when it came in permanent possession of William Renshaw after he had won the cup for the third time in succession. The cup is now on display in the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum.
^According to Tingay (1977) there were in fact only 12 courts. It is not known how many courts were used but five would have been sufficient.
^In the first years of the championship byes could be distributed through the entire draw. Only from 1885 onward were byes used exclusively in the first round. This was formalised in the Bagnall‚ÄďWild system which came into effect in 1887.
^A 'dead' court refers to a tennis court where the ball bounces significantly less compared to other courts or to the same court under different weather conditions.
^Writing in 1957, journalist Tony Mottram said of Gore using the volley: "He was immediately branded unsporting and unscrupulous."
^The Challenge Round system was introduced at Wimbledon in 1878. The existing champion, in this case Spencer Gore, did not have to play through the tournament but instead faced the winner of the All Comers' tournament in a Challenge Round match to determine the new champion. This system was abolished in 1922.
^In 1899 the name was changed again to All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.