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 lawn tennis tournament, as well as the inaugural edition of what was later to be called a Grand Slam tournament or Major. A set of rules was drawn up for the tournament which was derived from the first standardized rules of tennis issued in May 1875 by the Marylebone Cricket Club. The Gentlemen's Singles event was the only competition held that first year, and was contested by 22 competitors. The grass court tournament started on Monday, 9 July 1877 and the final, which was delayed three days due to rain, 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.
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.
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 early 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 18th century although sporadic mention was made of a long tennis or field tennis version during the second half of the 18th century. Between 1858 and 1873 several people in Victorian 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 creation possible of tennis balls that bounced properly 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 popularising 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 and the Court Journal. 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. In November 1874 Wingfield published a second edition of The Book of the Game which had 12 rules and featured a larger court and a slightly lower net.
On 23 July 1868 the All England Croquet Club was founded by six gentleman at the offices of The Field magazine.[d] After a yearlong search for a suitable ground, for which ¬£5 was set aside, S.H. Clarke Maddock discovered four acres of meadowland located between the London and South Western Railway and Worple Road in Wimbledon, then an outer-suburb of London.[e] The club's committee decided on 24 September 1869 to lease the ground and paid ¬£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 at a cost of ¬£425 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 February 1875 the club decided to introduce lawn tennis at its grounds to capitalise 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 four more courts, a third of the ground, were 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 (AEC<C).
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 standardise its rules.[f] The meeting was an initiative of John Moyer Heathcote, a leading real tennis player and MCC member. Wingfield was present to demonstrate his tennis game as was John H. Hale who presented his version called Germains Lawn Tennis 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.
A lawn tennis racket from 1876 with its characteristic slightly lopsided head
On 2 June 1877 at the suggestion of founding member and club secretary, John H. Walsh, the club committee decided to organise a lawn tennis championship for amateurs, a Gentlemen's Singles event[h], which they hoped would generate enough funds to repair the broken pony roller that was needed for the maintenance of the lawns. This championship was to become the world's first official lawn tennis tournament, as well as the first edition of what was later to be called a Grand Slam tournament or Major.[i]
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, 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 erection 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.
Henry Jones, played a pivotal role in initiating and organising the first Championship.
The committee of the Club was not satisfied with certain aspects of the 1875 MCC unified code. To address these perceived shortcomings on 2 June 1877 a sub-committee consisting of Charles Gilbert Heathcote,[m]Julian Marshall and Henry Jones was tasked with establishing the applicable rules for the upcoming tournament. They reported back on 7 June and had drawn up a new set of rules, derived but significantly different 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 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.[n]
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.
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, flannel-covered 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.[o] The ball-boys kept the tennis balls in canvas 'wells' and during the tournament 180 balls were used.
The tournament began on Monday, 9 July 1877 at 3:30 p.m. 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 Championships' 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 for an increasing number of spectators. Start of play was delayed from the scheduled 3:30 p.m. due to strong winds. The matches 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, who injured his knee during the match after a fall, 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.[p] 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.[q] There was a temporary three-plank stand on one side of the court offering seating to about 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.[r] 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. By agreement the match was limited to best-of-three sets.
Spencer Gore, the winner of the inaugural Wimbledon Championship.
On 20 July 1877, the day following the final, 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.". Third-placed Heathcote later indicated that Gore was the best player of the year and had a varied service with a lot of twist on it. Gore was a player with an aptitude for many games, had a long reach and a strong and flexible wrist.[s] His volleying style was novel at the time, a forceful shot instead of merely a pat back over the net. 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 to force the point, over the baseline player ‚Äď who plays groundstrokes from the back of the court, intent on keeping the ball in play. 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. Gore indicated that the [real] tennis players had the tendency to play shots from corner to corner over the middle of the net and did so at such a height that made volleying easy.
Despite his historic championship title Gore was not enthusiastic about the new sport of lawn tennis. In 1890, 13 years after winning his championship title, he wrote: "...¬†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[t] but lost in straight sets to Frank Hadow, a coffee planter from Ceylon, who effectively used the lob to counter Gore's net play. It was Gore's last 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. The length of the service court was reduced from 26 to 22 ft (7.92 to 6.71 m) and the height of the net was reduced to 4 ft 9 in (1.45 m) at the posts and 3 feet (0.91 m) at the centre. These rules were published jointly by the AEC<C and the MCC which gave the AEC<C an official rule-making authority and in effect retroactively sanctioned its 1877 rules. It marked the moment when the AEC<C effectively usurped the rule-making initiative from the MCC although the latter would still ratify rule changes until 1882.[u] In recognition of the importance and popularity of lawn tennis the Club was renamed in 1882 to All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC).[v]
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.[w] 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: John H. Walsh, Captain R.F. Dalton, John Hinde 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.
^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 Gentlemen's Singles was the only event held at the Wimbledon Championships until 1884 when the Ladies' Singles and Men's Doubles events were introduced. The Ladies' Doubles and Mixed Doubles events were added in 1913. The Irish Championships in 1879 was the first tournament to feature a Ladies' Singles event.
^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. The courts were laid out in a grid of three rows of four courts.
^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 Hale's Germains Lawn Tennis.
^The original tennis balls were uncovered. In a letter to The Field published on 5 December 1874 John Heathcote stated that he had experimented with tennis balls covered with white flannel and found that they bounced better and were easier to see and control.
^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."
^In a chapter on lawn tennis which Heathcote wrote for The Badminton Library of Sports and Pastimes in 1890 he stated "Mr. Gore was much the best player of the year. He was gifted with a natural genius for all games, great activity, a long reach, and a strong and flexible wrist. (...) He was the first to realize (...) the necessity of forcing his opponent to the back line, when he would approach the net (...) Though the hard over-hand service was not then invented (...) his service was more varied than that of almost all other players, and his under-hand service in particular was characterized by an extraordinary power of twist."
^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.