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Sunday, 11 June, 2000, 17:05 GMT 18:05 UK
The traditions of Wimbledon
Suzanne Lenglen
Suzanne Lenglen, the first Women's singles winner
For many, Wimbledon is not just the most important tennis tournament in the world. It is the only one.

While the Australian, French and US Opens have their fans, the Championships on the lush lawns of south-west London are as much a fashion show and a celebration of the British way of life as a sporting occasion.

The traditions of Wimbledon come from another age.

Nowhere else in the world are the players still required to wear predominately white clothing. Advertising and sponsorship is blasted at you from every corner - except at Wimbledon.

And of course only in London, SW19, do they still play lawn tennis on grass.

Raise money

It all started very differently. The first Championships, as they are formally known, were held at the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club in 1877 to raise money for the repair of a roller. It was the first organised tennis tournament in the world and there were 22 contestants in the only event, men's singles.

In 1922 the Championships moved to their present site in Church Road. The new grounds, including the 13,500 capacity Centre Court, were opened by King George V. The ceremony was followed by the greatest Wimbledon tradition of all - rain. It poured for the whole fortnight.

Four Musketeers

On court, the "Four Musketeers" - Frenchmen Rene Lacoste, Henri Cochet, Jean Borotra and Jacques Brugnon - dominated. Between them they held men's singles title from 1924-1929.

In the women's draw, France's Suzanne Lenglen won six titles from 1919-25. She was followed by Helen Wills-Moody, eight times a singles winner in the 1920s and 30s.

The last British man to win the singles title, Fred Perry, triumphed in 1934, 1935 and 1936.

There was no Wimbledon during either of the World Wars but the 1950s saw a golden period for women's tennis with Louise Brough, Pauline Betz and Maureen Connolly vying for the title. "Little Mo" had won the title three times before her career was ended by a riding accident when she was 20.

The 1960s heralded the arrival of the Australians and possibly the greatest male player ever, Rod Laver. The Australian won the title four times but after turning professional in 1962 did not play at Wimbledon again until the Open Era started in 1968.

Rod Laver
Rod Laver turned professional in 1962

Great champions

The 1970s and 80s saw great champions like Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. The Czech-born left-hander won the title a record nine times.

But the history and traditions go on. Pete Sampras needs one more Grand Slam title to beat Roy Emerson's record of 12. If he picks up his seventh Wimbledon crown on Centre Court on 9 July, there would be no more fitting place.

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See also:

10 Jun 00 | Wimbledon2000
Teenage sensations
09 Jun 00 | Wimbledon2000
New balls please
10 Jun 00 | Wimbledon2000
Comeback Kings and Queens
09 Jun 00 | Photo Galleries
Memorable characters from SW19 in the 1980s
10 Jun 00 | Photo Galleries
Stars relax off court
09 Jun 00 | Photo Galleries
Martina Navratilova: "Queen of Centre Court"
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