The All England Club, or the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club as it is properly known1, is the venue for the oldest tennis tournament in the world – the Championships, Wimbledon. While officially on an equal footing with the other Grand Slams2 in terms of ranking points and similar, this is the event which most players and fans agree is the most prestigious and important. The tournament is generally just known as 'Wimbledon', and is so named because this is the London borough where it is held. It is also sometimes referred to as 'SW19', which is the post code of the club3.
The AELTCC is an actual tennis club, not just the venue of the Championships. In fact, it is the most exclusive tennis club in Britain. To join, you need to get four members, whom you have to have known for at least three years each, to write letters of recommendation. Then you are put on a waiting list, with no guarantee of a membership at the end. Wimbledon Champions are given honorary memberships.
The AELTCC has two major stadium courts. These are Centre Court4, the venue for all the finals, and the unimaginatively-named Court No 1.
Rain delays are well-known to all Wimbledon fans for interrupting the action, often for hours at a time, with the umpire's call of 'Ladies and Gentlemen, play is suspended', leaving ground staff to quickly remove the net and pull protective covers over the court while the broadcaster tries to fill time5. However, these are now a thing of the past on Centre Court, as in 2009 a state-of-the-art roof was completed which can be closed in under 10 minutes at the first sign of bad weather, allowing play to continue in perfectly climate-controlled conditions. Of course, for the players who don't get to play on Centre Court, it's still business as usual.
Court 2 is the third largest court. It used to be known as 'The Graveyard of Champions' as established, successful players often seemed to lose when playing on that court. However, development work means that Court 2 will become Court 3 and Court 13 is being converted into the new Court 2 by being sunk 3.5 metres into the ground to allow for the construction of seating.
There are also many practice courts at Aorangi Park6, near No 1 court, which is a good place to get autographs from the players. Next to No 1 court is the grassy bank known as Henman Hill. This overlooks a large screen which shows action from the show courts during the Championships. It is often used by those who have tickets into the grounds but not seats on the big courts, and the name comes from its popularity during perennial home favourite Tim Henman's matches.
During the Championships, more than 600 competitors (including those involved in junior and veteran events) can be at the AELTCC, so most players can only be allowed half an hour on the practice courts per day, although seeds are allowed a full hour.
Other Places of Interest
Fred Perry statue - this is located opposite the main gates. Fred Perry was the last British man7 to win the Men's Singles. In fact, he won it three times in a row. Virginia Wade was the last Briton to win the Ladies' Singles, in 1977. The statue was erected in 1984 to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Perry's first Wimbledon title. The Somerset Road entrance gates to the AELTCC are also dedicated to him.
Doherty Memorial Gates - these gates, at the Church Road entrance, were donated to the club in 1931 by Rev William Doherty as a memorial to his brothers, Reggie and Laurie (known as Big Do and Little Do), who both died young, but found time to dominate tennis first. Reggie won Wimbledon four times and Laurie five times. They also teamed up to win the Men's Doubles eight times.
History of the AELTCC
The AELTCC was originally located at the other end of Wimbledon in Worple Road, on a site which is now a school playground. It only had 10 courts, and the Centre Court had a capacity of only 3,500. The tournament was rapidly increasing in popularity from the 1880s, and it soon became necessary to relocate to a larger site. Rumour has it that the reason so many people came was to see French player Suzanne Lenglen, who was the first tennis superstar, play. The club moved to Church Road, its current home, in 1922. The new grounds were not to escape renovation either – part of Centre Court was damaged by bombing in the Second World War, and the original No 1 court, built in 1924, was knocked down and replaced with the current court in 1997.
The first championships were held in 1877. The only event was the Men's Singles, which Spencer Gore won, watched by only 200 people. There were only 22 entries, compared with the current main draw limit of 128. The Men's Doubles first took place in 1884 and reached the current limit of 64 pairs in 1921. The Ladies' Singles began in 1884 with only 13 players. The draw was limited to 96 until 1983, when it and the other Grand Slams increased the main draw limit to 128, in common with the men's event. The Ladies' Doubles attracted its maximum of 64 pairs in 1984, and the Mixed Doubles did the same in 1921. In addition to the events listed above, there are also junior events, which began in 1947, and veteran's events for different age groups.
Tennis went 'open' in 1968, meaning that professional tennis players could take part, which they had previously not been allowed to do. This had a big impact on the game as a whole, not just at Wimbledon. Amateurs can still play at Wimbledon, but do not earn any prize money. Another important year was 1973. The Association of Tennis Professionals (The ATP, now the ruling body of men's tennis) urged their members to boycott Wimbledon after a dispute between the ATP and the International Tennis Federation (ITF - who control world tennis) over the suspension of Yugoslavian player Nikki Pilic after his non-appearance in Yugoslavia's Davis Cup match against New Zealand. Eighty of the male players boycotted the tournament, including thirteen of the top sixteen seeds. The tournament was won by Jan Kodes, and the Championships carried on as normal the following year.
You can keep up with Wimbledon on the Official Wimbledon Website or on the BBC Wimbledon website at. There are also the tour websites. You can find information on the male players on the ATP website, or for the female players, use the WTA website, which stands for the Women's Tennis Association.