I’m not really a tennis fan at all, but I thought it would be really interesting to visit Wimbledon, as it has such a long history. I went there on Sunday to look round the museum and partake in a tour, and ended up being infected by some of the enthusiasm clearly felt by tennis fans.
Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Club is located in south west London, and can be reached by bus 493 which goes through Tooting and encompasses both Southfields and Wimbledon stations. I actually got off at Wimbledon Park station and walked through the park, which was a lovely experience on what turned out to be a rather pleasant day. To get to the museum you enter the site at Gate 4, and the entrance is nearby.
Entrance to the Museum and a tour of the site costs £22. This sounds expensive but I actually found it to be well worth it. I looked around the Museum first, which took about an hour. The Museum was renovated in 2006 and tells the story of lawn tennis and Wimbledon from the early days of the game and the first Championship in 1877 to more recent 21st-century developments. I found it to be interesting, well laid-out and informative, with fascinating items displayed including early tennis rackets, tennis-related memorabilia and outfits through the decades. I was appalled by the female outfits from the Victorian era, which included full corsets and long skirts. Frankly I’m amazed women were able to play the game at all in those clothes. There is also a hologram of player John McEnroe projected into a model of a dressing room, as well as videos and other interactive exhibits. Finally, the famous Wimbledon trophies are displayed in all their glory. These remain permanently on-site and winners get small copies to keep.
After looking around the Museum, it was time for the tour. This took an hour and a half and was a really good experience. Our guide was a Blue Badge guide and very knowledgeable. I was amazed at all the different nationalities of those on the tour – there were people from the USA, Australia, the Netherlands, India, Mexico and Thailand. It just goes to show how famous Wimbledon is the world over. We met at the statue of F. J. Perry, Britain’s last ever Gentlemen’s Singles Wimbledon Champion. His ashes are contained alongside.
On the tour we were shown a number of the courts, and introduced to the famous Wimbledon grass which we were ordered not to touch on pain of death (not quite!). One of the courts was the location of the nail-biting 2010 match between John Isner (USA) and Nicolas Mahut (France), which at over eleven hours turned out to be the longest ever Championship match. Our guide had been there at the match, and her recollections made me – who has never watched more than five minutes of tennis in my life – wish I had been there too.
Near the beginning of the tour, we were shown the large board showing the results of all the Singles matches from Wimbledon 2012. Our guide explained that even the best players can be beaten by up-and-coming stars, and this is part of what makes tennis such an exciting game.
After a look around No. 1 Court (not to be confused with Centre Court), we were shown and given the chance to climb up Aorangi Park, so called because it was constructed on land previously leased to the New Zealand Sports and Social Club. It is a popular place for visitors to sit during the Championships because a giant screen is placed above the stairs by No. 1 Court showing all the matches that take place in that court. The area has been known informally as ‘Henman Hill’ and ‘Murray Mound’ as it has been commonly used by fans of these two British players.
Later we were shown the players’ reception, where they are required to sign in each day during Wimbledon. We also visited the press room, where players are required to give interviews to the media if requested to do so. We were offered, and a lot of my fellow tourists took the opportunity, the chance to sit in the seats ourselves and get our photos taken! I chickened out, partly because I would have been on my own, and it would have been a bit weird.
Our guide took us past an old-fashioned roller, originally pulled by horses to ensure the grass was smooth enough for tennis. She explained that the roller played an important part in the history of Wimbledon – if it wasn’t for it breaking, the club officials would never have come up with the idea of holding a tennis tournament to raise money for another. After the success of the first tournament, a second was held the following year, and the year after that… the rest, as they say, is history.
Finally we headed to Centre Court. On the way, we passed the boards on which are engraved the names of all the Wimbledon Champions dating back to 1877.
Centre Court itself looks rather similar to No. 1 Court, but there are several important differences: it is the only court to have a Royal Box, and is currently the only court to have a roof (though one is planned for No. 1 Court in the next few years). If it should start to rain, the roof can be activated; normally folded like a concertina at either end of the court, it folds out and is ready for play within 40 minutes, which is very good news given the unpredictability of British weather.
There the tour ended, leaving me, as I mentioned earlier, with a new-found appreciation of the game of tennis. Unfortunately, the ballot for tickets for the 2013 Championships closed at the end of last year, and I don’t think I am quite dedicated enough to get up early at a ridiculous hour and queue for day tickets. However, I intend to register for the 2014 ballot when it opens in August, and see what happens.
Address: The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Church Road, Wimbledon, London, SW19 5AE
Opening Hours: Museum open 10am-5.30pm (5pm in winter); tour times vary
Prices: Museum only – Adult £13, Concession £11, Child £15; Museum and tour – Adult £24, Concession £21, Child £8