Tennis at Wimbledon: The many traditions of the Championships

Roger Federer last won Wimbledon in 2012.

Welcome to Tennis & Travels, a new column that applauds the readers who do decide to combine business with pleasure. Because life is short, and you should travel and play tennis—maybe even do both at once.

I’ll be the first to admit that maybe the hook shouldn’t have come this late, no.

After Queen Elizabeth II, and Shakespeare and the Beatles, Wimbledon will be the real reason why tennis fans would visit England at this time of the year. The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC) is the Grand Cathedral of tennis, and I’ll unpack here some of the most important traditions of the place to, perhaps, convince you to book a ticket—be it this year, or some other year.

The Cathedral, of course, is where the Wimbledon Grand Slam is held every year and every year it comes with a set of traditions that are worthy of the place. An overview of some of said traditions.

The reader may know that Wimbledon exists since 1877 and, as such, is the oldest tournament in the world. During the event, the AELTC turns outward and away from its 375 private members and welcomes us with seemingly open arms. Because our society loves to lend traits of wisdom and knowledge to our elders, we see Wimbledon as the most traditional and prestigious of tennis tournaments. There’s a reason why Novak Djokovic bent down and ate strands of the grass at Wimbledon but not at, say, the Australian Open.

And because Wimbledon is the oldest and most prestigious tournament, we let it get away with some things. The tournament, for example, will typically give strawberries and cream for snacks to the fans attending the matches; that’s all fine and dandy. The organizers have also installed a day of rest during the two-week event, when there will not be any tennis played; there might be matches to catch up on because maybe it rained during the days prior, but catching up is not what the middle Sunday will be for. On the middle Sunday, you relax and drink tea at Wimbledon.

Wimbledon isn’t high school, but sometimes you wonder. Let me explain.

The tournament organizers have decided to forego any and every sponsor on their courts, choosing instead a solid green. While sponsors play an important role in today’s sports, nothing should take the focus away from the Mr., Miss and Mrs. who are competing in the Wimbledon championships—because, oh yes, the players are referred to according to their marital status. At Wimbledon, the announcer and umpires says “Mr. Roger Federer” and, especially, “Miss Maria Sharapova”.

Nothing and no one is bigger than the tournament at Wimbledon and spectators are reminded of this fact at every turn; the centre court is named simply Centre Court, not Arthur Ashe or Philippe Chatrier, etc. (Except for the Queen and other Royals, who routinely attend matches on Centre Court: the Queen is bigger than anyone and anything.)

It’s also why the players need to respect a dress code to play at Wimbledon: for none of their matches should they be allowed to wear anything but white. That tradition has led to many odd moments, notably when the great Roger Federer had to change his Wimbledon shoes in 2013 because they had orange soles. There is not really any reason for this all-white clothing policy other than “those are the rules”, and that should never be a good enough reason to do anything.

But if you remember that cathedral parallel, then maybe you can understand Wimbledon better. That’s the thing with religion, right? As I wrote once upon a time: “that’s the thing with religion—you don’t need a reason, only faith.”

Now is the time to rekindle your faith. For two weeks during the year, this ancient cathedral opens its doors to the world-class tennis players of the WTA Tour and the ATP World Tour and the general public—which is to say, to the mere mortals of this world.

One day, maybe the cathedral will accept that it must reinvent itself if it doesn’t want to be left behind. But that day hasn’t come, and this month is your chance to visit and to bathe in the history and traditions of the place.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG