The First Wimbledon Tournament Was Only For Amateurs

Wimbledon 2019 is about to head into the semifinals, which will see players like Romania’s Simona Halep, Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, and of course, the U.S.’s own Serena Williams work their way towards the championship. But more than a century ago, tennis’s most prestigious tournament at Wimbledon was in its infancy and it was a male-dominated sport.

The first international tennis match takes place at Wimbledon, London 1883.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The very first Wimbledon tournament was held on July 9, 1877, in an outer suburb of London. It was hosted by the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club, which initially was founded in 1868 to promote croquet. But the game of tennis was rapidly gaining popularity and nine years later, the club posted an announcement in a local sporting magazine that called for tennis amateurs to come together for a meeting.

The All English Club decided that the court should be 78-feet long by 27-feet wide and established the tennis method of scoring based on a clock face. The first player to win six games was to win a set and each server was allowed one fault. Club member Dr. Henry Jones is credited with establishing most of the rules, which are still in place today.

Twenty-one men registered and showed up for the first day of the tournament on July 9th. Eleven men made it to the next rounds the following day, and then three made it to the semifinals. Finally, on July 19th, 200 spectators showed up to watch William Marshall of Cambridge go up against W. Spencer Gore. Just 48 minutes into that championship round, 27-year-old W. Spencer Gore was announced the first winner of the Wimbledon tournament.

Women weren’t invited into the tournament until seven years later in 1884 when Maud Watson became the first female champion. It was also the same year the men’s doubles were incorporated into the tournament. What was initially meant to be an amateur tournament turned professional by 1968, at which point the Wimbledon Championships became the world’s top tennis tournament.