Will NobleIn Pictures: Wimbledon Centre Court Is 100 Years Old
You may equate Wimbledon's Centre Court with Cliff Richard singalongs and that sliding roof, but it predates both phenomenons by some way. In 2022, Centre Court turns 100 years old.
The first Wimbledon Championship took place in 1877 in Worple Road, with lawn tennis stepping into the fray as the fashion for croquet faded. 22 amateur players (inevitably all men) were whittled down to two, in a final that was (also inevitably) rained off.
Still, by the end of the first world war, the public's appetite for tennis was fiercer than a Serena Williams forehand — to the extent that the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club (AELTC) had to expand. In 1920, two plots of land at Wimbledon's Church Road were purchased for £7,870, and on 26 June 1922, Captain Stanley Peach's 14,000-seater Centre Court opened just in time for that year's Wimbledon Championship. It had taken 3,000 tons of shingle, 1,700 tons of sand, 600 tons of cement — and just nine months — for the court to be created. The all-important turf was imported from Cumberland.
The first official match to be played on the newly-minted court was between two Brits, Leslie Godfree and Algernon Kingscote, and the significance of the occasion wasn't lost on Godfree; after his first serve, his opponent netted the ball, and Godfree instantly pocketed the ball as a memento.
While women players had originally been snubbed by the AELTC, by 1884 they were permitted to play — with Maud Watson becoming the first female champ, and Lottie Dodd the youngest ever female singles champion (she was 15 at the time, and still holds the title). In 1924, Kitty McKane became the first British singles champion on the new Centre Court, thanks to a shock comeback from being 4-6, 1-4 down to Helen Wills. This was the only match Wills ever lost at Wimbledon.
In the century since it witnessed its first matches, Centre Court has undergone a number of changes. Repairs had to be made in 1946, after second world war bombs took out part of the roof and 1,200 seats. The famous Clubhouse balcony was added in 1955. The East Building was constructed in 1967, followed by the North Building in 1975. The retractable roof — its main job to ensure matches could continue in rainy conditions — became a Wimbledon game changer in 2009.
The last 100 years have also brought us some extraordinary sporting moments: Jaroslav Drobny saving six match points against Budge Patty in a four hour, 20 minute epic in 1953. No less than five clashes in the final between Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. John McEnroe being booed as he took to the court for his 1980 final against Bjorn Borg in 1980. (His "you cannot be serious" line, though was uttered on the old Court No. 1.) Steffi Graf battling Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in the 1995 Ladies' Final, including a 20-minute-long game in the third set. Djokovic and Federer's 2019 tussle, which was the longest gentlemen’s singles final in Wimbledon history. Andy Murray fever, and his two Wimbledon titles.
It's amazing the magic you can create with 600 tons of cement, a sliding roof and a bit of grass.