The story about the first Wimbledon - how it all started in 1877


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The story about the first Wimbledon - how it all started in 1877

The first Major tennis tournament was held in July 1877 at the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club at Wimbledon and this was the first big step in the creation of the modern tennis we are familiar with today. Of course, we are talking about the early development of the organized lawn tennis and back in June, there was a meeting between Messrs Julian Marshall, Charles G.

Heathcote and Henry Jones to determine the basic rules and programme, preparing everything for the second week of July. The manufacturers of Jefferies & Co from Woolwich did their best to deliver "nets of the right size and texture; posts of the right height and stoutness, and fifteen dozens balls, without a bad one amongst them." The scoring system was basically the same as today, with deuces and advantages (the sudden death at five games all, excluding the final match) and the play was on if the ball touches the net and land in the service field.

The net itself was a little bit higher than today and the court dimensions were also identical, with the only difference in the length of the service field, being five feet shorter today than in 1877 (it was shortened to today's measure in 1880).

The first ever Wimbledon draw took place at Pavilion, at the All England Club Ground on Saturday, July 7 at 3:30 pm. 22 players had signed to play (those who tried to enter the draw later were not considered) and the action started at the same time two days later, on July 9. Charles Buller didn't show and we had 10 first round matches, including the first Wimbledon five-setter between Julian Marshall and Captain Grimston.

On Tuesday, five second round matches were completed and Charles Gilbert Heathcote didn't have to play, moving to the quarters after receiving a bye at the bottom of the draw. J. Lambert was the first player who retired at Wimbledon after losing the first two sets against Robert Erskine.

Spencer Gore, Francis Langham, Lestocq Robert Erskine, William Marshall, Julian Marshall and Charles Heathcote were the remaining players in the draw, playing three quarter-final matches on Wednesday to determine the semi-finalists.

Gore defeated Langham 6-3 6-2 5-6 6-1 while Heathcote toppled Julian Marshall 6-3 6-3 6-5. William Marshall ousted Erskine 6-5 5-6 6-4 6-1 and this architect was given bye for the place in the final, with Gore and Heathcote to fight for the remaining spot in the title match.

On Thursday, Gore overpowered Heathcote 6-2 6-5 6-2 and the final was set for the Monday, July 16 due to Eton vs Harrow cricket match that took place on Friday and Saturday. Instead of Monday, the final had to be postponed for further three days due to rain, with everything being settled on July 19 in front of 200 spectators.

Gore and Marshall had appeared on the slippery court around 4:30 pm and it took Spencer less than 50 minutes to wrap up a 6-1 6-2 6-4 triumph and become the first Wimbledon champion to earn the twelve guinea gold prize and hold the twenty-five guinea silver Challenge cup.

Marshall won the toss and he served first, getting broken immediately for the worst possible start of the match. He held at 15 in game two to cement the break and again in game four after a deuce for a 3-1 lead. William was 40-15 up in the fifth game but Spencer found the way to break him again, moving 4-1 ahead and sealing the deal with another break in game seven, taking the opening set in some 15 minutes! The rain halted the game for another 15 minutes and Marshall opened it with a break, hoping to show much more than in the opener.

He couldn't stay in front for too long, though, with Gore erasing the deficit and moving 4-2 ahead with another break in game six. He was the leading figure on the court again and the next two games were in his hands as well, taking the set 6-2 after 13 minutes and moving a set away from the title.

Spencer held at the start of the third set and he broke Marshall's serve following double faults from William who drifted further and further away from the finish line. Nonetheless, Marshall bounced back to win the next four games and level the score at 2-2, only to lose the next couple of games and find himself 4-2 down, unable to control his initial shot or to do more on the return.

Marshall reduced the deficit to 4-3 and he was back on the level terms after claiming the eighth game but Gore was more focused, holding for a 5-4 and delivering a crucial break in game 10 to clinch the title and write history.

In order for the crowd to see more tennis, Marshall and Heathcote played a playoff match to determine the second and third prize winners, with Marshall prevailing 6-4 6-4. As for Spencer Gore, he was 27 when he won Wimbledon and he returned to the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club only once after that, losing to Frank Hadow in the Challenge match a year later.

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