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Anyone for Tennis?

Right now I'm spending a bit more time than usual watching sport on the TV.

No - I'm not talking about the football (or if you're reading this in the States, the 'soccer').

The Euro football tournament is  currently happening and of course, it's all over the British media, especially now because the English team will face up to Italy in the final at Wembley stadium on Sunday this weekend!

I put my hand up and admit that I'd actually rather watch paint dry than endure a football match on TV. I've been to 'live' matches and they are different. Great fun, much excitement.

But watching on TV, it's not just about the actual game. Hours upon hours are dedicated to all the pre-match conversations, then there's the so called 'expert' chat during half time and of course at the end of the match all those experts unpicking every minor detail of the 90 minutes of play - why what the 'experts' thought would happen didn't happen, and so on and so forth.  I find it all rather tedious. So I'm not talking about watching football.

No - I'm talking tennis.

Yes, I know many of you reading may think that watching a tennis match is also pretty boring. But not me.

You see, it all comes down to personal interest and personal choice.

I can't bear watching all the hype around football and all the machismo around the players and the game. But I love watching those tennis players with all the thought and tactics that are employed. I love experiencing the ups and downs of play, which can swing so quickly in favour of one player or the other. There's so much 'thinking' involved ... as well as the athleticism and dedication which we can all marvel at.

One of the tennis 'Grand Slam' tournaments, and the only grass court 'Major' competition  - is held in a town in southwest London which is world famous. 

Wimbledon.

In fact, the Wimbledon Championships is recognised as being the oldest tennis tournament in the world and is widely regarded as the most prestigious. 

Right now we're on the brink of the final weekend of Wimbledon 2021 ... it's the Ladies Singles Final tomorrow (Saturday) and the Gentleman's Singles Final on Sunday. And there will be the doubles finals as well. These days there are junior tournaments and the Wimbledon Wheelchair championship matches.

But on this day back in 1877 it was the start of the very first Wimbledon Championship. The tournament was held, as it still is today, at the  All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club (AEC & LTC) in Wimbledon, London.

The AEC & LTC had been founded in July 1868, as the All England Croquet Club. But as the interest in croquet was waning, in February 1875  lawn tennis was added to the interests at the club.

In June 1877 the club decided to organise a tennis tournament to pay for the repair of its pony roller, which they used to maintain the lawns, or the outdoor grass courts.

Although the game of 'tennis' can be traced back to 12th century France, in England it became what we now know as Real Tennis which was (and still is) played on an indoor court and became known as the 'Game of Kings'. There appear to have been various incarnations of the game in different countries.

It was the introduction of technology, namely the invention of the first lawn mower in Britain in 1830, which is thought to have led to the ability to prepare grass courts - or lawns laid to grass - which could be used as a fairly safe playing surface. This in turn enabled sports and leisure enthusiasts to create  pitches, greens, playing fields and ... tennis courts!

This development meant that the sports became more popular and people began to want standardised rules. It was in the mid 19th century that modern rules for many sports were first conceived, including ... lawn bowls, football, and lawn tennis.

The world's first 'tennis' club was actually founded in Leamington Spa in Warwickshire in England in 1872. In nearby Birmingham in the English Midlands, a few years earlier (between 1859 and 1865 actually) a chap called Harry Gem, a solicitor, and his friend Augurio Perera had developed a game that combined elements of another past time called 'racquets' (similar to squash) and the ball game pelota which hailed from the Basque region of Europe, on the French and Spanish border.
 
The duo first played the game on Perera's croquet lawn in Birmingham and a few years later the friends got together with two local doctors to  set up that first club on Avenue Road in Leamington Spa. It's here that the term "lawn tennis" was used as a name of an activity by a club for the first time. 
 
The game caught on and by May 1875 the Marylebone Cricket Club drew up the first standardised rules for tennis. 
 
Just two years later, the organisers of the first Wimbledon tournament had no precedent so, using those MCC regulations, they had to come up with a set of rules for a tournament.  
 
That first event only included a 'Gentlemen's Singles' competition, and 22 men played on the now famous grass courts, having each had to pay for the honour of taking part ... the entry fee was one guinea.
 
The tournament began on 9 July 1877, and the final – delayed for three days by rain – was played on 19 July in front of a crowd of about 200 people who each paid an entry fee of one shilling. Hopefully the club made the money they needed for that pony grass roller!
 
Until fairly recently, rain was an issue for Wimbledon and I've spent many an hour over the years watching re-runs of old matches on TV while 'rain stopped play'. However, in 2009 the All England Club put a retractable roof over the famous Centre Court, and in 2019 the other main show court, No. 1 Court, also got a roof.
 
Back on World Poetry Day on March 21, my 'One Day at a Time' blog featured one of my favourite poems - 'If' by Rudyard Kipling - but what I didn't point out at the time is that there's a line in the poem which is engraved over the entrance to Centre Court at Wimbledon.
 
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:
 
Wimbledon Triumph and Disaster
These are words, of course, to inspire those players who are about to perform, hopefully at their best, on one of the world's most prestigious courts at the oldest tennis tournament in the world, with all the history that involves.
 
As today's competitors step under that inscription, I'm sure they are aware of the many many incredible sports men and women who have preceded them and all those who have also played on that hallowed turf. I hope so, anyway. Because although I'm sure they are thinking about their own game, the legacy of those who have gone before, including the early pioneers of the game, must be acknowledged.
 
But the words can also inspire us.
 
We might not be able to play world class tennis, or kick a ball at the highest level of football, or change the world, or do something spectacular.
 
But we all face 'triumphs' and successes, and 'disasters' and failures in our lives.
 
Life is like that. Ups and Downs.
 
And if we can face them both with equal measure - then our lives can surely achieve some sort of 'balance'.
 
More of that tomorrow!
 
 

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