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Wimbledon Again Hosts Tennis Greats

  • Tom Rivers

Wimbledon is a name known around the world for one thing, tennis. For the next two weeks, fans will follow the soap opera of this year's tournament; the tough battles, the upsets, the plot that grows ever more intriguing with each passing day. The oldest and most prestigious major, and the only one still played on grass, the tournament is steeped in history and tradition. The revered place in the sport of tennis is located in a leafy suburb tucked away in southwest London.

This is what it's all about. Giving your all and coming out on top at the tournament that matter the most.

That's one thing that will never change in the competition that stretches back to 1877. This year's hopefuls are well aware of that and for them, staying focused and honing that edge - both mentally and physically - is all a part of the fine-tuning process.

From the days of the great Fred Perry - the last British Men's Champ in 1936 - through the 1950s when Althea Gibson, the first African-American player graced center court and won, to the present day, the Wimbledon tournament has always been special.

And much of that has to do with the traditions surrounding the historic place.

At the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum, the past is preserved.

Curator Honor Godfrey is in charge of chronicling the game's evolution through the years.

"I think there are lots of reasons that contribute to the name Wimbledon and probably one of the most significant is the fact that we play on grass ... and so many of the players say how wonderful it is to come here, how green it is, how wonderful the grass looks. And obviously other traditions spring from that as well like playing almost entirely in white. That is another of the great Wimbledon traditions. Professional tennis players, even in the later 19th century were wearing white clothes and it has gone on from that stage and we obviously have that ruling today still," explains Godfrey.

And of course the mere mention of the word Wimbledon congers up images of dark, rain-bearing clouds.

"Wimbledon weather is traditionally very fickle so it could be sunny in the morning and then it could be a couple of squally showers, enough to interrupt play, but this again is something which spectators and visitors, they have come to enjoy that. It is all part of being here," said Godfrey.

But embedded in the long train of traditions at Wimbledon is the ability to change and adapt to the times. And a big change this year is a retractable roof on center court.

Ian Ritchie, who is the chief executive of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, says the roof will be a big plus for the championships once those inevitable rain drops start to appear.

"There has been a lot of planning and a lot of great experts involved so I think it is one of those things that is only an addition and it helps the people who get a ticket, a lifetime ambition to come to the center court and they now know they get guaranteed play," said Ritchie.

The roof is just the latest example of adapting to a changing tennis world while preserving the traditional foundations upon which the tournament is based.

"I think you have always got to be very careful about those traditional elements which in fact have made the tournament famous over the years - playing on grass, white clothing, no advertising around the grounds - those are the sort of basics and fundamentals, which I do not think we would change. But in the same way if you want to be which I think we are a global iconic sporting event, you have to move with the times," said Ritchie.

One thing that will never change is that incredible feeling of winning at Wimbledon. From 1877, to 2009, some things will forever remain the same.

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