The All England Club, home of the Wimbledon tennis championships, is often regarded as a world unto itself. Grass courts, almost extinct elsewhere, still flourish here. The 1920s are gone but the garden party atmosphere of the tournament remains--jugs of Pimm's, strawberries and cream, tennis in the sunshine.
A land that time forgot? Not quite. Wimbledon has mastered the art of imperceptible change, so slow, so constant, it doesn't appear to be changing at all. But step back and the transformation is staggering. Over the course of a century, the tournament has gone from genteel sporting event to a slick, mega-million professional show.
This year's edition wrapped up on July 5th with another historic final. Roger Federer defeated Andy Roddick in the longest-ever fifth-set in a Grand Slam to capture a record-breaking 15th major. Last year's epic final between Federer and Rafael Nadal had already generated excitement going into this year's championships, and ticket sales broke records, exceeding 511,000.
The grounds have been expanded and there's a new roof over Centre Court, designed to help prevent the rain delays for which the tournament is famous. New lighting allows matches to be played at night under a closed roof. Andy Murray, Britain's great hope, played Wimbledon's first night match in a dramatic five-setter that prompted the BBC to stay with the contest and pre-empt its entire prime-time lineup--"EastEnders", "Panorama" and the nightly news.
It made for gripping television. The confinement created an electric atmosphere, and Centre Court glowed like a lit jewel. Almost 13m people tuned in to watch the match.
The drama of the tournament was consuming: Nadal's injury; Federer's plight to establish himself as the greatest player of all time; and the emergence of Murray, a genuine contender to end the 73-year drought of British men at Wimbledon. These plotlines transfixed the nation for a fortnight, and delivered a promise for more: Murray improving, Nadal returning, Federer defending and the women's game reasserting itself--perhaps with British 15-year-old Laura Robson in the mix.
How big can Wimbledon can get? We are in the process of finding out.
~ KAMAKSHI TANDON