Skip to main content

Nine things you didn't know about Wimbledon

By Paul Gittings, CNN
  • The history of the world's oldest grand slam is littered with unusual facts
  • King George VI, then the Duke of York, played in the 1926 championships
  • A pineapple shape adorns the top of the men's singles trophy
  • Chris Evert is the last married woman to win the women's singles back in 1981

(CNN) -- Wimbledon is the oldest grand slam in tennis, dating back to 1877, and it boasts a rich and varied history.

The famous tournament is underway for the 125th time prompting CNN to dig through the archives to find nine interesting and curious facts you may not have known about the event.

From the royal connection to the unusual adornment on top of the men's singles trophy; to the crowd's obsession with strawberries and cream and little-known original use for the All England grounds, each combine to make Wimbledon so special.

If you can add to the selection, please use the comment box below the story.

The Royal performer

Immortalized by the Colin Firth's Oscar-winning portrayal in the King's Speech, King George VI may have lacked fluency in his public speaking but was obviously a dab hand at tennis.

While still the Duke of York, the future British monarch played in the 1926 Wimbledon championships. Unfortunately his appearance in the men's doubles competition was brief, beaten in the first round with his partner Sir Louis Greig.

The Royal Box

The future King George VI was also a regular in the special area on Centre Court which has been reserved for the British Royal Family and guests of Wimbledon since 1922. The box is 12 feet (4m) off the ground and contains 74 regular wicker chairs in dark green Lloyd Loom. The practice of players curtsying or bowing to members of the royal family who were in attendance was stopped in 2003, but it is still in place for the Queen Elizabeth II, who visited in 2010.

Rufus the hawk

Wimbledon has its own resident hawk, who goes by the name of Rufus. The Harris Hawk visits the All England club most weeks of the year with the main aim of deterring local pigeons from doing their worst. During the championships, Rufus' patrols are stepped up and he flies for one hour most mornings before the gates open to the public.

Wartime Wimbledon

During World War II all tennis halted at Wimbledon, but the grounds of the All England club were pressed into action to aid the British war effort. They were mainly used for civil defense by the Home Guard and fire and ambulance services, but the club also had a decontamination unit. During the conflict, a bomb ripped through Centre Court and 1,200 seats were damaged, but fortunately there were no casualties.

The green green grass

A team of 45 ground staff lovingly tend the 19 courts which are all made of 100 per cent rye grass which is chosen for its ability to stand wear and tear. According to the official Wimbledon website, no less than one ton of grass seed is used every year. During the championship all courts are mown, rolled and re-lined each day with 3,000 gallons of water used as part of the preparation process. The grass is cut to 8mm for matches to ensure regular bounce for the elite of world tennis.

Pineapple on top

The trophy for the men's singles at Wimbledon is one of the most recognizable in sport and dates back to 1887. The magnificent gold cup stands 18 1/2 inches high and has a diameter of 7 1/2 inches, but the eagle-eyed might notice the pineapple design which adorns the top of the lid. A spokesperson for the Wimbledon museum told CNN that information remains scarce about the origins of the actual cup. She offered the explanation that it could date back to the tradition where captains in the British navy coming back from sea put a pineapple on the gateposts of their home.

Strawberries and cream

One of the traditional symbols of the championships of which a staggering 28,000 kg are consumed during Wimbledon fortnight, served with over 7,000 liters of fresh cream. They come from the "Garden of England," the southern county of Kent, and are freshly picked the day before, arriving at SW19 in the early hours of the morning. They are part of a Wimbledon catering operation which is the biggest for a sporting event in Europe.

The croquet connection

Croquet was the first sport to be played on the grounds of the All England Club a quintessentially English pastime where players have to knock a wooden ball through hoops using a mallet type implement. It's a highly skilled game but once tennis was introduced to Wimbledon in 1877 interest in croquet receded. For sentimental reasons, croquet is still retained in the official title of the championships and a small lawn for the sport still exists on the grounds although too small for top-class competitions.

Women's singles?

It is fully 30 years since a married woman claimed the women's singles title at Wimbledon. Chris Evert-Lloyd of the United States beat Czech Hana Mandlikova in straight sets to win the trophy for the third and final time. Her husband at the time was John Lloyd, a former British number one and Davis Cup player.

Part of complete coverage on
The British Open preview
Living Golf's Shane O'Donoghue previews the Open Championship (British Open).
Golf: McIlroy defends his build-up
Rory McIlroy defends his preparation for this week's British Open as he bids to win back-to-back majors.
Caddying for Luke Donald
Living Golf's Shane O'Donoghue tries his hand at caddying for world number one Luke Donald.
Succeeding at Royal St Georges
Former British Open winners Sandy Lyle and Ben Curtis talk to Living Golf about playing the famous Royal St Georges golf course.
McIlroy on Irish golfing success
CNN's Living Golf talks to Rory McIlroy and looks at why Ireland is so successful at producing major champions.
Mickelson shoots for young guns
The Open is a sporting event that venerates maturity. It is, after all, the world's oldest golf tournament.