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Throwback Thursday: Opening days at Wimbledon

Rod Laver (AUS) winning the Gentlemen's Singles Final in 1962 against Martin Mulligan (AUS) in straight sets.
by Leigh Walsh
Thursday 12 June 2014

With just 12 days to go until the start of Wimbledon 2014, we thought we’d dip into the British Pathé archives for Throwback Thursday and dig out some retro footage of the opening day of The Championships through the years.

When the doors open on June 23, more than 38,000 fans are expected to shuffle through the gates. While many will have received tickets through the ballot, others will spend the morning in The Queue, two traditions that have been part of the tournament for many years. The decision to introduce the public ballot was taken in 1924, owing to the huge demand for tickets at the time.

The relocation from Worple Road to Church Road in 1922, described as “essential” at the time, initially increased the Grounds capacity to 219,000 over the course of the two weeks. In 2009, that figure surpassed 500,000 for the first time. Since the early days, demand has often exceeded supply. 

Those that have tickets for the opening day of the tournament will, in many ways, follow the same pathway to those who arrived at The All England Club almost a century ago.

Here are some snapshots of Wimbledon and its traditions from opening days gone by.

“Ice-creams? That’s a joke” - 1969

With £13,370 in prize money up for grabs, the 1969 edition of The Championships got off to the “worst start to the Wimbledon fortnight in living memory”. It rained. And then it rained some more.

In the days before the roof the tournament was often under threat of falling prey to the weather and on the opening day of play that year there wasn’t a single ball struck. Nowadays, players will retreat to the lockerroom or leave the Grounds all together, but back then players were more accessible to the public.

In the following clip, a smartly dressed Rod Laver, who was due to kick start his bid for a fourth singles title that day, can be seen keeping an eye on the elements from outside the Clubhouse.

“First ever mixture of amateur and professional players” - 1968

The opening day in 1968 was a unique one because it marked the beginning of the open Championships, which allowed both amateurs and professional players to compete together. The singles winners that year were Rod Laver and Billie Jean King, who won £2,000 and £750 respectively. American Herb Fitzgibbon became the first amateur to beat a professional at Wimbledon with his win against Niki Pilic of Yugoslavia.

“Game, set and match to Christine Truman. What a tonic for us all” – 1963

The buzz that permeates around the Grounds when a British player is on court is the same now as it was back when international players first started travelling to London for The Championships.

This clip from the opening day in 1963 shows “England’s best hope” Mike Sangster losing to Germany’s Wilhelm Bungert in the opening round and the disappointment when he loses is palpable. “What a blow for England. Let’s draw a veil over that tragedy,” urged the commentator.

Luckily for British fans, Christine Truman restored their faith later that day, coming through her opening match unscathed. 

This newsreel also shows off some of the “pretty frocks” on view at that time. And some of the hats on display are quite remarkable.  

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