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As Wimbledon celebrates 100 years of Centre Court, the tournament shows signs of change

LONDON – The Wimbledon experience is steeped in tradition.

The players dressed all in white, the reigning men’s champions’ opening match on Monday, the strawberries and cream and camping out in the ‘queue’ for tickets…all time honored experiences. Then there’s the other staples: the crowd politely applauding when the referee tells someone to turn off their phone, and the inevitable comedian trying to evoke a laugh by yelling, “Come on, Tim! Decade.

This year’s Wimbledon has all the hallmarks of the 154-year-old tournament: the white, green and purple flowers and the intimacy of the whole experience.

“It’s just the attention to detail in every single aspect that this place has,” said Emma Raducanu ahead of the tournament. “I mean, from the flowers to everything. They have such subtle hints of tennis rackets and tennis balls in the carpets. The level they go to to make sure this place is pretty much perfect. It’s pretty outstanding.”

Ons Jabeur said Wimbledon felt like “an all in white wedding, or a beach party”.

John Isner also loves it here: “You know, they do a great job manicuring the grounds, and every little flower that’s cut is just done to perfection. It’s a really cool thing. Even if you’re not a tennis fan, this is something that should be on your bucket list to see if you’re a sports fan. It’s fantastic here.”

But at a time when traditions are changing, Wimbledon is slowly leaving some to history. Some involve changes to the tournament, while others are subtle tweaks. Does this mean that Wimbledon is slowly letting go of some of its unique qualities? Maybe not, but behind the scenes, Wimbledon is changing.

No more “Middle Sunday” break

The middle Sunday of the previous 13-day tournament used to be empty to either give players a valuable rest day or catch up on the schedule in case of rain delays. This was used four times: 1991, 1997, 2004 and 2016.

But the decision to scrap the rest day was made back in April 2021, bringing it in line with all three other Grand Slams and making it a 14-day event. There are obvious commercial benefits for the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club from having an extra day of play and the call has also been welcomed by Novak Djokovic.

“All other Grand Slams play in the middle of Sunday,” said Djokovic. “I’m glad Wimbledon introduced that too. I am in favor of this rule change. I like the middle Sunday game.”

That rest day also gave the grass a chance to recover, but the AELTC is confident it can withstand 14 days of bombing.

“Thanks to improved turf maintenance technology over the past five years or so, and other measures, we are now confident that we can maintain the pitches, particularly Center Court, over the two weeks without a full day off,” said AELTC Chairman Ian Hewitt .

“This gives us an opportunity to take this step at an important time. We believe it is in the best interests of tennis fans and the sport for Wimbledon to be seen and visited this mid-weekend.”

Player entrances in the middle of Center Court

As per tradition at Wimbledon, players waited in the clubhouse under the Royal Box and walked past the green screen onto Center Court, meandering left and then out onto the grass.

They changed that this year. Players exit through double doors in the green screen. Organizers say it creates “the impression of a magical portal through which the world’s most experienced players are transported to public esteem.” It’s been dubbed a “central reveal,” meaning players will no longer have a chance to “take a deep breath” before entering the court.

Raducanu played Center Court for the first time in her career on Monday. Before leaving, she was “not really sure” how the new process worked, but said: “Every time you go on Center Court, it will it cool.”

Things didn’t go to plan when Karolina Pliskova, who was first ahead of Katie Boulter on Thursday, turned left before Boulter reminded her of the new entry point.

That’s not the only shift at Center Court, which celebrates its 100th birthday on Sunday. The umpire’s chair is a new green and gold structure that has been altered to “accommodate the required technology and broadcasting equipment in a considered and discreet manner, while displaying a bespoke piece of joinery that incorporates some of the construction details of the original wooden tennis racquets,” according to the Club design.

Practicing on Center Court

For the first time in its history, the club allowed players to practice on Center Court in the week leading up to Opening Monday.

Rafael Nadal and Matteo Berrettini were the first on June 23. This allowed the players to adapt to the turf after some slipped up last year, including Serena Williams, who sustained a hamstring injury and had to withdraw.

Williams was happy to test her stance before the tournament started.

“You know, on one hand it’s amazing, but on the other hand it’s like we have to preserve Center Court,” she said.

“Obviously I was super happy to be out there and have this opportunity and it was good for me too to get that out of my system because the last moment I had on Center Court probably wasn’t my best Moment.”

But Djokovic wasn’t such a fan of the call.

“Although I had the honor of practicing on Center Court before the start of the tournament, I’m not really in favor of this rule change, so to speak,” Djokovic said. “I never thought anyone would ever have the opportunity to practice on center court before the defending champions walk out on Monday.”

elimination of injustices

Marital honors have disappeared on the women’s board for the first time since 1877, as has the age-old practice of giving female champions their husband’s initials. Instead of “Mrs LW King” next to 1966, 1967, 1968, 1972, 1973 and 1975 it now says “Billie Jean King”. The 1981 champion is no longer called “Mrs. JM Lloyd” but “CM Evert”.

The change follows the decision by the AELTC in 2007 to award equal prize money. Then, in 2021, players received identical towels instead of the previous approach where men and women received different colored towels.

Allowing yellow and blue bands

While all-white politics is unlikely to ever change, this year’s Wimbledon allowed a splash of color for those looking to show their support for Ukraine.

Iga Swiatek has worn a blue and yellow ribbon on her cap as at Roland Garros, while Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko and Anhelina Kalinina were both allowed to show their support for those suffering in their home country after February’s Russian invasion.

Tsurenko wore a blue and yellow ribbon on her top, while Kalinina pinned one to her bag.

“I asked, and the answer was yes, we can carry it,” Tsurenko explained.

What’s next?

The main traditions remain in the preserved tennis oasis. The men’s champions will open on Center Court on Monday and the women’s champions will play at the famous stadium on Tuesday. The strawberries and cream are still part of the tournament’s DNA.

The one basic requirement that is still under scrutiny is the all-white dress rule. Ex-player Monica Puig has called for this policy to be changed to prevent the mental stress for those who have their period at Wimbledon.

Other players see the issue with mixed feelings.

Asked if she was worried about the dress code, Petra Kvitova replied: “Yes, I know it’s not really comfortable for girls to play in white when they’re on their period. On the other hand, I think we somehow manage that, like, “Well. We also have a lot of options. Yes, it’s very unusual that you get it during the game. It can happen, of course. I still think Wimbledon, it’s white and it should just be white.” .”

Heather Watson told the BBC it’s an issue “that players at Wimbledon are talking about because of the all-white players”. She added, “I think people are talking about this a lot — maybe not with the media, but certainly with each other.”

Simona Halep thinks she “loves everything white here”.

“I feel like that makes this tournament special too,” added Halep. “So 100 percent for all white people here.”

So will the well-known Wimbledon look very different in a few years? Unlikely but more thoughtful changes have been implemented, showing greater awareness than in the past. While some aspects change to keep up with the changing times, others remain the same.

“Things change, which is good that the tournament and the club are open to certain changes and I think adjustments depending on the needs of the players or fans or the time that society follows,” said Djokovic.

“But I still respect and love Wimbledon for keeping their all-white tradition. No advertising on center court either. I think that’s something that’s really rare in today’s world. I mean, after surprising changes this year, you don’t know. Everything can change in the future. But we all know for sure that Wimbledon is sticking to its tradition and considering any changes very carefully if they make any.”

https://www.espn.com/tennis/story/_/id/34185189/as-wimbledon-celebrates-100-years-centre-court-tournament-shows-signs-change As Wimbledon celebrates 100 years of Centre Court, the tournament shows signs of change

Emma Bowman

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