Middle Sunday, dress code and other broken Wimbledon traditions

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© Gettyimages

Middle Sunday, dress code and other broken Wimbledon traditions

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Arun S Kaimal


From traditional dress codes to grass courts, Wimbledon is unique in its own way. Some of these have been broken in the history like the first Sunday tradition, but the Championship has remained resolutely old-fashioned in most.

In 1877, a lawn tennis and croquet club in an outer-suburb of London decided to organise a tennis championship for amateurs to raise funds to repair a broken pony roller, that was used to keep the grass flat. 21 amateurs showed up for the Gentleman singles tournament, which would later become the oldest major in tennis – the Wimbledon. 139 years have passed since its inception, but the tournament hosted by the All England Club is unlike any other sporting event in the world. From traditional dress codes to grass courts, Wimbledon is unique in its own way. Some of these have been broken in the history like the first Sunday tradition, but the Championship has remained resolutely old-fashioned in most.

The Wimbledon will not be the same without strawberry and cream. The most famous food at the club is offered to the spectators and the players alike during the tournament. Reportedly 23 tons of strawberries and 7,000 litres of cream are used every year at the All England Club. Munching strawberries, the spectators will get to see Gentlemen and Ladies competitions on the court.

Also read: Tennis: Now and Then – Ten things that have changed

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Prior to 2009, players were referred to as Mr and Mrs on the scoreboard, but it changed in 2009. However, the name of Gentlemen and Ladies associated with the men’s and women’s event still continues at the All England Club. The Wimbledon also has a special guard to scare away the pigeons in Rufus, the hawk. A very important member of the Wimbledon family, the Hawk, who has a better eye than the Hawk-eye technology, has been part of the SW19 since 2003. But, Middle Sunday is here, and we will move on to that.

Middle Sunday – The sacred rest day

When all other Grand Slams – the Australian Open, the French Open, and the US Open – have matches on at least two Sundays, the Wimbledon played matches on just one – the final Sunday. The Middle Sunday is regarded as a sacred rest day at the All England Club, but it will be broken for just the fourth time in the history, this Sunday. Persistent rains at the SW19 forced the organisers to conduct matches on the Middle Sunday to break the tradition once again. The People’s Sunday, as it is called, had hosted matches at the All England Club only in 1991, 1997, and 2004.

The tradition supposedly came into effect after a deal between the All England Club and the local residents. The Gentleman singles final was played on Saturday in the past, and when the organisers decided to move it to Sunday, they had to give another rest day to the local community in return, thus came the Middle Sunday.

Also read: Top 5 Dark Horses for Wimbledon 2016

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Each time the All England Club took a break from the tradition, the People’s Sunday was celebrated in a carnival-like atmosphere. Tennis fans, who would not have gotten a ticket on other days, queued up outside the club overnight in a bid to buy a ticket to the most prestigious of occasions. This time, the organisers put the tickets online in advance and those tickets were sold out in just 27 minutes.

So, the question on everyone’s mind would be, why not have a People’s Sunday every year?

"This can't happen, said former British No.1 Tim Henman. “That's what people don't understand and also what they need to understand. The courts usually couldn't take being used on the Middle Sunday.

"Most years, after six days of play, you need a day without play on the Sunday. But this year they haven't had much play," Henman was quoted as saying by ESPN.

So, to witness another People’s Sunday next year, we will have to pray to the rain Gods.

Also read: Has India's success in Doubles tennis destroyed its Singles hopes?

The uniforms at the SW19

Be it seven-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer or an amateur tennis player, to play at the SW19, whites are a must. The all-white clothing is another of All England Club’s age-old tradition. The Wimbledon resembles a feudal state when it comes to traditions with the club forcing the players to wear pure white colours. Apart from the uniform-like clothing, the All England Club also has strict rules on what players wear inside. They forbid the smallest glimpse of coloured clothing on the court, and with the threat of disqualification hanging over their necks, players wear them to comply with the rules.

Many top players have found themselves at the wrong end of the rules in the past. A regular in the finals at the SW19 in the past 10 years, Roger Federer was told in 2013 that his orange-soled shoes were not in line with the rules and that he needs to change it for the next match.

“My personal opinion: I think it’s too strict,” Federer had said in a press conference after he was told about the shoes.

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Nine-time winner Martina Navratilova also found herself facing the barrel in 2014 after she wore a skirt with blue stripes. In 2015, new gen star Nick Kyrgios was pulled up for wearing a colourful headband, even though it was an official Wimbledon one. Even tennis legend Andre Agassi refused to play at the Wimbledon during his early years due to the strict dress code.

Also, read about Dominic Thiem – the challenger in making to Djokovic's throne?

Take a bow

The All England Club has seen the greatest players ever to play tennis displaying their skills, but till 2003, the players playing on centre court were asked to bow or courtesy the Royal Box. The long-standing tradition was discontinued in 2003 by the Duke of Kent (also the All England Club's President). However, the rule still stands if the Queen or the Prince of Wales are in attendance. The documented history of bowing in the Wimbledon began way back in 1922, when King George and Queen Mary attended the opening day of the Championship.

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The decision to do away with the requirement of bowing shows the club’s willingness to abandon unwanted traditions, but the traditions of all-whites and Middle Sunday are unlikely to go away anytime in the near future. 

Also, read:  Statistical comparison- Is Djokovic a “greater” player than Nadal already?

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