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An Oxford Companion to Wimbledon

By Alana Podolsky


This weekend, Wimbledon will come to an end, looking far different from tennis’s start in the middle ages. Originally played in cloisters by hitting the ball with the palm of a hand, tennis added rackets in the sixteenth century. Lawn tennis emerged in Britain in the 1870s and the first championships took place at Wimbledon in 1877.

Two hundred attendees watched Wimbledon’s inaugural final; this year, the finalists will meet at Centre Court, which can seat 15,000 spectators. At Wimbledon last year, 25,000 bottles of champagne were popped, 28,000 kg of fresh strawberries were devoured, 54,250 tennis balls were hit, and 25,000 Championship’s Towels were sold.

 Tennis at Wimbledon (2) (ca. 1922-1939)

Tennis at Wimbledon (ca. 1922-1939). Image courtesy of the NYPL Digital Gallery.

This year’s finals will be notable for other reasons. So far, the 2013 Wimbledon championships have made one thing startlingly apparent: we’ve reached the end of a tennis era. Rafael Nadal, fresh off his French Open win, lost in the first round to Steve Darcis, ranked 135th. Roger Federer exited shortly after in the second round, leaving a Grand Slam before the quarterfinals for the first time since 2004.  Third seeded Maria Sharapova also said her goodbyes after the second round, while Wimbledon-favorite Serena Williams exited in the fourth round.

If this year’s Wimbledon is any indication, the past decade reign of Federer and Nadal, with Djokovic serving as Crown Prince, is coming to an end. So, what comes next? Just as there is always a rising tennis great waiting on the sidelines, history is also waiting to reassert itself while technology is eager to revolutionize the game. If so, here are some trends we can expect, or hope, to see in the coming years:

  1. Tennis cake: an English Victorian cream cake served to accompany lawn tennis. With hints of vanilla, cinnamon, maraschino liquer and baked with glacé cherries, sultanas, and candied peel, this is a trend we wouldn’t mind having back.
  2. A return to its linguistic roots: Wimbledon, a southwest suburb of London, derives from Wunemannedune circa 950. It probably means “hill of a man” from Old English dūn and an Old English personal name. It evolved to Wymmendona in the twelfth century and eventually made its way to Wimbeldon in 1211. So, shall we be seeing you at Wymmendona next year?
  3. Healthy tennis bodies: Here’s hoping that we’ll see medical advancements amerliorating tennis elbow, a form of tendinitis common in tennis players, and tennis leg, sudden sharp pains in the calf due to degeneration of the tendon. King Kong arm also seems like something to worry about.
  4. Tennis court theatres: In the unlikely and unfortunate event that tennis becomes obsolete, the courts at Wimbledon could be converted into playhouses, just as it happened in France in the seventeenth century. Molière’s company, the Illustre Théâtre, was originally a tennis court until its conversion in 1643, as was the first Paris opera house.
  5. Email tennis: If the above plays out, you can be comforted by email tennis, the rapid fire exchange of emails.  Can you write an email faster than Nadal’s serve?


No matter the changes, hopefully one thing will stay the same. In tennis, zero points is notated as “love,” from the phrase “play for love [not for money].” Here’s to many more years of tennis, filled with love of the game!

Alana Podolsky works on the publicity team at OUP USA. Although she lost every tennis match in which she competed (0-6, 0-6), she’s still a tennis fan. You can follow her on twitter @aspodolsky. You can find more about the resources mentioned in this article at Oxford Reference.

Oxford Reference is the home of Oxford’s quality reference publishing, bringing together over 2 million entries, many of which are illustrated, into a single cross-searchable resource. With a fresh and modern look and feel, and specifically designed to meet the needs and expectations of reference users, Oxford Reference provides quality, up-to-date reference content at the click of a button.

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One Response to “An Oxford Companion to Wimbledon”
  1. [...] can compete with Fred’s records why not have a read of the Oxford University Press’ blog piece, ‘An Oxford Companion to Wimbledon’  (I especially like the ending) which perhaps expresses some of our pre-victory [...]

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