10 scandalous moments in Wimbledon’s history
Ahead of Wimbledon 2021, we look back at some of the most memorable moments in the history of the tennis championships – from ignored outfit regulations and bad weather to celebrity spectators and streaking
Here, we bring you 10 scandalous Wimbledon history facts…
1926: Royalty playing at Wimbledon
Members of the royal family have long taken their seats in the royal box on Centre Court, but in 1926 George VI decided to break with tradition: the then Duke of York took to the court in the men’s doubles tournament with wing commander Louis Greig. The duke faced Arthur Gore (aged 58) and H Roper Barrett (aged 52).
Experience triumphed over youth in this match, however – the future monarch was defeated in three straight sets. George VI is the only member of the royal family to have played at Wimbledon.
1949: Knickers in a twist
Over the decades, female tennis players have donned small skirts and shorts during their matches. However, ‘Gorgeous Gussie’ Moran caused scandal during the 1949 championships when she wore ruffled lace knickers underneath her tennis skirt.
Her choice of attire prompted some members of the All England Club to argue that Moran was causing “vulgarity and sin” in tennis, and questions about the issue were even raised in parliament.
Despite being seeded as seventh out of the women’s American players, Moran shot almost overnight to celebrity status, and went on to make it to the doubles final. In her later competitions, Moran chose to wear shorts rather than skirts.
1957: Protests during the Queen’s visit to Wimbledon
During the men’s doubles finals between Neale Fraser and Lew Hoad against Gardnar Molloy and Budge Patty, a protester jumped over the courtside wall and got onto the Centre Court while holding a sign that read ‘Save Our Queen’.
Protester Helen Jarvis was campaigning for the ‘Life, Love and Sex Appeal Party’, and she declared that she wanted a new banking system in the UK. Policemen and the match’s referee, Col Legg, quickly escorted Jarvis off of the court.
This did not put off the Queen from returning to Wimbledon, however: she went on to attend matches in 1962, 1977 and 2010.
1973: Industrial strike
Industrial disputes in 1973 saw the majority of the men’s field withdraw from the championships. This came about after the International Lawn Tennis Federation refused the world number one, Niki Pilic, from playing at Wimbledon after he decided to play in a Canadian professional doubles tournament rather than attending the Davis Cup earlier in the year.
The new tennis players’ union, the Association of Tennis Professionals, ordered that players should be allowed to play where they liked, rather than where the ILTF ordered them to play. The ILTF clashed with the Association of Tennis Professionals, and many top tennis seeds backed a decision to strike from playing at that year’s Wimbledon.
A total of 79 players withdrew from the championships, 13 of which were original seeds. However, the withdrawal of so many top seeds did not allow an underdog to take the top spot in the final. Instead, Jan Kodes, who had previously won the French Open twice, beat Alex Metreveli in straight sets.
1981: John McEnroe was definitely serious
In 1981 McEnroe famously shouted in a rage “you cannot be serious!” after the umpire made numerous calls against him. He was also fined $1,500 for calling umpire Ted James “the pits of the world” before swearing at Fred Hoyles, the tournament referee.
McEnroe also described one of the line judges as an “incompetent fool”, and summed up his opinion of Wimbledon when he exclaimed: “There's nothing championship about this tournament except its prestige.”
McEnroe still went on to beat Bjorn Borg in the final after four sets to become the men’s champion. He declined to attend the annual champions’ dinner.
1985: An 80s fashion faux pas
Gussie Moran might have shocked onlookers with her lace-trimmed knickers in 1949, but Anne White went further against the strict clothing regulations in 1985 when, during a first round against fifth seed Pam Shriver, she decided to wear a full-length white lycra body suit, along with matching white legwarmers.
After winning one set each, the game was suspended for the evening. The match referee, Alan Mills, told White she should reconsider her outfit choice so that the match could continue the next day.
After the match, White said of her outfit: “I had no idea it would be so controversial”.
1985: Lightning hits Centre Court
The first Monday of the 1985 competition was, quite literally, an explosive day of events after lightning struck the press centre. The centre was based in the new administrative building that had recently cost £4 million to construct.
Television footage shows the ball boys and girls jumping in shock as the lightning hit the foundations of the court. Spectators were lucky to miss the six large pieces of masonry that fell around 90ft onto those sat below. One such spectator told the Sarasota Herald Tribune that the falling masonry “missed me by two feet. But it makes a lovely souvenir!”
1991: A wash out
After the first week of play of the 1991 Championships became known as one of the wettest first weeks in Wimbledon’s history, this resulted in only 52 out of 240 games being played by Thursday evening. This pressured organisers to stage play on ‘middle Sunday’ – traditionally a day off in the Wimbledon calendar – for the first time in the championship’s history.
Spectators eagerly lined up for the £10 top unreserved seats, forming a queue nearly two miles long. A total of 24,894 people attended the All England Lawn Tennis Club that day, with ticket holders able to watch numerous games, including a third-round match between Gabriela Sabatini and Andrea Strnadova, and match on court number one between three-time champion John McEnroe against Jean-Philippe Fleurian.
Wet weather forced players to take to the court on ‘middle Sunday’ again in 1997.
1996: Cliff Richard amuses the crowd
In 1996, during rainy delays on Centre Court, Sir Cliff Richard, who was a spectator in the crowd, decided to raise spirits by delivering an improvised performance to the crowd. The singer appropriately chose ‘Singing in the Rain’, sung with the help of an unlikely choir made up of tennis stars Martina Navratilova, Virginia Wade, Gigi Fernandez, Conchita Martinez and Pam Shriver.
Sir Cliff later said of the crowd: “They were magnificent, from the first moment. The reaction was stunning."
1996: Streaking shocks the crowds
The 1996 men’s single finalists, Dutch Richard Krajicek and American MaliVai Washington, weren’t expecting an extra competitor on the court for their match. However, during the pre-match photograph, a female streaker - wearing only a small pinafore - ran across the court in front of a packed crowd.
Reflecting on the event, the BBC’s John Barrett said: “I never thought I’d see that on the Centre Court. The two boys hardly knew where to look”.
Maria Sharapova and Elena Dementieva found themselves in a similar predicament in 2006 when a male streaker invaded the court during their quarterfinal fixture. After jumping over the barrier immediately behind the umpire’s chair and removing his shorts (but still wearing his socks and trainers), the streaker made his way onto the court, jumping up and down and cartwheeling across the court.
Sharapova was not dazed by his appearance, however: she went on to win the second set, therefore winning the match in two straight sets.
This article was first published by History Extra in 2015