#CentreCourtCentennial

1957: “At last! At last!” Althea Gibson fulfilled her destiny at Wimbledon, and with every win she opened up the sport a little wider

By Steve Tignor Jun 16, 2022
#CentreCourtCentennial

2009: The first full match under Centre Court's roof showcased British tennis' newest Wimbledon title contender, Andy Murray

By Steve Tignor Jun 23, 2022
#CentreCourtCentennial

2008: Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer produced a quantum leap in quality and entertainment in their classic, daylong final

By Steve Tignor Jun 22, 2022
#CentreCourtCentennial

2007: After fighting for pay equity at Wimbledon, Venus Williams became the first woman to collect an equal-sized champion’s check

By Steve Tignor Jun 21, 2022
#CentreCourtCentennial

1980: The five-set final between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe was the pinnacle of their rivalry—and the Woodstock of their tennis era

By Steve Tignor Jun 20, 2022
#CentreCourtCentennial

1975: In defeating a seemingly invincible Jimmy Connors, Arthur Ashe showed that with enough thought and courage, anyone in tennis can be beaten

By Steve Tignor Jun 19, 2022
#CentreCourtCentennial

1968: At the first open Wimbledon, Billie Jean King receives her first winner’s check—and notices a “big difference” with her male counterparts

By Steve Tignor Jun 18, 2022
#CentreCourtCentennial

1967: With the Wimbledon Pro event, professional tennis finally comes to the amateur game’s most hallowed lawn

By Steve Tignor Jun 17, 2022
#CentreCourtCentennial

1937: With a World War looming and one man playing for his life, Don Budge and Baron Gottfried von Cramm stage a Davis Cup decider for the ages

By Steve Tignor Jun 15, 2022
#CentreCourtCentennial

1922: Suzanne Lenglen strikes a blow for tennis democracy, then christens the “House that Suzanne Built” in the fastest Wimbledon final ever

By Steve Tignor Jun 14, 2022

Advertising

Centre Court turns 100 this year. During that time, this bastion of propriety and tradition has also borne witness to a century’s worth of progress and tennis democratization.

For its centennial, we look back at 10 of its most historic and sport-changing matches.

Althea Gibson d. Darlene Hard 6-3, 6-2

1957 Wimbledon Final

On July 6, 1957, Althea Gibson entered Centre Court for the first time as a Wimbledon finalist, while Queen Elizabeth II watched her first championship match from the Royal Box as a monarch. When the 50-minute contest was over, and these two famous women from very different backgrounds met on court, they quickly agreed on one thing: It was dreadfully hot.

Centre Court was an “ivy-covered inferno” that day, according to one reporter. The temperature hovered near 100 degrees as Gibson and her countrywoman and doubles partner, Darlene Hard, began to play. Their movement around the grass was admittedly a little slow, the rallies between them were brief, and the match was never competitive.

“My opponent didn’t let me get started,” Hard said afterward. When Gibson served, she forced Hard to reach up for her high-kicking deliveries, and kept her pinned down with her net-rushing attack. When Hard served, Gibson broke her with returns and passing shots that clipped the sidelines.

Advertising

Gibson was 30 when she won Wimbledon, which even now is late for a first-time Grand Slam winner. But no other first-time winner has faced as many obstacles as she did.

Gibson was 30 when she won Wimbledon, which even now is late for a first-time Grand Slam winner. But no other first-time winner has faced as many obstacles as she did.

“Althea was unhurried,” Fred Tupper of the New York Times wrote, “her control was good. “The [play] grew faster as Miss Gibson’s service jumped so alarmingly off the fast grass that Darlene nodded miserably as the errors mounted.”

If the match itself wasn’t memorable, the achievement was. In 1951, Gibson had become the first black player to enter Wimbledon in its 80-year history. Six years later, she was the first to win it. She didn’t drop a set in any of her six victories, and she and Hard teamed to win the doubles, also without surrendering a set. Two months later, Gibson won the first of her two titles at the U.S. Nationals at Forest Hills and cemented her status as the best women’s player in the world. For her efforts, her hometown, New York City, where she had grown up as a self-described “Harlem street rebel,” threw her a ticker-tape parade on Broadway.

Advertising

"New York City will pay tribute to the gallant young lady who became the tennis champion of the world by winning the Wimbledon matches in England last week," read the city's announcement for Althea Gibson's ticker tape parade.

"New York City will pay tribute to the gallant young lady who became the tennis champion of the world by winning the Wimbledon matches in England last week," read the city's announcement for Althea Gibson's ticker tape parade.

“At last! At last!” Gibson cried as the Queen handed her the winner’s plate at Wimbledon. She was 30 by then, which even now is late for a first-time Grand Slam winner. But no other first-time winner has faced as many obstacles as she did.

Just 10 years earlier, in 1947, Gibson had been a relative unknown competing at an all-black national tournament in Wilberforce, OH, when the country’s most prominent African-American coach, Dr. Robert Johnson, recognized her world-changing talent. Just seven years earlier, in 1950, she had been the first black player to enter the U.S. Nationals at Forest Hills. Every round she reached after that was an historic first, and every win she recorded opened the sport up a little wider. She didn’t stop until she had proven that African-Americans could succeed at every level and on every stage of this formerly all-white sport. Centre Court, the biggest of those stages, was the final stop on her ascent.

“Althea Gibson fulfilled her destiny at Wimbledon today,” Tupper wrote when this short but essential match was over, “and became the first member of her race to rule the world of tennis.”