#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

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

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

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.

Rod Laver d. Ken Rosewall 6-2, 6-2, 12-10

1967 Wimbledon Pro

By the mid-1960s, Wimbledon, tennis’s oldest and putatively most prestigious event, was showing its age.

For more than a decade, the sport’s best male players had, one by one, left the amateur-only Grand Slam events behind to join the barnstorming pro tours. Only the ghosts of Pancho Gonzalez, Lew Hoad, Ken Rosewall, and Rod Laver, among other fan favorites, were left to haunt Centre Court. Even the game’s famously hidebound amateur officials could see that their product was suffering.

So during the 1966 edition of Wimbledon, All England chief Herman David and others on the governing committee paid a visit to the BBC tent on the grounds. There they met with longtime pro-tour proselytizer Jack Kramer and Bryan Cowgill, the executive at the network in charge of tennis broadcasts. David told the duo that Wimbledon didn’t want to continue as a second-class event with only amateurs; but he wasn’t sure how the public would react to professionals invading the last bastion of amateurism, Centre Court.

Advertising

“We couldn’t wait to get back,” Laver said. Five years earlier, when the Rocket announced that he was turning pro, the All England Club had stripped the two-time champion of his honorary membership.

“We couldn’t wait to get back,” Laver said. Five years earlier, when the Rocket announced that he was turning pro, the All England Club had stripped the two-time champion of his honorary membership.

Kramer said he thought the public would love to see the pros there. After some back and forth, Cowgill proposed a compromise: Start by holding a pros-only exhibition at Wimbledon and see how it goes.

The eight-man Wimbledon World Lawn Tennis Professional Championships—known more concisely as the Wimbledon Pro—was scheduled for the following August. With $35,000 in prize money, it was the most lucrative event in tennis history to that point.

“We couldn’t wait to get back,” Laver said. Five years earlier, when the Rocket announced that he was turning pro, the All England Club had stripped the two-time champion of his honorary membership, and asked him to please refrain from wearing the green-and-mauve tie that the club had awarded him—in lieu of prize money—after his victories.

Herman David needn’t have worried about public reaction. After a slow start on opening day due to a lack of pre-tournament publicity, fans streamed into Centre Court to get a glimpse of these legendary figures from the sport’s past; 30,000 spectators came over three days, the final two of which were sold out. The BBC, which had broadcast in color for the first time at Wimbledon earlier that summer, did the same for its pro counterpart.

Advertising

The tournament ended, appropriately, with the world’s two best players, Laver and Rosewall, facing off in the final. Laver won in relatively one-sided fashion, 6-2, 6-2, 12-10 but the match still far outshone John Newcombe’s easy win in the Wimbledon men’s final earlier that summer.

The tournament ended, appropriately, with the world’s two best players, Laver and Rosewall, facing off in the final. Laver won in relatively one-sided fashion, 6-2, 6-2, 12-10 but the match still far outshone John Newcombe’s easy win in the Wimbledon men’s final earlier that summer.

The three-round singles draw kicked into high gear with an epic opening-day contest between the 39-year-old Gonzalez and the 32-year-old Hoad, which the Australian won 3-6, 11-9, 8-6. The tournament ended, appropriately, with the world’s two best players, Laver and Rosewall, facing off in the final. Laver won in relatively one-sided fashion, 6-2, 6-2, 12-10, but the match still far outshone John Newcombe’s easy win over Wilhelm Bungert in the Wimbledon men’s final from earlier that summer.

After spending the better part of a century in the wilderness, the pros had stormed tennis’s amateur fortress, Centre Court. The following summer, they would be back for Wimbledon itself.

“The temple didn’t crumble, or even jiggle, when the heathens entered,” Bud Collins wrote. “It only shuddered romantically, especially for the Laver-Rosewall final, a grateful response to the pros’ rapturous brand of tennis so long absent.”