Hand it to Wimbledon. Yesterday came word, in a story from Bob Larson’s Daily Tennis News, of “In Pursuit of Greatness,” a public relations campaign intended to educate the world about Wimbledon, complete with extensive multi-media elements.
Now why would an event the size and scope of Wimbledon have to undertake such an effort? This, after all, is tennis’ most prestigious tournament, one that could easily sell three times its daily ticket allotment. Does Wimbledon have any sort of public relations problem, any malignant attitudes held towards it? Doubtful.
But something else has been revealed, something very powerful about Wimbledon’s unrivaled ability to wed past and present – and in the process, carry itself and tennis into the future.
From TV rights to sponsorships, ticket sales, food, drink and merchandise, certainly Wimbledon knows how to command commerce. But what’s more powerfully present is Wimbledon’s relentless pursuit of excellence and significance, wed to the All England Club’s desire to keep its event at the vanguard of the sport.
Fifty years ago, at a time when many tennis officials around the world opposed the concept of Open tennis – amateurs and pros competing together – Wimbledon chairman Herman David took a stand. In the wake of hosting an eight-man pro event in August 1967, David decreed that in 1968, Wimbledon would be open to all. The rationale was simple. If Wimbledon was to be the best tournament in the world, the competition must take place among the world’s best players. Other nations soon fell into line, and by March 1968, tennis had gone Open.
In the early ‘90s, aware that other facilities were taking strides to improve, Wimbledon launched its own major upgrade, including new courts, enhanced walkways, new buildings for media and players. Later, in 2002, a subtle change to the grass helped slow down the surface, a step that disturbed fans of serve-volley tennis – but also greatly enhanced the overall length and quality of most rallies.
“Innovation comes from those who understand tradition and figure out how to best learn and make it better,” said Billie Jean King. Or as a British history teacher of mine once told me, “The English take their gardens very seriously. Space on an island nation is at a premium, so every inch is precious, to be treated carefully.” Come July 3, the entire world will be paying attention to that garden.