By Randy Walker
One of the attributes that makes Wimbledon one of the greatest sporting events in the world is its adherence to tradition.
One such tradition is to have the defending men’s singles champion open play on the opening day of the tournament on the pristine, near untouched grass of Centre Court.
After his historic 2013 championship, when he became the first British man since Fred Perry 77 earlier to win the men’s singles title, Andy Murray was accorded this special privilege on Monday. After receiving a standing ovation of the Centre Court crowd as he entered the court, Murray defeated David Goffin of Belgium in straight sets to successfully open his title defense.
One might incorrectly assume that it was also 77 years since a defending British men’s champion was also bestowed this most difficult of court time reservations. After winning his last of three Wimbledon titles in 1936, Perry actually turned professional and, since tennis was strictly an amateur game at the time (until 1968), he was forbidden from again competing. The New York Times described Perry’s absence from the 1937 Wimbledon as an “abdication.”
Without a defending champion to play in the traditional slot, the All England Club decided to place Perry’s former Davis Cup teammate and the new British new No. 1 Bunny Austin with the honor of first stepping foot on the Centre Court grass to kick off the championship. While Austin’s match against Irish competitor G.L. Rogers would seem to be the least renowned and forgotten of Centre Court commencements, it actually is one of the most significant.
Austin’s 3-6, 8-6, 6-1, 6-2 win over Rogers, played on June 21, 1937, actually marked the first live broadcast of a tennis match. The BBC broadcasted 25 minutes of live play of the match to an estimated television audience of 1,500 Londoners who had the luxury of television at the time. As documented in my book and mobile app “On This Day In Tennis History” (www.TennisHistoryApp.com), Austin trailed a set and 3-5 in the second set before he donned a lucky blue jockey cap and changed his racquet and rallied to win 17 of the next 21 games. The next morning Britain’s Daily Telegraph described that TV viewers could get a clear view of the action and “even the passage of the marks of the lawnmowers were distinctly visible.”
How many things have changed in tennis over the last 77 years as Murray’s match Monday – and its highlights – was seen by millions around the world on not just television, but computers, tablets and mobile phones around the world.
To read more of Murray’s historic 2013 Wimbledon title, pick up the book “Andy Murray, Wimbledon Champion: The Full Extraordinary Story” by Mark Hodgkinson here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1937559408/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_bjjQtb1BXASCV0HT