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Croquet Was Once the Big Thing at Wimbledon

The club has croquet to thank for its famous lawns

(Last Refuge/Robert Harding World Imagery/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

If you associate the word Wimbledon with tennis, you’re not alone — the grass courts of the English landmark are home to one of the sport’s most illustrious championships. But, writes The New York Times’ Ben Rothenberg, another sport used to reign supreme at Wimbledon: croquet.

In fact, Rothenberg writes, the proper name of the club where the championship is played each year is the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Croquet — not tennis — was the first sport to grace Wimbledon’s lawns, and remained the only sport played there until the club incorporated “lawn tennis” into its name nine years after it was founded.

The reason for croquet’s early Wimbledon dominance was a sports craze that “surged in popularity in Victorian England,” driven in part by the ability of women and men to wield their wickets equally on the green. The sport was one of many lawn pastimes beloved by Victorians, notes the BBC: soccer, rugby, cricket and golf all came of age in England after the Industrial Revolution.

It’s hard to imagine Venus and Serena turning in their rackets for mallets, but it could happen: despite what Croquet World Online’s David Drazin calls “the collapse of the croquet establishment,” the sport is still played at the club.

But players have to suffer a few indignities if they want to play the civilized sport at Wimbledon: Rothenberg writes that not only have they been kicked off of the club’s hallowed lawns, but that their few off-site courts are converted to tennis courts for most of the year.

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