As this year’s Wimbledon Championships come to a close with a grand Gentlemen’s Singles Final between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, let us take a look at the close and enduring relationship between the British Royal Family and Wimbledon.
The Wimbledon Championships are held at the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, which was founded in 1868 as the All England Croquet Club. The club itself is a private one, and apart from the tennis courts, access to facilities is restricted to members only. The Duke of Kent is the President of the club, a position he took over from his mother Marina, Duchess of Kent. He and his wife, Katharine, Duchess of Kent, started presenting the winners trophies from 1969. However, the Duchess has withdrawn from public life since then, and hasn’t presented a trophy since 2001.
Members of the royal family first attended the Championships when the Prince and Princess of Wales (future King George V and Queen Mary) visited in 1907. Since then, it has been fairly common for royalty to watch matches in the Royal Box at Wimbledon. It is less common for them to participate in these matches, but that didn’t stop Prince Albert (who would later become King George VI) from playing in the doubles tournament in 1926. He and his partner lost in the first round, but the Prince accepted his defeat graciously, and settled for a life of ruling the country instead.
His daughter, The Queen, is not as fond of tennis as her father, and, after visiting Wimbledon in 1977, didn’t visit again for another 33 years. In 2010, she watched Andy Murray play from the front row of the Royal Box. Much to everyone’s relief, Murray won in straight sets, pleasing Her Majesty. Despite her few appearances at the tournament, Her Majesty is a patron of the All England Club.
Like his mother, Prince Charles is an infrequent visitor to Wimbledon; The Duchess of Cornwall is more actively involved in the tournament than her husband, and has visited it numerous times in the past. Just this year, she made a solo visit, meeting with ball boys and girls before watching the game. Even Diana, Princess of Wales, was quite a fan of the sport; she was pictured watching a number of matches along with her friends and family, and even opened the International Women’s Tennis Association headquarters in London. She was friends with Ladies Singles winner Steffi Graf, with whom she would sometimes play a game of tennis.
Perhaps that is what sparked an interest in the sport in Prince William, who first accompanied his mother to a match in 1991. He has been seen at Wimbledon many times, and in the recent years has been accompanied by his wife, The Duchess of Cambridge. It is a well-known fact that Catherine, who was a part of the audience at multiple tournaments before her wedding, enjoys a good game of tennis. In 2008, she wrote a thank you letter to the All England Club, which is now on display at the Wimbledon museum. Just recently, the Club announced that The Duchess of Cambridge had accepted their offer of an honorary membership. She has been a regular fixture at the matches since 2011, only notably absent last year when she was pregnant with Prince George.
In fact, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge came to watch Andy Murray play a few days ago. Unfortunately, the Scotsman was defeated, a feat which earned a fair few anguished faces from The Duke and Duchess. Also in the Royal Box with them were Princess Beatrice and her boyfriend, Dave Clark and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent. Beatrice and her sister Eugenie have attended the Wimbledon matches from time to time, and yesterday, Princess Eugenie was seen at the Ladies Singles Final, watching her namesake, Eugenie Bouchard, play. Last year, Zara and Mike Tindall were also spotted at Wimbledon.
Previously, it was a tradition for players to bow (or curtsy, if they were women) to Royalty seated in the Royal Box as they entered and left the Court. But in 2003, the Duke of Kent requested that this be stopped. The then Chairman of the All England Club, Tim Phillips, said: “It has been a voluntary practice, although the players are all very agreeable. The Duke feels the time is right to stop, given that the tradition of bowing and curtseying is on the way out, and we respect his view on that.” However, to this day, the players continue to curtsy to senior members of the royal family – The Queen and Prince Philip, The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall and The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
William and Catherine, The Duke of Kent, Princess Alexandra and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent saw Rodger Federer lose to Novak Djokovic on Sunday; The Duke of Kent once more handed out the trophies to Djokovic and Federer.