London will be hosting the Olympics for the third time when the ‘greatest show on earth’ takes place in England’s capital city this summer. The iconic venue of The All England Lawn Tennis Club, home of The Wimbledon Championships, will stage the tennis event.
In 1908, London’s first Games, both an indoor and outdoor tennis event were contested. The indoor competition was held on wood courts at The Queen’s Club, while the outdoor competition was played on grass courts at The All England Club. In those days, The All England Club was still based at its old Worple Road site, rather than the current Church Road venue we’re familiar with today.
By 1948, London’s second Games, tennis had been axed from the Olympic programme, so this will be the first time in over a century that Olympic tennis returns to The All England Club, and the first time tennis will be played at the club’s current location on Church Road.
In 1896, the first Modern Olympiad took place in Athens, fulfilling the dream of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who founded of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1894. He believed the Modern Olympic Games would provide a platform for friendly competition in which all difference of status, religion, politics and race would be cast aside.
It’s often forgotten that tennis was one of the original Olympic sports at Athens 1896. Ireland’s John Boland defeated Dionysios Kasdaglis to become the first Olympic tennis champion, while four years later, in Paris, Great Britain's Charlotte Cooper defeated Helene Prevost to become the first woman ever to win an Olympic medal.
The sport continued to be staged at the Olympics until 1924, with Laurie Doherty, Suzanne Lenglen and Helen Wills among the more notable winners, but tennis was then withdrawn after differences between the ILTF (now ITF) and IOC. It briefly returned as a one-off demonstration/exhibition event at Mexico City 1968, and then made another appearance as a 21-and-under demonstration event at Los Angeles 1984. This time, it was here to stay.
The comeback followed a determined campaign by then ITF President Philippe Chatrier, ITF General Secretary David Gray and ITF Vice President Pablo Llorens, with great support from IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch. The success of the event was overwhelming and the IOC decided to reintroduce tennis as a full medal sport at Seoul 1988.
Since its return, the tennis event has gone from strength to strength. At Beijing 2008, the competition attracted record participation by the top players and drew capacity crowds for every session. At London 2012, these records are expected to be broken.
Many of the sport’s biggest names have won medals at the Games, including Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker, Andre Agassi, Goran Ivanisevic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Steffi Graf, Gabriela Sabatini, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, and Venus and Serena Williams.
Wheelchair Tennis was introduced to the Paralympic Games at Seoul 1988 as a demonstration event and achieved full medal status at Barcelona 1992. It remains one of the highest profile Paralympic sports. At London 2012, Wheelchair Tennis will be played at Eton Manor, which is a newly-built tennis centre housed within the Olympic Park.