(June 2, 2014) NEW YORK — Inside Wimbledon’s clubhouse the trophies bearing the names of tennis royalty are enshrined, winners of an event that dates back to 1877. To tennis aficionados, it is hallowed ground, but to others it might still seem a hidebound relic ensconced behind ivy-covered walls. With tennis’ most prestigious tournament coming up in a few weeks, 60 MINUTES SPORTS takes a look inside this tennis mecca and finds some signs that things may be changing.
One of them is the virtual image of former star player and now tennis commentator John McEnroe. As a young phenom, his on-court tantrums drew boos at the exalted event; now he fronts a museum exhibit at Wimbledon. It’s an about face for the club that once denied him the honorary membership it gives to all its winners. Mark Phillips reports from Wimbledon and interviews McEnroe inside its famed Centre Court, for the next edition of 60 MINUTES SPORTS premiering Wednesday, June 4 at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on SHOWTIME.
Still, traditions die hard at Wimbledon. It is the only Grand Slam tennis event still played on grass courts. It is the only private club that runs a major tennis championship. There is a Royal Box where Queen Elizabeth II or Prince Charles can be seen taking in the matches in clothing more suited for a church ceremony than a sporting event. Young “court attendants” are rigorously schooled in the affected art of being the perfect Wimbledon ball girls and ball boys.
Other signs point to the slow evolution of Wimbledon in the modern age. The elite club has recently begun outreach programs with local schools, offering free clinics and a chance for the non-member kids to actually play inside Wimbledon. To combat wear and tear on the grass courts during the championships, the club changed the type of grass it had used for decades. 60 MINUTES SPORTS gets a first-hand look at how the most famous “lawn” in the world is replaced each year in anticipation of next year’s tournament.
Other things may never change. Strawberries and cream have been a star food attraction at Wimbledon since the beginning and there is no sign of that tradition slowing down. The event sells 30 tons of the berries during the two-week tournament. When asked by Phillips whether he liked strawberries, Wimbledon’s head caterer, Jonathan Parker replies, “I used to.”