Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams were crowned Wimbledon champions this weekend. The wins cemented Nadal’s and Williams’ place atop the men’s and women’s professional tennis ranks.

But did you know that until 1968 the Wimbledon tournament barred professional tennis players from competing?

In fact, the first Wimbledon tennis tournament was organized in 1877 not to promote tennis, but rather as a fundraiser for a croquet club.

The All England Croquet Club — founded in 1868 — organized the first tournament for “lawn tennis,” as the sport was known at the time, to raise money to purchase a pony-drawn roller for the croquet lawns.

Even the winner of that first tennis tournament was doubtful the sports would stand the test of time.

“Lawn tennis will never rank among our great games,” said Spencer Gore. “And anybody who has played cricket or rackets will soon be choked off by the monotony.”

Gore was wrong, of course, as the tradition-rich Wimbledon tennis championships grew into one of the world’s greatest sporting events. But by the mid-1950s, more and more tennis players were turning pro and skipping Wimbledon because of its amateurs-only rule. The directors of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club recognized the declining importance of the Wimbledon tournament and changed the rules to allow pros to play in 1968.

Wimbledon quick hits:

  • It took Spencer Gore just 48 minutes to defeat William Marshall 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 in the finals of the first Gentlemen’s Singles tournament in 1877.
  • Maud Watson won the first Lady’s singles tournament in 1884.
  • Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam tennis tournament played on grass.
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