Tennis might be the game, but croquet was the beginning


WIMBLEDON, England -- The genesis of certain big sports events is well-known. The All-Star Game in baseball was started by a Chicago sports columnist hoping to raise charity and sell newspapers. The Super Bowl began as a peace offering between the warring football leagues.

But little has been told about the beginnings of Wimbledon. It was established in 1877 because the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club was a little strapped for cash and the members wanted to raise some money. Not for tennis, but for croquet.

"They thought of starting a tennis tournament to help build some more croq courts," said Professor Bernard Neal, a member of the club for the past 30 years. "It had 16 players the first year."

Now 70, the retired professor of engineering recently won his first-round match in this year's croquet championship. He's also been a little busy preparing for this year's Wimbledon: He designed the new roof on Centre Court.

A former Wimbledon doubles player -- "We reached the second round once on a walkover" -- Neal has been the club's croquet champion here 26 times since 1963. The last time he lost was in 1984.

* John McEnroe's magic here at this year's Wimbledon is not solely in singles. McEnroe and Michael Stich had the biggest upset in doubles yesterday, when they beat the top-seeded team of John Fitzgerald and Anders Jarryd, the tournament's defending champions, 6-3, 7-6 (7-3), 6-3.

* Stefan Edberg, a two-time champion, has spent most of his playing time here on the show courts. Yesterday, his match against Henrik Holm was on Court 13.

Asked whether he had seen the court before, Edberg said, "I saw it once from the balcony of the building behind it."

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