“Literature and tennis: a journey inside Wimbledon’s library”

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LONDON – Wimbledon in the middle of the year can be chaotic. But there is a place where silence and calm will always be found. The Kenneth Ritchie Wimbledon Library is one of those hidden gems at the All England Club that is always worth a visit.

“One important thing about this library: it’s not just about Wimbledon; it’s not just about British tennis; not only publications in English. We have material that comes from over 90 different countries,” historian Robert McNicol tells CLAY in a place where you can feel the history.

In 1977, just in time for the tournament’s 100th anniversary, the site was opened by honorary librarian Alan Little, who voluntarily ran the library for 40 years. It was named after Lord Ritchie of Dundee, who was a longtime member of the championship’s administrative committee.

Since then, this space housed next to the club’s museum stores the treasures of tennis literature. The library has collected more than 7000 titles, with information dating from the birth of lawn tennis in 1870 to the present. There are biographies, journalistic researchs, magazines, yearbooks, tournament programs and newspaper clippings. It is the largest and most diverse collection in the tennis world.

Robert McNicol, the librarian of the All England Lawn Tennis Club // AELTC.
Tribute to Alan Little, the AELTC’s Library founder // SEBASTIAN VARELA
CLAY’s editor Sebastian Fest’s book about the rivalry of Federer and Nadal is also in the library // SEBASTIAN VARELA

“Look, for example, we have the complete set of an Italian magazine that no one else has, not even in Italy. A researcher, in fact, came from there once especially to check that material,” relates McNicol, who is the librarian in charge, following Little’s death in 2017.

McNicol takes the current edition of the tournament’s compendium of statistics. The All England loves tradition, and along with the cult of grass, strawberries and cream and white dress code for the players, the Wimbledon Compendium, which is updated every year, is an iconic item: “Here’s everything you can possibly know about Wimbledon.”

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There are also fiction novels where tennis is the protagonist gets mixed with themes of crime, money, love and sex.

The library is mainly fed by donations, or purchases in second-hand shops. “We are always in contact with the dealers who move around this world, and they always let us know when they have new items,” McNicol says.

And he recalls one of his favorite stories along with his mentor Little, whom he rates as having a great ability to persuade people to donate valuable material.

“There’s a Polish magazine called Tennis Klub that we didn’t know about. In 2017 a Polish journalist came to the library and gave us the 100th issue of the publication. Alan said ‘Thank you very much! But where are the other 99 editions?’ So, a couple of months later the journalist mailed them all to us and they are now on the shelves,” he recounts.

And so it was that, using the habilities given by Little,  McNicol asked in a conversation with CLAY that occurred in 2022: “Don’t you know is there is tennis literature from Chile? We would love to have some. Here we only have the biography of Anita Lizana.”

“The Smiling Señorita of Tennis” was written by Ruth Weston, daughter of the 1937 US Open champion, born in Scotland. There was nothing done by authors from Chile.

The author of this article, a Chilean national, promised that to the next edition of The Championships, he would bring as many titles as he could find, thus inaugurating the Chilean tennis book section in one of the most important libraries of the sport.

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In 2023, four titles were added to the rich collection of the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club thanks to the donation of their own authors.

CLAY brought the donation of four Chilean authors to Wimbledon // SEBASTIÁN VARELA

“Historia del tenis en Chile 1882 -2006” by Mario Cavalla (2006); “Chilenos de oro” by Esteban Abarzúa (2005), which tells the stories behind the Olympic triumps of Fernando González and Nicolás Massú in Athens 2004; “Grandes historias del tenis chileno” by Cavalla and Rodrigo Hernández (2014), a book full of entertaining anecdotes over the years; and “Fernando González, la mejor derecha de la historia”, a sports biography of the former World No. 5 written by Gonzalo Querol (2022), were the books that arrived in London.

“We pride ourselfs on the fact that our library is the most comprehensive collection of tennis publications in the world. A world wide collection of tennis books. We are always delighted when we get new adquisions from countries that we don’t have many books from, and to enrich our archive with material from different languages. Is great to fill that gap by having this collections of books from Chile”, McNicol tells CLAY on the day of the handover, just before the start of Wimbledon 2023.

“From now on, if a Chilean visitor comes to the museum they will be delighted to find things from their country. That often happens with people from all over the world, it’s very nice,” he says.

They will proudly tell those visitors that there is a new selection. Right there between Canada and Croatia. From the southernmost country on the planet. Literature and tennis

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