I think most fans of tennis would be the first people to admit it can be a fairly stuffy sport, and there aren’t many venues where that reality becomes more evident quite like Wimbledon.
Wimbledon is a hallowed event with an incredibly rich history stretching back to the inaugural tournament in 1877, and while tennis has evolved quite a bit since then, the folks at the All England Club have done what they can to preserve the unique spirit of the Grand Slam.
Etiquette has always reigned supreme at Wimbledon, as spectators are expected to be on their best behavior while watching the best players in the world adhere to the many rules they’re required to abide by while competing in The Championship.
With that said, there have been plenty of instances where that decorum has been tested.
More than a few players have ended up in hot water for violating Wimbledon’s somewhat infamous all-white dress code, John McEnroe treated the world to the most memorable outburst of the many to come out of his legendary career while there, and multiple streakers have stormed the grass courts in a question for attention over the years.
There’s also Ilie Nastase, who most people who aren’t diehard tennis fans probably aren’t intimately familiar with but treated us to one of the strangest developments in tennis history thanks to what unfolded in 1974.
Terrible weather at Wimbledon once led to a player using a fan’s umbrella during a match
The stadium that’s home to Centre Court may have a roof that’s capable of protecting players from the elements, but the vast majority of the field will have to grapple with any inclement weather they encounter while competing at Wimbledon.
The fact that the tournament is held in London means there’s been no shortage of rain over the decades, which was the case in 1974 when Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert (who were engaged to be married at the time) respectively won the Men and Women’s Singles Championships.
Connors earned the right to face off against Ken Rosewall in the title match after dispatching Dick Stockton in the semifinals, and while he was one of the best players in the world, the same couldn’t be said for Stockon, an unseeded American who’d pulled off a bit of an upset to clinch his spot in the Finals (which is reserved for the best eight layers in the qualifying rounds).
Stockton found himself facing a bit of a challenge in the fourth (and final) qualifier after getting matched up with Nastase, as the Romanian was the two-seed at the start of the tournament.
While Nastase won the first set 7-5, Stockton evened things up before jumping out to the lead, and his opponent found himself continuing to slide after ending up in a 2-0 hole in the fourth set as the rain poured down on both men.
That led to Nastase opting to think outside of the box a bit, as he approached a spectator and asked to borrow their umbrella before trotting onto the court with his racket in his right hand and the borrowed item in his left and playing a couple of points before abandoning the strategy.
Stockton would ultimately win the set and the match, and Nastaste would eventually deny he used the umbrella as a distraction while recalling what was going through his head at the time, saying:
“To dispel the tension, I thought it would be fun to play a couple of points with the umbrella in my hand. It was a completely spontaneous act and it’s a classic example of, ‘OK, I lost the match, but I gave people pleasure and fun.’
Even 30 years on, they still remember. And that makes me really proud, as proud in fact as some of my victories. It means I left an impression on people that was not just about the tennis, not just about the arguments, it was also about the fun.”
You have to appreciate that.