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Away from the dramas being played out on Wimbledon’s Centre Court lies one of the most unusual libraries in the UK. The Kenneth Ritchie Wimbledon Library sits in the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum and boasts a glorious collection of pretty much anything in print related to tennis – from biographies to novels to stats compendiums.
The library stocks around 7,000 books which includes the novels – yes, really – that famous players in the past tried their hands at (or perhaps more accurately, lent their names too, other individuals doubtless doing the actual writing). So here is Ilie Nastase’s Tie Break and The Net, published in 1985 and 1987, respectively, and here is Martina Navratilova’s The Total Zone, published in 1994.
When it comes to fiction, it seems authors have long associated the game with three things – crime, sex, and money – and few would dispute that at least two of those still explain some of the fascinations with the game today. So here’s a copy of Death Serves an Ace by Helen Wills and Robert Murphy, published by Scribners in 1939, and here’s The Tennis Murders: A Dion Quince Mystery by Timothy Welch, published by Popular Library New York in 1976, with its ‘read me’ subtitle: “The courts filled up with corpses as a smooth slaying killer served up death with a savage twist.”
It is fascinating to note the swathes of social history captured on the shelves. Arthur Ashe, who died in 1993, remains the only black man to win the singles title at Wimbledon, the US Open, and the Australian Open. The library has an old copy of his memoirs Advantage Ashe, published in 1967 by Coward-McCann Inc, New York. It has the subtitle: “The Story of the Young Negro who stormed the exclusive world of tennis to become the United States ranking amateur.” Contrast this with 2007’s Charging the Net – A History of Blacks in Tennis from Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe to the Williams Sisters, by Cecil Harris and Larryette Kyle-Debose, published by Ivan R. Dee of Chicago. Changing times, changing language.
Founded in 1977 by Alan Little, Honorary Librarian, and compiler of the annual Wimbledon Compendium statistics resource, the Kenneth Ritchie Wimbledon Library is named after Lord Ritchie of Dundee, who was for many years a member of the management committee of the Championships.
It is a special place. Here, the players of yesterday who once graced the hallowed grass on the courts above, have another life altogether – and a kind of quiet, respectful immortality.