Women's No.1 and defending champion Serena Williams says that The Championships are special because the preeminent tennis tournament continues to keep the first Sunday of the 14 day event free of any sort of action on the courts. In the last 127 years of Wimbledon the organizers have been forced to break with this tradition only thrice - in 1991, 1997 and 2004, when heavy rains persisted for a couple of days and played spoilsport to the schedule, leaving the All England Lawn Tennis Committee with no choice but to open up its gates for live tennis on the Middle Sunday.
The year 1991 was unique for Wimbledon because not only the biggest crowd-puller of that era American superstar Andre Agassi returned to action on the hallowed greens of SW19 after boycotting the tourney for 3 years in a row, but it was the first occasion in the history of Wimbledon when the Middle Sunday was utilized to fill-in for the lost time during the initial four days of the competition.
Chris Gorrings, the Chief Executive of the Club during that time, in his book Holding Court had mentioned about “the best and worst day of his life” – The First Middle Sunday. He said: “It had been an absolutely dreadful start to the tournament. We had no play on the first Monday, and intermittent rain throughout Tuesday. Wednesday was even worse with just 18 matches played, and by the end of Thursday, things were dire. For the players, it was a terrible ordeal. It took Stefan Edberg, the defending champion, 73 hours to finish the first round match, who claimed: "Thank God it’s over. I haven’t even been able to eat a decent lunch for four days."
Gorrings added: “And he was on of the lucky ones – at least he had made it onto court. We were almost a third of the way through the tournament and yet had completed only 52 out of 240 scheduled matches. It was no surprise then, to find myself, chairman John Curry, Michael Hann, chairman of the order of play sub-committee, referee Alan Mills and Richard Grier, Championships director, gathered together during yet another rain delay, looking at the feasibility of play on Sunday – something that had never been done before.”
Afterwards, there were two more instances when the Middle Sunday was put to use – in 1997 and then again in 2004. In 2004, the players who were forced to play on the People’s Sunday were former British No.1 Tim Henman, ladies’ top seed Serena Williams and the then men’s no.1 Roger Federer. Moreover, the men’s doubles were cut to size from best of five sets to best of three until the quarterfinals, while the start of play on all the courts barring the Centre and Court No.1 was changed to begin at 11 am rather than the customary 12 pm.