Sports

Wimbledon players get a participation trophy, a silver plaque congratulating them for competing

LONDON — As participation trophies go, the sterling silver plaques players receive at Wimbledon are unique — and, generally, cherished.

In a relatively well-kept secret — even some athletes were completely unaware when asked about the keepsakes by The Associated Press during the tournament that wraps up next weekend — the All England Club distributes the mementos to all 256 players in the women’s and men’s singles brackets, as well as those in doubles and wheelchair events.

Set aside the title-accumulating folks such as Martina Navratilova or Serena Williams, Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic, and most players, of course, leave a tennis tournament without a championship and the hardware that symbolizes it. All now go home from Wimbledon with something; it’s the only Grand Slam event that does this.

“If I do really well here at some point, I’ll show that one off. It’s Wimbledon. It’s special. This is the tournament I watched growing up,” said Marcos Giron, an American who reached the second round. “It’s a cool touch, and it fits with the attention to detail. Everything they do here is pretty special. There’s so much heritage, so much history. Every blade of grass is always pristine. If you see a flower that’s drooping, you think, ‘Whoa. What’s going on here?’”

Jamie Baker, a former player who’s been the tournament director at the grass-court major since the 2021 edition, came up with the idea. It began for singles in 2022; doubles was added last year.

Baker said he was inspired by his own experience: He competed in singles at the All England Club five times as a professional — and went 0-for-5, exiting in the first round each time. So Baker thought of the practice of soccer players being rewarded with a cap for each game they play for their national team.

“I don’t have anything to show for it at home. Maybe a couple of pictures,” he said with a laugh. “I’d like to be able to show my kids that I actually played. So I love the fact that people have that now.”

Wimbledon, he said, “could end up being a place where you’ve won loads of matches over your career, but at the end of the day, you’ve got nothing to put on your coffee table or in your trophy cabinet. When somebody picks up a racket when they’re a kid, playing in the main draw of Wimbledon is kind of like making their dreams come true. It’s a really great achievement just to be here.”

Players can collect their plaques at the same time that they grab other gifts, such as a choice of sunglasses, when they show up before the tournament — akin to swag bags distributed at other big events, such as the Academy Awards.

Mayar Sherif, an Egyptian in the singles and doubles draws, knew exactly where she’d place hers: in a display case where her coach lives in Spain that holds all of her trophies dating to when she was on lower-level tours.

“He still has them all. He’s not missing one. We call it ‘The Museum,’” said Sherif, who played college tennis at Pepperdine University in California. “This definitely will go there. It marks the fact that you were here that year and gives you memories of that.”

Each year’s design is slightly different. This time, it looks like a silver postcard; one side includes the Wimbledon logo, “2024,” an etching of the tournament grounds, and the motto, “Always like never before” in all capital letters; the other side says “Congratulations on competing at The Championships 2024,” and has a depiction of a postage stamp with a profile of King Charles III.

The souvenir came in a green jewelry box, accompanied by a card that explains it “serves to commemorate the occasion of you competing” at Wimbledon, followed by a note from Baker that calls it “a great accomplishment which we are proud to acknowledge” and adds: “We wish you all the best in collecting many of these throughout your career.”

Some players said they’re eager to show the mementos off. Others planned to give it to others who helped them make it to the All England Club.

Emina Bektas, a 31-year-old who went to the University of Michigan, handed her 2022 version off to a mentor, but said, “I might keep this year’s.” Robin Montgomery, a 19-year-old from Washington, D.C., who made her Wimbledon debut this week, said hers is destined for her grandmother’s house.

“I like to hear that, because that’s in keeping with what the purpose of it is,” Baker said. “It’s genuinely a life’s worth of work to make it to one of these events, so to give it to somebody who’s been a part of that journey is great.”

Liam Broady, a 30-year-old British player who exited in the first round of singles and doubles, called the items “absolutely beautiful” and is proud to have one from each of the past three years.

“Wimbledon is a big deal, and there’s not many tennis players that ever get the chance to play,” Broady said. “Sometimes we get too wrapped up when Novak is winning six, seven Wimbledons, and Roger is winning seven or eight Wimbledons, and we forget what an achievement it is just to compete at this event.”

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Howard Fendrich has been the AP’s tennis writer since 2002. Find his stories here: https://apnews.com/author/howard-fendrich

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AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis

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