Tennis History: Tennis is now the fourth most popular sport globally, with an estimated 1 Billon fans following the game. However, the truly fascinating aspect of tennis history is it’s shrouded in mystery and conjecture.
- Tennis’s Ancient Origins
- The History of ‘Real’ Tennis
- The History of Lawn Tennis
- The History of the Davis Cup
- The History of Women’s Tennis
- The Origins of Pro Tennis
- The Open Tennis Era Chapter
- Final Thoughts
1. Tennis’s Ancient Origins
Some individuals claim that different versions of tennis were played by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. Although no drawings or descriptions of tennis-like activities have been uncovered, a few Arabic words from ancient Egypt are cited as evidence. According to one hypothesis, the name tennis comes from the Egyptian town of Tinnis near the Nile, while the word racquet comes from the Arabic word for the palm of the hand, rahat.
Aside from these two words, there is limited evidence for any kind of tennis prior to the year 1000, and most historians credit the game’s beginnings to eleventh- or twelfth-century French monks, who began playing a basic handball against their monastery walls or over a rope strung across a courtyard. The game was named jeu de paume, meaning “game of the hand.” Many opponents of more ancient origins say that tennis is derived from the French tenez, which means “here it comes!” as one player serves to the other.
How Scoring Originated
Tennis, unlike most sports, has a complicated scoring system. The scoring method is thought to have originated in medieval France, and a clock face indicated the points. The hand was moved to the next quarter with every point scored (15, 30, 45). The game concluded when the first participant reached 60 points. However, this is a little odd given that the scoring system is now 15, 30, and 40. One possible reason for the disparity is that players needed to win by two points. Therefore the hand was moved to 40 and then 50, with the win arriving on the hour.
Another explanation is that the scoring system was created to account for the number of yards traveled by the ball. Today’s courts are 78 feet long, although, in the beginning, courts were 90 yards long, with 45 yards on each side. Players advanced 15 feet forward every time a player scored. Because the third point was scored with both players up at the net, the last point was made from 10 yards.
2. The History of ‘Real’ Tennis
While Jeu de paume was occasionally referred to as “real tennis,” this distinction is now closely associated with the variation of palm tennis in which players smacked the ball over the playing field with racquets. Real tennis evolved from the sixteenth through the mid-nineteenth centuries, becoming immensely popular in European royal courts. Real tennis was so popular among royalty that it was directly linked to the deaths of King James I of Scotland (assassin), Louis X (exhaustion and severe chill), and Charles VIII (head injury).
Because of the sport’s prominence in France, King Charles IX established the Corporation of Tennis Professionals in 1571, with three professional leagues comprised of apprentice, associate, and master level players. In 1599, the first recorded rules of this true tennis league were published.
Tennis grew in popularity across Europe during the 17th and first half of the 18th centuries, except for two countries: England, where Puritanism did not approve of such activity, and France, where the nobility came under pressure from disgruntled commoners. In the 18th century, England gradually drifted away from true tennis and toward lawn tennis, which evolved into what we now call modern tennis.
3. The History of Lawn Tennis
Tennis would regain popularity in the 1870s when the contemporary form evolved from the medieval version. There was a desire for games that the increasing middle-class could enjoy in the late 1800s and an increased interest in outdoor leisure activities. Major Walter Clopton Wingfield, a Welshman with an enterprising spirit, created the modern game known as Sphairistiké, derived from the Greek word sphairos, which means “ball.” Wise friends advised him to modify the name to lawn tennis; thus, the game that closest resembles tennis today was formed. Lawn tennis allowed the game to be played on outdoor courts rather than the indoor courts that only the wealthy could afford. In 1874, Wingfield received a patent for a New and Improved Court for Playing the Ancient Game of Tennis. He also created a new ball out of a newly found material, rubber, that could bounce high on the grassy courts.
With the sport’s growing popularity and much to the satisfaction of entrepreneur Wingfield, a market for individuals to buy tennis equipment was developed. The All England Croquet Club in Wimbledon, London, changed its name to the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club in 1877, and the first significant tournament event, now known as “The Championships, Wimbledon,” was staged on the grass courts.
4. The history Of the Davis Cup
The first Davis Cup was held in 1900, when the United States faced off against Great Britain, then played under the name of the British Isles. The match was played at the Longwood Cricket Club in Boston, and the Americans stunned their opponents by surging to an unassailable 3:0 lead.
Davis Cub was conceived a year earlier by 4 Harvard University tennis team members who wanted to set up a match between the United States and the United Kingdom. After the two national associations reached an agreement, one of the four players, Dwight Davis, developed a tournament format and purchased a trophy with his own money. The tournament was originally known as the International On Talent Tennis Challenge, but it was quickly renamed the Davis Cup after Dwight Davis’s trophy.
5. The History of Women’s Tennis
Wimbledon began in 1877 as a fundraiser, not exactly the best start for what would become one of the most prestigious tennis tournaments. The tournament’s first Ladies’ Championship was played in 1884. Maud Watson was the inaugural winner, receiving a prize of 20 guineas. Not much in comparison to the $2.5 million that winners now get.
The tournament was also famous for one of the women fainting during the second set in the intense heat, most likely since the competitors were forced to wear long skirts and corsets. The incident was used to prove that women are too weak and delicate to compete in five-set matches.
Tennis has been popular among women in the United States since its inception and was also introduced by a woman, Mary Ewing Outerbridge. She was introduced to the game in Bermuda and took it back to the United States. On Staten Island in 1874, Mary Ewing Outerbridge and her sister Laura played the first game ever played in America.
6. The Origins of Pro Tennis
Tennis became so popular that it was included in the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, in 1896, barely twenty-two years after the modern sport was established. Tennis was not featured in the games until 1924, owing to conflicts between the (IOC) International Olympic Committee and the International Lawn Tennis Federation.
7. The Open Tennis Era Chapter
Prior to 1968, tennis was divided into two camps: amateurs, who competed in tournaments with no prize money, and professionals, whose sponsors paid for their appearances. The pros were not permitted to compete in the Grand Slam competitions, which remained tennis’ Holy Grail, but the Grand Slams did not pay. At the time, the nobleness of the sport was considered more significant than anything else, and the consensus was that you didn’t need to win money to be considered a great champion.
From April 22 to 27, 1968, the first official tournament of this new period was staged in Bournemouth, England. Mark Cox, a British amateur, stood out. He defeated two professional stars: Roy Emerson and Pancho Gonzalez. Cox did not win the championship; another star of the period, Ken Rosewall, defeated Rod Laver in the final. The organizers were pleased with the outcome. Ticket sales were six times higher than in previous years.
Political squabbles and legal battles for control of what had become a big-money sport plagued the transition years from quasi-amateurism to full-fledged professional tennis. Male and female players founded guilds, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) for men and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), which became the Women’s International Tennis Association (WITA) in 1986.
Tennis’s global broadcast on television increased the game’s popularity and influenced a more aggressive, athletic style of play. Tennis returned to the Olympics for the first time in 1988, marking the sport’s last significant change in the modern era.
8. Final Thoughts
Tennis has progressed from a recreational activity to a professional sport. It began with wooden tennis racquets and a ball and has evolved into a highly technologically complex game with a wide range of materials. It is perhaps one of the most international sports, with courts in practically every country. Tennis’s widespread popularity is largely due to its marketing in the Olympics and on television, as well as the fact that the game is straightforward to learn and play. Tennis courts are still commonly included when parks are built, helping to promote the sport to youngsters from an early age. The sport’s increasing amounts of prize money have surely influenced many people to take up the sport, where the diversity of players from different countries in big events is at an all-time high. The dynamic and fast-paced character of the sport undoubtedly contributes to its popularity.