A Brief History of Tennis

The exact point of origin of tennis is heavily disputed - i mean, some historians even date it back to Ancient Egypt!

For some, the game began in fifth century Tuscany in Italy when villagers took to striking balls in the street with their bare hands.

A version more approximate to the version of the game that we know now was played by European monks, mainly in Italy and later France, in the 12th century, with a closed courtyard as the 'tennis court'.

The game of tennis since then became very popular amongst the the aristocracy of Europe (particularly among the French nobility) and reached a new peak in the 16th century when the rules and equipment of the sport became unified across political boundaries. Francis I of France, who reigned from 1515-47, was reputedly an enthusiastic player and was responsible for the building of many tennis courts and also brought the sport into the realm of the commoners.

Francis I - tennis lover, and king of France

Interestingly on the other side of the English Channel, English king Henry VIII (1509-47) was a skilled player of tennis and famously built a tennis court at the Royal Palace of Hampton Court, which still survives today and is used for modern competition. Henry's second wife Ann Boleyn was alleged to be watching a game of tennis in Whitehall the moment she was arrested, and more uncannily legend has it that Henry VIII was playing when being told she had been executed.

The actual Royal Palace of Hampton Court

Now on to further French contributions to the evolution of the sport, which do not pale in significance to France's contributions to the English language! The word 'love; familiar with tennis fans had its origins from the French word for egg ("l'oeuf"), which symbolizes "nothing". Even the word tennis has French origins, coming from the verb 'tenir' used in the medieval era, which means to hold.

Tennis continued to grow rapidly in popularity and was played extensively in the 17th and 18th century, but by the time of the French Revolution, interest dwindled as tennis was associated with the upper (and hated) classes of society.

Other more 'common' racket sports also emerged such as racquets, squash racquets, and eventually lawn tennis, the development of which is widely credited to an Englishman, Major Charles Wingfield, who patented the equipment and rules of lawn tennis in London in 1874. His efforts were refined by the familiar All England Crocquet and Lawn Tennis Club, who staged their first tournament on the lawns of Wimbledon 1877! It was during this period during the late 1800s that the "let" was also quickly introduced, giving the player a second chance if his serve hits the net cord but falls into the correct service box. Interestingly, the rules and scoring system for tennis have hardly changed since the 1890s with the adoption of the tie-break in the 1970s, being the only major difference. It was also during this period of the late 1800s that the four grand slam events were conceived, with Wimbledon in 1877, the U.S. Open in 1881, the French Open in 1891, and Australian Open in 1905.

The first US Open national championship in 1881

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