TENNIS HISTORY

 

Racquet sports go back many centuries. Over nets or off walls, indoors or out, one country and people to the next, it was only logical that a popular global racquet sport would evolve into what we now call tennis. In some places it is still referred to as lawn tennis, since it was first played on the lawns of Victorian England. That is where this chapter in sports history begins.

 

The true grand parent of lawn tennis is the centuries-old game of Royal or Court tennis. At one point there were so many courts and players, legislation was necessary to curtail the amount of time everybody was playing (and subsequently wagering on) the pastime. It was a mess, but evidently lots of fun.

 

The immediate forerunner of Lawn Tennis was the game of Real Tennis, a game of very old origin at least as early as the 1100's.  Real tennis has been thought to derive from a game played by monks in monastery cloisters.  Its court is a very strange one, with walls on four sides, and a sloping roof, supported by pillars, inside the court and on three of the sides.  By the end of the 1200's, the game had become popular at the court of the kings of France.  There were 13 makers of tennis balls in Paris alone according to records of 1292, and we would therefore guess that the game was fairly popular by this time.  Although the kings seemed to love to play tennis, they were apparently concerned that their subjects were wasting too much time playing the game because from 1365 onwards they regularly issued ordinances banning their subjects from playing.

 

The game spread from France to royal courts throughout Europe, England and Spain seem to have adopted the game most thoroughly, though it is interesting to note that the first book about Real tennis was written in Italy in 1555 by Antonio Scaino da Salo.

 

Lawn tennis was reputedly invented in the year 1874 by the Englishman, Major Walter Wingfield.  (Wingfield took out a Patent on the game in 1874), Wingfield had apparently played his invented game for some years before this, calling it by the Greek name Sphairistike after a ball game played by the Classical Greeks.  Although the Major liked to take credit for inventing the game, there are good reasons to believe that quite a number of other people had a strong influence on the development of the game.  The history of the game, however, generally accords Wingfield the honor of being the inventor.

 

The major's game spread quickly to other countries by October of 1874, according to The Sporting Gazette, people in Paris were "raving about" the new game, and even as early as Spring 1874 British soldiers had taken the game to Bermuda.  An American woman was visiting Bermuda from New York, bought one of Wingfield's tennis sets there, and took it back with her to Staten  Island where the first American game was played.

 

Wingfield's rules of 1874 (and his later revisions) were fairly different to our modern game.  For example, the court was an hour glass shape, and the net was 4' 8" high at the center, to mention

just two obvious differences.  The All-England Croquet Club, which had been founded in 1868 and moved to a site at Wimbledon in 1869,adopted lawn tennis in 1875.  They added "Lawn Tennis" to their title, and amended the rules somewhat (including a rectangular court) for their first Championship held in 1877.  The March 1880 revision of the rules by the All-England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club and the Marylebone Cricket Club brought them to essentially to  modern-day form.  In 1880 also, the first national championship in America was held at the Staten Island Cricket and Baseball Club.

 

Year after year the tournament drew more players and interest. The embryonic stages of the game made its way to America via Bermuda. On the shores of Staten Island, Boston and with other small bands of pleasure seekers, lawn tennis was now a multi-celled life form, spreading its joy, with the industrial revolution freeing up fortunes and leisure time through the 1870's into the 1880's, resorts of the Victorian era were a natural nesting place for the growth of the game. National championships were cropping up and attracting regulars. The upper class social scene was throwing decadent parties, giving them all a reason to return season after season and play. Soon there were enough challenging players in various regions of a growing number of countries to establish a level of skill that improved from one innovation to another.

 

If the play was freshening so were the few manufactured pieces of equipment. Nets, balls, shoes and of course racquets evolved, from borrowed to specifically designed for the best play. Rules even experienced periodic strengthening as the changing styles pushed them around.

 

There was still, however, in the 1890's, a giant ocean separating the two largest factions of the game. Occasionally the bravest and best would summer across the pond and search out the myths of Wimbledon, or visa versa, the boldness of Newport. These were the two centers of the lawn tennis universe. Many club tournaments, now staples of a blossoming tour in each country, were becoming ever more popular. The trophy for a victorious campaign at either of these two venues bore the highest level of achievement. Consequently, the American and English styles varied and they began to feed off of each other's genius.

 

International invitational tournaments were a logical step, but hastened by the gifting of a large silver bowl and set of rules. The International Lawn Tennis Challenge Trophy very quickly became known as the Davis Cup, as a philanthropist of the game, Mr. Dwight Davis, donated it in 1900 to the tennis community. Davis was a pretty good player, a doubles specialist, and his donation of this bowl was as significant as the All England Club's effort to nurse the game back to health in the 1870's. Tennis has now therefore been played for over 100 years, and during that time the names of any great players have been written into the record books.   

 

Tournaments are held throughout the year.  The tennis season is considered to start in January in Australia, summer in that country of course.   The championship of Australia, the "Australian Open", is the first "leg" of the Grand Slam and starts in mid-January. Spring is the season of the major European circuit, and mainly played on clay -- a slow surface that makes for long rallies.  The climax of this part of the year is the French Championship, played in early June, on the "red clay" of Roland Garros stadium in Paris. This is the second leg of the Grand Slam.  Shortly afterwards, the circuit moves to the short grass court season.  This culminates at Wimbledon in late June and early July -- the third leg of the Grand Slam.  The international circuit then moves to the US for the hard court season. This culminates in the US Open at Flushing Meadow, New

York, the last leg of the Grand Slam and held in early September.