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Tennis History ... The History of Tennis 


The History of Tennis is very interesting.

There is a split in the belief of it's origins as some people believe that the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans played different versions of tennis but there are no drawings and descriptions as proof of any tennis-like games that have been discovered dating back to these periods.

A few Arabic words found that date from ancient Egyptian times are also given as evidence. The theory and belief is that the name tennis is derived from the Egyptian town of Tinnis alongside the Nile and the word racquet evolved from the Arabic word for palm of the hand, rahat.

Aside from these two words, further evidence for any form of tennis preceding the year 1000 is lacking, and most historians credit the first origins of the game to the eleventh or twelfth century French monks, who began playing a crude handball against their monastery walls or over a rope strung across a courtyard. The game was called jeu de paume, which means “game of the hand.” Those who argue the more ancient origins say that tennis is derived from the French tenez, which meant something to the effect of “take this,” which would be said as one player would serve the ball to the other.

As the game became more popular, courtyard playing areas began to be modified into indoor courts, where the ball was still played off the walls. After bare hands were found too painful, players began using a glove, then either a glove with webbing between the fingers or a solid paddle, followed by webbing attached to a handle, which was essentially a racquet. The ball, like in many other early games was a wad of hair, wool, or cork wrapped in string and cloth or leather, then in later years, hand-stitched in felt to resemble something looking like a modern base ball.

The French nobility learned the game from the monks, and some accounts report as many as 1,800 courts existing in France by the thirteenth century. The game became such a popular diversion, both the pope and Louis IV tried unsuccessfully to ban it. It soon spread to England, where both Henry VII and Henry VIII were avid players who promoted the building of more courts.

By the year 1500, a wooden frame racquet strung with sheep gut was in common use, as was a cork-centered ball weighing around three ounces. The early tennis courts were quite different from the modern “lawn tennis” court most of us are used to. This early game matured into what is now called “real tennis,” and England’s Hampton Court was built in 1625 and is still used today. Only a handful of these courts remain. It is a narrow, indoor court where the ball is played off walls that include a number of openings and oddly angled surfaces toward which the players aim for various strategic places. The net is five feet high on the ends, but three feet in the middle, creating a pronounced droop.

The game’s popularity died down almost to nothing during the 1700s, but in 1850, with Charles Goodyear inventing the vulcanization process for rubber things changed and during the 1850s, players began to experiment with using the bouncier rubber balls outdoors and on the grass courts. The outdoor game was, of course, completely different from an indoor game played off walls, and soon several new sets of rules were created.

In 1874, Major Walter C. Wingfield in London patented the equipment and rules for a game very similar to modern tennis. In the same year, the first tennis courts appeared in the United States. In 1875 equipment sets had been sold for use in Russia, India, Canada, and China.

Wingfield’s original court had the shape of an hourglass, and was narrowest at the net, it was also shorter than todays modern court. His existing game rules were subjected to considerable criticism, and he revised them in 1875.

In 1877, the All England Club held the first Wimbledon tournament, and its tournament committee came up with a rectangular court and a set of rules that are essentially the game as we know today. By 1882, the specifications for the tennis courts and nets and rules became the Tennis game as we know it today.