Many would argue that the beginnings of tennis can be dated back the 12th century in France when tennis was actually played with the palm of one’s hand. This version was made popular by the king of France, Louis X, who actually brought the sport indoors since he had an aversion to outdoor play. His indoor courts spread fairly quickly across the royal courts throughout Europe, particularly England and France.
As time progressed towards the 16th century, rackets became a popular way to handle the ball rather than the palm as the ball was struck against the side walls of the court. During this time, the name of tennis came into being from its French origin of tenez, which translated into calls that one could make to one’s opponent upon the court as the ball was served. This version was highly prized by both Charles V of France and Henry VIII of England. Both monarchs could be seen watching the game as well as playing it from time to time as both men were highly physical monarchs during their early years of rule.
However, as time progressed from the days of Henry VIII and into the 18th century onward, there is a noted declined in the playing of this tennis form since other games involving a racket were introduced and developed during this time. Though, the first sign that tennis could make a comeback happened in 1830 when a patent in England brought the first lawn mower into the world of lawn care. This is considered the major catalyst to propelling tennis into its modern version as grassy courts would soon be designed for the sport’s express purpose.
Birmingham, England is considered the birthplace of the modern version of tennis we see today as two gentlemen developed the game during 1859 to 1865. They borrowed elements of pelota, a game from Basque, and of racquets that they transplanted the game to the croquet lawn of one, Augurio Perero, with the assistance of his friend, Harry Gem. They would later create the first tennis club in the world at the Lemington Spa in 1872 when they paired with two doctors to play the game.
While Perero and Gem may have begun the idea of tennis, it would seem the real credit goes to a Major Wingfield in the following year of 1873 in Wales. Not only did he provide the equipment that mirrored that of modern tennis at a garden party to entertain the guests, he’d also provided the rules on which the game is played. The name he’d given to the game had become known as sticky. As a marketing savant, he was able to spread his game on an international level due to his strong connections with men of the cloth, men of law, and men of title and wealth. As he sent out his kits by the thousands within the first year of its introduction, he soon propelled the sport into a professional level when the Wimbledon tournament came into being in 1877 in London.
The United States also found its introduction with the sport when a young socialite brought the game back from England and set it up at a local club in Staten Island, New York. This set up became the place for eventual tournaments in 1880 with matches between single and double players. As it spread throughout the United States, it soon became apparent that the rules weren’t standard within this country or any other area as well since the ball could be bigger in some places than others along with other differences.
To standardized the rules and set regulations on the game, there is the creation of the United States Tennis Association in the year of 1881. Within this same year, the first tournament was created as the U.S. National Men’s Single Championship (now called US Open) that was first held in Rhode Island. The women’s championship followed in 1887 with its matches set in Philadelphia. The French built up their championship tournament in 1891 as the French Championships though you had to be a member of a French club to qualify. Then, in 1905, the Australians brought theirs into the ranks as the Australian Open, culminating into the four Majors we still see today in the world of tennis.
As the international circuit came into being for amateur players, there was a great push to regulate the rules on this larger scale, which results in the formation of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) in 1924. The rules set by this governing body have largely remained unchanged though they did have sway in the removal and eventual reintroduction of tennis in the Olympics in both 1924 and 1988.
To honor its prominent players and its history as a sport, one can find the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Rhode Island that was begun in 1954 by Jimmy Van Alen. As the Hall of Fame opened, it was soon followed by the allowance of amateur and professional players alike to compete in the four Opens, giving rise to players’ capabilities to live off their earnings from the sport. This is known as the Open Era, starting in 1968, and came to fruition since pressures were building in the commercial sector amid rumors of amateurs retaining funds for their playing in each Open.
Since this era, we have seen the rise of many great tennis players as they learn how to play the sport and even master it, showing themselves worthy of their appearance at one of the four Majors.