The Tennis Court At The Origin Of Today’s Tennis

Whether or not you play tennis, knowing its history and how it has evolved over the years can be helpful. This sport has been around for years now and continues to evolve and attract more and more players. A simple activity was its origin if today there are many professionals, clubs and competitions.

Tennis and its beginning


After practice sessions or after watching matches, you have surely already wondered who came up with the idea for this game. Like any activity, tennis has its origins.

The ascendant: The palm game

Apart from tennis, several sports have their origins in the game of palm. These include Basque pelota, squash and badminton. At the beginning, that is to say in the XIIIth century, in France, this mode of play was born. Monks had fun with a ball called an egg with the palm of the hand, hence the name of this ancestor of tennis. In this exercise, they bounced the ball by making use of the beams, walls and the floor. It thus looks like an indoor tennis court. This game has, over time, seen improvements.

At first only the hand was used and in some situations this limb was covered by gloves. In the 15th century, we opted for rope, in order to reduce the pain that was felt after some time of play. Indeed, the balls or eggs were made of lime or designed with leather. Wooden beaters were then made, but with crude constructions before the appearance of the first racket in the 16th century. This accessory had a long handle and a sheep cord.

The origin of tennis known, there are still several unanswered questions such as the differences between tennis and tennis today? The first relates to snowshoes which were of coarse construction with soft strings. The second is in the texture of the ball used which was at that time in compressed wool covered with leather. It made the rebound complex so the game required a certain type of hard surface. The third relates to the position of the net which is higher and curved. The ground was also wider.

In its time, the tennis court came in 2 forms: the short palm in a room and the long palm outside , in the open air. It attracted mostly humanists and students, but at the start of the 14th century it was appreciated by a large part of the French, including educators and those from the nobility. This game was also named as the Game of Kings, because even Henry IV, Francis I, Charles IX and Henry II have professionalized in the field.

Henry II is the one who stood out the most among all these kings, if the death of Louis X on the other hand was caused by a passion for the activity. Indeed, after playing, he went to the cellar of his castle to quench his thirst. This caused pneumonia which was the cause of his death a few days later. It was thus a hobby very appreciated by sovereigns, because some had to be called several times to the Tripot when there were urgent obligations.

It was its debut, but the game of palm has spread to the rest of the world as well. In 1876, the United States recognized it thanks to Mary Ewing Outerbridge who named it at that time Real Tennis or Royal Tennis. Other countries such as Spain, Italy or Germany, meanwhile, knew it as Court Tennis in the 16th century.

The appearance of the name tennis

In medieval times, the one who served in the tennis court, the ancestor of tennis, had a habit. While throwing, he said “Hold” which had for imperative “Tenèts” in old French. When the English watched the game, they distorted the word according to their accent hence Tenis. It is this vocabulary which is at the origin of the word tennis.

It is the same for the word “court” which today designates the tennis court. Since it was practiced in the courtyard of the kings’ castles, the term appeared. As for service, custom required that it be a royal servant who put the ball into play.

The history of tennis

1874: creation by Wingfield

4 centuries after the practice of tennis, tennis was born in France. Major Walter Clopton Wingfield, retired from the Indian Army, played a game of racket ball beginning on Christmas 1873. It was an activity that combined racketeering and tennis. After a few months, precisely on February 23, 1874, Major Walter patented the Sphairistiké which meant ball art in Greek. It took place in London, at the chamber of trades. In 1877, he changed the name to Lawn-Tennis . The latter is an appellation in English which translates to Jeu de Paume sur gazon in French.

If Major Wingfield is known to have invented it, Major Harry Gem is also part of history and his way of playing is also the one that most closely resembles current tennis. With Arthur Tomkin, Frédéric Haynes and Perera, he set up the world’s first lawn tennis club.

Major Wingfield’s patented design was released as a bundle that includes:

  • A net
  • Stakes for the installation of the net
  • 4 rackets

Strips to draw and mark the land which was to be grass with the shape of an hourglass.

The first rules of tennis, meanwhile, were published in May 1874 with revisions with the Marylebone Cricket Club for simplification on May 24, 1875. This is also the year the All England Club was founded on a meadow. at Wimbledon. This was done by Henry Jones and JH Walsh.

The evolution of tennis around the world

From 1890 to 1900, tennis began to have a global presence. Before this period, that is to say since 1878 which was the year of entry into French territory, it was known under the term lawn-tennis with indoor competitions . In 1888, a national association was created and several clubs were born: Dinard, Cannes and Le Havre. Various grounds, including indoor courts for the winter, have also been set up. For example, the Tennis Club de Paris with its 2 courts was built in 1895. The first championships were organized in 1981. They took place on the island of Puteaux.

After that, several tournaments were organized with the possibility of playing for foreigners. Various establishments have also built tennis courts to attract more people. A subscription with a license for the players and authorizations for the tournaments were then required by the federation.

Speaking of Italy, Bordighera hosted the country’s first club in 1878 with the main target customers being English tourists. Several courses are also located in Barcelona. As for Germany, the first club was in Baden-Baden in 1881. In Norway, the creation of a tennis court was made in Tullgarn the same year. For these countries, here are the years when the sport has evolved: 1889: Portugal, 1890: Belgium and 1882: Netherlands.

As for the United States, in 1876 a first club was established in New Orleans. 5 years later the US appeared. Australia discovered tennis at the same time as the USA, but its Open did not see the light of day until 1905. The world knew and practiced this activity around 1900, which is why an international federation was created in 1912. It was named IFLT before becoming IFT or International Tennis Federation. The latter’s mission is to promote and preserve benefits at a global level.

While the game has been open to both men and women since its inception, tournaments have not. It was not until 1879 that the first women’s competition saw the light of day. It was organized by Dublin. Wimbledon, meanwhile, wasn’t allowed to women until 1884 with Maud Watson and Charlotte Dod winning it first.

The 1968 revolution

Let’s continue the history of tennis with the most significant periods. From the year 1900, various tournaments were organized, including at the international level. It was also during this period that the Davis Cup was created by Dwight Davis. It is a team competition that has grown into the world’s largest and oldest tennis tournament. The Roland Garros, an equally famous tournament, began in 1925. With this development, players also had to renovate their playing style and their tennis racquets .

In the 1920s, the French were successful in this sport, because during 6 years, they practically won a large part of the most famous competitions. This is the case with the Davis Cup and the Grand Slam . This success was partly due to Henri Cochet and the musketeers: René Lacoste, Jean Borotra, “Toto” Brugnon. It ended in 1932 when Cochet won Roland Garros.

The Americans took over by dominating the competitions in the 1930s. The players who stood out are: Fred Ferry, Helen Wills and Donald Budge. But like all sports, tennis had a hiatus during WWII, and it lasted 5 years. The successes of the Australians were the next major events in tennis , as their monopoly lasted through the 1950s and 1960s. They owe this to coach Harry Hopman who had Fred Stolle, Ken Rosewall and Lewis Hoad, Roy by his side. Emerson, Rod Laver and Margarette Smith Court. The latter dominated women’s tennis and achieved recognition.

In the 60s and 70s, many players stood out, such as Frenchwoman Françoise Dürr, Arthur Ashe and American Maureen Connolly. Arthur Ashe stood out as the first black American to win the Grand Slam. Maureen Connolly won the Roland Garros in 1967.

If previously the tournament was reserved for amateurs, professionals have turned to sponsored exhibition matches. With the latter, their gain was maximum, unlike competitions. It was in 1968 that All England Club decided to give the opportunity to professionals to play at Wimbledon. Although the IFLT initially opposed it, it ended up accepting it. The various competitions then followed this rule. That same year, the IFLT confirmed this demand by choosing the term Open for the tournaments concerned, which means open to amateurs and professionals.

Always in the evolution of the history of tennis, the Australians also marked their presence in the 70s. Rod Laver was the main actor. Americans, Swedes and Romanians with Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, Nastase and Tiriac are also not to be forgotten. A revolution in tennis playing techniques has been seen with Bjorn Borg.

But women are not neglected for all that, as Americans Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert Lloyd have dominated women’s tennis.

The first world ranking was not released until August 23, 1973 by the ATP or the professional tennis association. Ilie Nastase, a Romanian was at the top of the list during this year. Seeing this, the female players decided to establish the same association, but dedicated only to women. She was named WTA and established her first world ranking in 1975.

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