Tennis is one of the most popular sports in the world today. More than a billion players and fans play this sport and regularly cheer on tennis matches. But how did tennis evolve from a marginal sport to such a popular discipline? We explain the history of the sport, tracing its origins and its progress up to the present day.
Tennis roots in France
The origin of tennis can be traced back to the 13th century. Experts assume that the game was invented by monks. At the beginning it was played mainly in monastery courts in northern France. Gradually, the sport spread to England and Scotland. At that time, however, there were no rules. The ball still consisted of a leather ball, which was filled with wool, sand or similar materials. The game was mostly played by hand; in some cases, a glove was used.
The original form of tennis was called cache, which derives from the Latin word captiare and means to catch, or jeu de palme (game with palm). Gradually, the game eventually spread among the burghers and the nobility. In this process, a sloping roof was installed, which was attached to the wall of the church square or castle courtyard as a playing surface. In 1495 there is a mention of rackets for the first time.
Starting from the 16th century rackets were used which had a wooden striking surface, as old illustrations show. You probably have to think of it as something like an enlarged ping-pong paddle. The differences between ping pong and tennis can be read on our blog, https://www.tennistips.org/tennis-vs-ping-pong/.
Among the clergy, however, the popularity of the sport caused more trouble. When playing in the churchyard, it was not uncommon for windows to be hit by the ball and destroyed. The noise also disturbed the service and the gathering of the monks.
The aristocrats soon joined in the concerns, worried about the morale of the public. Already at that time, people started betting larger sums of money on gamblers – so the history of sports betting is already very long. Tennis betting is still a big deal these days. However, today we have tools that citizens did not have in earlier times. You can search for the best betting providers that offer good conditions and bonuses.
Despite their early concerns, however, the nobles themselves continued to pursue the sporting activity themselves on their own private playgrounds. The citizens were not bothered by the displeasure of the upper class. As early as 1405, the first tennis club was founded whose members could play their game both outdoors and indoors. In 1464, citizens of Bruges organized the first tennis tournament in history, in which two teams participated. In France and England, on the other hand, the suspicious activities of the commoners were severely punished.
The golden tennis ages
Over time, more and more famous men began to indulge in the sport of tennis. The first known king was Louis X, born in 1289, but in the process many nobles also proved that tennis can be quite dangerous. While some died as a result of illness – for example, the aforementioned Louis X, who suffered pneumonia after a match – others played tennis to complete financial ruin. Injuries from the wooden bats or the improvised balls were not absent either. Among less well-off players it was also common to fill the leather ball with metal shavings or sand, which led to many accidents resulting in death. In the 16th and 17th centuries, tennis developed into a popular sport.
Despite the continued prohibition, it is increasingly played by burghers, wealthy peasants and students. More and more open or covered playgrounds are built in towns and castles. During the French Revolution, tennis was in fact forbidden.
However, in England, it flourished in the meantime. In the 19th century, the game increasingly became a sport for the exclusive landed gentry. In 1878, there were still about twenty tennis courts where the traditional jeu de paume was played with service to the roof. From now on, tennis is referred to as real, royal or tennis for short. The development of tennis in 19th century England went hand in hand with the invention of the lawn mower and the use of rubber balls. In place of the wall now came the net, which was adopted from badminton.
Birth of the great tournaments
Tennis as we know it nowadays originated at the first championships in Wimbledon in July 1877, where the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club held the first major lawn tennis tournament. The rules of the game were largely the same as those still in force today. The serve was from the baseline; the count was the old jeu de paume: 15 – 30 – 40. The court was rectangular, the net was lower and the ball was covered with white flannel. It was already part of the first Olympic Games in 1896. Both the original form jeu de palme and Lawn Tennis were represented.
The players were all rather unknown people from Greece, as popular athletes from France, Great Britain and the USA were not interested in the Olympics at that time. At the following Olympic Games, which were held in Paris in 1900, there was already a tournament for women only. It has many stars nowadays that fans cheer at: Serena Williams, Alexander Zverev and others follow tennis legends such as Roger Federer, Ivan Lendl and Rafael Nadal. You can find more information on the current happenings regarding tennis stars on https://edition.cnn.com/2022/03/09/tennis/novak-djokovic-indian-wells-covid-spt-intl/index.html.
Since 2007, the gender pay gap in tennis has been closed. From this year on, the winners of the four major annual tennis tournaments all receive the same prize money, something that female athletes in other disciplines can only dream of to this day. Nowadays, it is a discipline that the whole world celebrates.