Los 40 USA
Sign in to commentAPP
spainSPAINchileCHILEcolombiaCOLOMBIAusaUSAmexicoMEXICOlatin usaLATIN USAamericaAMERICA


How old is tennis? Origin and history of the sport

Though dispute over who created the game continues, most point to British Major Walter Clopton Wingfield, who was the first to publish the game’s rule book.

Though dispute over who created the game continues, most point to British Major Walter Clopton Wingfield, who was the first to publish the game’s rule book.

The game we know and love today has been around for quite some time and though many continue to debate about exactly where and when it all started, what we do know is that there was always a ball, a net and players on either side. With that said, let’s take a look at the origins of this storied game.

Was Tennis created in France?

Ask any tennis fan and they will likely tell you that the game originated in the holy monasteries of northern France in the 12th century. It’s got to be said, however, that there was one major difference and that’s the fact that the ball was hit with the palm of the hand, which gave it the name jeu de paume (“game of the palm”). If you’re wondering where the English word ‘tennis’ came from, that occurred somewhere in the mid-14th century. Taken from Old French via the Anglo-Norman term Tenez, which can be translated as “hold!”, “receive!” or “take!”, the term was essentially a call from the server to his opponent, indicating that he was about to serve.

Interestingly, the term was not widely used until around the 16th century when rackets came into use, and the game began to become popular in England and France. Indeed, even Henry VIII of England was known to be an avid fan of the game. To that end, there are many original tennis courts which remain to this very day including those which can be found in Oxford, Cambridge, Falkland Palace in Fife, and Hampton Court Palace.

So, what about Major Walter Clopton Wingfield

You might recall that we mentioned the Major before as he was in fact the first to publish a book about the rules of the game. Published in 1874 and followed by a patent application in 1874, Wingfield’s book became the bible of sorts for the game we know today. Of course, many have continued to assert that similar games were played earlier, and moreover that the first tennis club was actually founded by Englishman Harry Gem and several associates in Leamington in 1872.

Regardless, it’s got to be said that it was Wingfield whose booklet entitled “Sphairistiké, or Lawn Tennis,” brought tennis to the four with its promotion of the ‘the hourglass shape’ court. This shape was developed using badminton as a reference, but some historians suppose it was adopted for patent reasons since it distinguished the court from ordinary rectangular courts.

Official competitions

It wasn’t long after the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club adopted the official Rules of Lawn Tennis, that the first official tennis competition began to arrive - the first Lawn Tennis Championship, The Championships, and Wimbledon in 1877. In 1884 a women’s championship was introduced at Wimbledon, and women’s national championships were held in the United States from 1887.

Davis and Fed Cup

The first international team competition was the Davis Cup, officially called the International Lawn Tennis Challenge Trophy, which U.S. doubles champion Dwight Davis donated in 1900. Only Great Britain challenged the first year; it was defeated by the United States, Davis himself playing on the victorious team.

The idea of a Davis Cup-style tournament for national women’s teams is surprisingly old—it was first proposed in 1919 by Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman. After being turned down, she donated a trophy in 1923, known as the Wightman Cup, awarded in an annual match between the two strongest women’s tennis nations of the time, the United States and Great Britain. The equivalent competition for women’s national teams, the Fed Cup, was founded as the Federation Cup in 1963 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the International Tennis Federation, also known as the ITF.

The Open era

In 1967 a British bid for a limited timetable of open tournaments was voted down by the international federation, but the British LTA refused to accept the verdict. In December 1967, despite the threat of expulsion from the ILTF, the LTA voted to abolish the distinction between amateurs and pros in their tournaments. The Open era was born.

The first open tournament was the British Hard Courts at Bournemouth in April 1968, where the champions were Ken Rosewall and Virginia Wade. The first open Wimbledon was a joyous occasion, as many past champions who had been stripped of membership in the All England Club when they turned professional were welcomed back.

The transition years from amateur to professional tennis were rampant with political controversies and lawsuits for custody of what had become a big-money sport. Both male and female players formed guilds—the men’s Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) that, later in 1986, became the Women’s International Tennis Association (WITA).