Anyone for Tennis?

Advantage Brother Egbert

French Monastery
Credit: Fr Maxim Massalitin (Click to Enlarge).

During the 12th century, in monasteries across Northern France, there were some very strange goings on.

The sound of a ball being struck by hand, of laughter, shouting, and clapping. How could this be?

The game was afoot … or more precisely, at hand. Monks were playing jeu de paume—“game of the palm”—where the ball was struck with the palm of the hand in a closed courtyard.

Today, we call it “tennis”.

The Sport of Kings

Real Tennis, aka “The Sport of Kings”, was the original racquet sport and precursor to the modern game. Its popularity grew quickly among the French nobility.

The French King, Francis I (1515-47), was an enthusiastic player and advocate, building many courts and bringing the sport to a broader populace.

Henry VIII (1509–47) of England enjoyed playing the game so much that he had a tennis court built at the Royal Palace of Hampton Court in 1530. It is still used in competition today.

Some historians believe that Anne Boleyn, his second wife, was watching him play when she was arrested. Legend has it that Henry was even engrossed in a game when news of her execution arrived.

Lawn Tennis

Walter Clopton Wingfield
Walter Clopton Wingfield

It was the Victorians who are widely credited with the development of the modern game.

Walter Clopton Wingfield was a Welsh army officer and inventor.

In the late 1860s Wingfield recognized that vulcanized bouncing rubber balls could transform real tennis from an indoor game to one played outdoors on modified croquet lawns.

Wingfield patented his court design and in 1874 began selling boxed sets including poles, court markers, racquets, balls, and instructions.

Tennis was growing in importance as a supplement to cricket and was even played at Lord’s Cricket Ground. The governing body for cricket decided to adopt and modify Wingfield’s system of rules, leading to the formation of a new club for tennis.

First Wimbledon Championships, 1877.
First Wimbledon Championships, 1877.

In 1877, the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC) launched the Wimbledon Championship.

200 spectators watched Spencer William Gore beat William Marshall 6–1, 6–2, 6–4 on 19 July 1877 at a cost of one shilling. Today, tickets cost £2,667 (about $4200).

That first year at Wimbledon, when service was underarm, the champion Spencer Gore predicted:

Lawn tennis will never rank among our great games.

Tennis Terms

Tennis comes from the French tenez, meaning “hold!”, “receive!” or “take!”—a call from the server to tell the opponent that they’re about to serve.

Racket derives from the Arabic rakhat, meaning the palm of the hand.

Deuce comes from à deux le jeu, meaning “to both is the game” (both players have the same score).

The origin of the use of Love for zero is thought to derive from “l’oeuf”, the French word for “egg”, which is shaped like a “0”.

Alternatively, it could be from the Dutch saying “iets voor lof doen”, which means to do something for praise (for the love of it).

Ever wonder why scores are unevenly spaced as “15”, “30” and “40”? A popular theory is the quarters of a clock, but “45” was simplified over time.

Tennis Through the Centuries

First known depiction of a medieval tennis court. From a french translation of Valerius Maximus, original today in British Library.
First known depiction of a medieval tennis court. From a french translation of Valerius Maximus, original today in British Library.
Copper engraving of a game of Tennis in France, in the 16. century. From the series "Children games". Bibliothèque Nationale, Cabinet des Estampes, Paris.
Copper engraving of a game of Tennis in France, in the 16. century. From the series “Children games”. Bibliothèque Nationale, Cabinet des Estampes, Paris.
Medieval Tennis, France, c. 1510
Medieval Tennis, France, c. 1510
A Tennis game, one of the first depictions of a line in the middle (the predecessor of today's net).
A Tennis game, one of the first depictions of a line in the middle (the predecessor of today’s net).
Watercolor painting from an unknown German student who had studied in Italy (Padua or Siena), depicting an early form of Tennis
Watercolor painting from an unknown German student who had studied in Italy (Padua or Siena), depicting an early form of Tennis
Real Tennis (predecessor of modern tennis) in Germany, 17th century.
Real Tennis (predecessor of modern tennis) in Germany, 17th century.
Copper engraving of a tennis game at the College Illustre (university) of Tübingen, Germany
Copper engraving of a tennis game at the College Illustre (university) of Tübingen, Germany
Creation of a tennis racket in the 18th century
Creation of a tennis racket in the 18th century
Early advertisement for tennis equipment, from an English newspaper.
Early advertisement for tennis equipment, from an English newspaper.
Lawn Tennis in Bad Homburg, Germany, 1885
Lawn Tennis in Bad Homburg, Germany, 1885
Drawing of a Lawn Tennis court as originally designed by Walter Clopton Wingfield in 1874.
Drawing of a Lawn Tennis court as originally designed by Walter Clopton Wingfield in 1874.
Engraving of the first Wimbledon Championships 1877
Engraving of the first Wimbledon Championships 1877
First Official Tennis Tournament in the US, Staten Island Cricket Club, New York City, on September 1st, 1880.
First Official Tennis Tournament in the US, Staten Island Cricket Club, New York City, on September 1st, 1880.
William Renshaw and Herbert Lawford, playing a match at the Wimbledon Championships in the 1880s
William Renshaw and Herbert Lawford, playing a match at the Wimbledon Championships in the 1880s
"A Rally" painting by Sir John Lavery, Irish artist (1885); shows woman playing tennis with vigor, despite fashionable Victorian clothing.
“A Rally” painting by Sir John Lavery, Irish artist (1885); shows woman playing tennis with vigor, despite fashionable Victorian clothing.
Two women dressed for a game of tennis, 1890-1900
Two women dressed for a game of tennis, 1890-1900
A. Gillou, French contestant, at the 1900 Olympic games Tennis tournament, at the Tennis court Cercles des Sports de l'Ile de Puteaux, Paris. Cover page of magazine La vie au grand air, No 97 from July 22nd, 1900.
A. Gillou, French contestant, at the 1900 Olympic games Tennis tournament, at the Tennis court Cercles des Sports de l’Ile de Puteaux, Paris. Cover page of magazine La vie au grand air, No 97 from July 22nd, 1900.
Three young women in light dresses holding tennis racquets, 1900
Three young women in light dresses holding tennis racquets, 1900
Walking home after an afternoon of tennis, Uppsala, Sweden in 1902.
Walking home after an afternoon of tennis, Uppsala, Sweden in 1902.
Dorothea Köring and Heinrich Schomburgk, German tennis players, gold medal winner in tennis mixed of the 1912 Olympics.
Dorothea Köring and Heinrich Schomburgk, German tennis players, gold medal winner in tennis mixed of the 1912 Olympics.
New Zealand tennis player Anthony Wilding in 1913
New Zealand tennis player Anthony Wilding in 1913
British tennis player Dorothy Holman, 1919
British tennis player Dorothy Holman, 1919
St. Anne's Union Lawn Tennis Club, Waterford, Ireland, 1924
St. Anne’s Union Lawn Tennis Club, Waterford, Ireland, 1924
Daphne Akhurst (1925) and Christian Boussus (1927)
Daphne Akhurst (1925) and Christian Boussus (1927)
Australian tennis player Jack Crawford (left) and British tennis player Fred Perry (right) at the White City Stadium in Sydney, Australia with a senior tennis offical (center) 1930s
Australian tennis player Jack Crawford (left) and British tennis player Fred Perry (right) at the White City Stadium in Sydney, Australia with a senior tennis offical (center) 1930s
American tennis player Don Budge at the White City Stadium, Sydney, 1937
American tennis player Don Budge at the White City Stadium, Sydney, 1937
Australian tennis player Jack Crawford (left) and British tennis player Fred Perry (right) at the White City Stadium in Sydney, Australia with a senior tennis offical (center) 1930s
Australian tennis player Jack Crawford (left) and British tennis player Fred Perry (right) at the White City Stadium in Sydney, Australia with a senior tennis offical (center) 1930s
Rosewall (right) and Hoad playing doubles at the Wimbledon Championships in the 1950s
Rosewall (right) and Hoad playing doubles at the Wimbledon Championships in the 1950s
Australian tennis player Evonne Goolagong at the 1971 Dutch Open tournament in Hilversum.
Australian tennis player Evonne Goolagong at the 1971 Dutch Open tournament in Hilversum.
Björn Borg (1979) and John McEnroe (1979)
Björn Borg (1979) and John McEnroe (1979)
Young Boris Becker playing at the Kitzbühel Tennis Tournament
Young Boris Becker playing at the Kitzbühel Tennis Tournament
Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams - highest Seeded Players in 2015 and 2016
Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams – highest Seeded Players in 2015 and 2016

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