The origins of tennis
The origin of today’s game of tennis probably takes us back to the 13th century in monastic courts in northern France. The following is the presumed history of tennis.
1. Origin of tennis in monastery courts in northern France in the 13th century
In the High Middle Ages, monks developed the predecessor of today’s tennis game “Jeu de Paume”. It was played with a ball made of cork or leather in the inner courtyards of the
monasteries, which served as tennis courts.
The ball was hit either directly with the flat of the hand or with a glove slipped over it. In the beginning there was no tennis net as we know it today, but the walls of the monasteries were used. For example, the serve first had to be played onto a sloping roof in the inner courtyard and then jump from there into the opponent’s court.
As today, the ball was allowed to bounce no more than once. Jeu de Paume” (“Palm”) became “Tenez” (“Catch”) and finally “Tennis”. At that time, players played with white clothes. This tradition continues to this day at Wimbledon, where tennis players are only allowed to play tennis in white clothing. Therefore, tennis is still often referred to as a “white sport” today.
2. Spread of tennis
From northern France, the game spread further to Great Britain. Its popularity increased among the population, both nobility and ordinary citizens.
The game also evolved. Thus, there was a switch to rubber balls, which made it possible to play outside even on poor surfaces.
At the beginning of the 14th century, the first tennis clubs were founded with members. In addition to the first tennis tournaments, people also played for sous, money. Each point win brought 15 sous, which reflects the origin of today’s counting system. However, it took until the end of the 15th century before tennis rackets made of solid wood were used.
In France and Great Britain, tennis developed into a popular sport, which led to more and more open and covered playgrounds, so-called ball houses. Playgrounds were also built at universities and tennis was played with great passion.
The glossary explains the most important tennis terms.
3. Development of tennis equipment
In the 16th century in France, tennis shoes were also worn for the first time when playing. Wooden rackets also continued to develop. A parchment stringing became a stringing with gut strings.
Balls also continued to evolve. For example, the balls were covered with a white cloth for the first time towards the end of the 16th century. The white overlay was not replaced until the 19th century by the yellow felt overlay we know today.
Tennis equipment continues to evolve.
4. Decline of the popular sport
Tennis did not always enjoy increasing popularity. Due to more frequent gambling and betting fraud, interest declined significantly.
In addition to emerging theater balls, the decline of tennis was manifested due to increasing unrest in France (French Revolution around 1789) and England (outbreak of civil war around 1642). Many playgrounds were forced to cease operations and some were converted into theaters.
5. Wimbledon as revival
In 1877, the first tennis tournament was held on grass in London’s Wimbledon district at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. It was played with tennis balls made of elastic rubber according to the patent of Major Walter C. Wingfield and according to established tennis rules, which are very similar to today’s rules.
Tennis first became an Olympic sport at the 1896 Summer Olympics in Athens. After disputes between the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and the Olympic Committee, tennis was dropped from the Olympic program in 1928 and was not reinstated as an Olympic discipline until 1988 in Seoul.
Since the beginning of the “Open Era” in 1968, professional tennis players from all over the world have been able to participate in all tournaments. This simultaneously promoted the commercialization of tennis.
Even today, the game of tennis and their rules are constantly evolving. In addition to new counting methods, such as the champion tiebreak, new tennis rackets are also continuously being released.
It remains exciting to see how tennis history will develop in the coming decades.