Tennis is a sport with a long, rich history, dating back hundreds of years. Believe it or not, tennis is thought to have started in 12th century France, where the game was played with the palm of the hand. Yeah, they just swung at the ball with their hands and played back and forth with no rackets. Wild but true. Also, the game was played only in doors so the ball could be bounced off the walls, much like modern day racket ball.
It proved popular in both France and England. King Henry VIII was a big fan of the game and helped popularize it even more. It was not until the start of the 20th Century that tennis became more similar to game we recognize today. It began as only an amateur sport but after some initial controversy, became a professional pastime and gained a considerable following worldwide, with many athletes making millions of dollars in endorsements.
Tennis goes as far back as the Middle Ages and was a royal sport, played by kings in France and England. The word originally meant “hold”, “receive” or “take”, so as the receiver of the serve would understand the server was about to launch the ball towards them. It was considered a gentlemen’s game, played by members of the aristocracy only.
The game was played with the palm of the hand in place of the modern racket and then players used a glove to strike the ball. Francis I of France was one of the first promoters of the game and even encouraged commoners to play the game, thus paving the way for a much more expansive incorporation of the sport.
How the game evolved to be played on an actual court is interesting. Two inventions were responsible for the move from indoors to out, the first of which was the racket, used to strike the ball with much more force and speed. The second invention was the net players would use to play the game. This changed the dynamic of the sport so each player would face each over the net and strike the ball back and forth and thus eliminating the need for a wall to be used. These two innovations came about in the middle part of the 18th Century and helped spread the game across many parts of Europe and then the word.
After this, tennis became very similar to how we view it today. The pieces were in place to set the stage for not only royalty to play but common people, as outdoor play became more and more popular.
The advent of various tournaments also played a major role in the development of the sport, including Wimbledon. As the very first Major, Wimbledon was founded in 1877 by the All England Club to help raise money for the club. It became a huge hit with crowds and players alike and is still in active use today.
The next Major was the U.S. Open, founded in 1881 on Staten Island NY by the Staten Island Cricket Club. The very first official tennis tournament was played there and this opened the sport to a much wider audience in America and helped promote and popularize the sport in that country.
Having many of its origins in France, it was only a matter of time before tennis got a Major there and the first was created in 1891, called The French Open, which was not recognized as a true Major event until 1925.
By 1905, the year the first Australian tournament was opened. Called the Australian Open, this demonstrated that the sport had become truly worldwide. It took some time, but this Major has now become as recognized as the other three as one of the premier tennis events.
Tennis has a rich and deep history across the world and remains as popular as ever, with millions of people enjoying it everyday.