The History of Tennis

The history of tennis is a long and storied tale. It begins with 11th century French monks using their hands to hit a ball made of wood or string wrapped in leather over a rope strung across a courtyard. Some even think that the history of tennis may have started well before that, in Greece or in ancient Egypt. It's possible though, that every early civilization  had a game that resembled tennis. The French get most of the credit possibly because of their beautiful language. In fact, "tennis" comes from the French verb tenez, which when used to "i'm about to serve," is the tennis equivalent to golf's "fore!" As the game got more and more popular amongst the monks, French royalty took notice. They began learning the game from the monks, and by the end of the 13th century, the popularity took off like wild fire.

The History of Tennis Gets Medieval
The earliest form of tennis was known as real tennis, or "royal tennis," and closely resembled hand ball, racquet ball or squash. It was mainly played inside monastery cloisters and royal halls. The game inevitably migrated to the shores of England, where kings played other kings. They played mainly in their castles. They set up courts in their great hallways and in their covered court yards. 

King Henry V was the first to introduce real tennis to the country, but it was King Henry VIII who took it and ran. An avid player of real tennis, he had the first court built at Hampton Court, which still exists today. During his reign, a large number of courts were built. With the popularity of the game came improvements. Because of the pain it caused the hand, a thick leather glove or a paddle with netting at the end of it started being used. Noblemen don't like to bruise, and tennis equipment made the game more palatable. The game was at its height up until the end of 17th century, when it all but died.

Into the Modern Age
It was Charles Goodyear's invention of vulcanized rubber in 1850 that brought tennis back to life and to the outdoors. This brought along another important event that helped tennis into the modern age. Between 1859 and 1865, Major Harry Gem and his friend Auguino Perera combined the game of rackets, similar to squash, and the Spanish ball game of pelota, and played it on a croquet lawn in Birmingham, England. In 1872, they, along with two English doctors, established the first tennis club in the world. A few years later, in 1874, Major Walter C. Wingfield patented, in London, the equipment and rules for a game fairly similar to modern tennis. He also incorporated several of the French terms into the history of tennis lingo as well.

The Open Era
In 1877, Wimbledon was first played. In 1881, the U.S Open debuted, ten years later came the French Open and finally in 1905, the Australian. These tournaments are better known as the "Grand Slam" tournaments and are the most prestigious. They started out as strictly amateur affairs; players who made money from tennis weren't allowed to compete in these events. The so-called "open era" began in 1968, when years of rumored payouts and other pressures led the major tournaments to allow professionals to play. Thanks to the history of tennis, we can all enjoy the game today.

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