The History of Tennis and Its Evolution
The early beginnings of tennis are unclear, but many sources point to the French monks around 1000. During this time, the monks were known to play “je de paume” translated as “game of the hand”. Would use their hand to hit the wooden ball over a net, or against a wall in their courtyard. This game became so popular, it went over the walls of the monasteries and travelled across the channel to England within the next few centuries; it even appealed to the English kings Henry VII and Henry VIII so much that they personally involved themselves in the making of many courts across their kingdom. There is one that was built in the Hampton Court Palace in 1625 that people can visit to this day.
Tennis evolved as it became more and more fashionable. The game moved indoors with cellulose filled leather balls that proved to be more bouncy. The hands were then covered with gloves, first for protection, then for enhanced game play as people inserted webbings between the fingers. The hands then switched out with solid paddles, then webbing attached to a handle. By 1500, these paddles had been turned into wooden framed rackets that were laced with sheep gut.
Even with all of these changes, tennis of the 1500s was still vastly different from that which we know today. The court was played in narrow indoor courts, and players won points by hitting the ball into netted windows with a net being five feet high on the ends and three feet high in the middle. The popularity of this version of tennis faded in the 1700s, but when Charles Goodyear’s invention of rubber processing made the ball significantly bouncier in 1850, the sport was moved outdoors on the grass, making tennis popular once more.
Shortly afterwards in 1874, Major Walter C. Wingfield established more universal rules and equipment for the sport which he then called Sphairistike. The court was shaped into an hourglass, and shorter than the modern court. His rules didn’t appeal to everyone, however, and received criticism. The croquet courts of the time were smooth outdoor courts that were easily adaptable for tennis, and so it was when the All England Club Croquet held its first Wimbledon tennis tournament in 1877, they used the rectangular croquet court instead of Wingfield’s hourglass one, and introduced the rules that we now know today. In the early championships, the tennis balls were hand-sewn and white, the serves were underarm, and the exclusively male players wore hats, ties, and heeled shoes. Fortunately, tennis didn’t stop evolving before becoming the inclusive and exciting sport that we all know and love today.
For more information on the history of tennis, please feel free to reference these sites: