The History of Tennis

Jan 17, 2013 by

Cloption Wingfield's Lawn Tennis

Illustration of Cloption Wingfield’s Lawn Tennis in 1874 England.

Tennis is an active sport usually played between two players or between two-player teams on each side of the net. The players use a racket that strikes a rubber ball, with the objective of sending it over a net and into the opponent’s side. The object of the game is to play the ball in such a way that the opponent is not able to return the ball. Tennis is played by people of all ages, and by anyone who can hold a racket. It can be played simply for fun and exercise or competitively in tournaments worldwide.

Most scholars believe that tennis began in northern France in the 12th century, with the ball being hit with the palm of the hand. It was not until the 16th century that people began to use tennis racquets. It was popular in England and France, although the game initially was only played where the ball was hit off the wall. This created controversy among many people who thought that the game was not fair. They felt that the other team was able to hit the ball so that it would return back to them, rather than to the other team.

Tennis was designed and patented in 1874 by Englishman, Clopton Wingfield; however, it was not until the following century that the game proliferated and developed a worldwide following. Wingfield initially named the game Sphairistike, which is a Greek word meaning “ball game.” While the game itself survived, the original name of it did not. The players preferred to call Wingfield’s game tennis-on-the-lawn, or lawn tennis.

Mary Ewing Outerbridge 1852-1886 (“Mother of Tennis”)

Women Playing Tennis in Victorian Dress

When tennis was introduced to the US by Outerbridge in the 1880s, women played in full Victorian dress.

Tennis is believed to have been first introduced to the U.S. by Mary Ewing Outerbridge of Staten Island, NY, who encountered the game being played while on vacation in Burmuda. Before returning to Staten Island, she purchased the equipment needed to play tennis and introduced it to members of her cricket club.

The first game of tennis in the United States was thought to have been played in 1874 on the grounds of Staten Island Cricket and Baseball Club. In the United States, local rules and standards for the game varied broadly until 1881, when the United States Lawn Tennis Association (now the USTA) was organized to regulate rules and equipment. While tennis had many commendable male and female champions in the formative stages, the first notable figures and fascinating matchups emerged in the 1920s.

Open tennis emerged in 1968 and for the first time amateurs and professionals were allowed to compete against each other. Today, many years later, the sport has prospered and changed in many ways.

Image licenses:
1874 lawn tennis court – Creative Commons (view source)
Woman playing tennis – Creative Commons (view source)

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