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History of Tennis

History of Tennis

Tennis as we know it today is completely different to the original game, Real Tennis, from which Lawn Tennis derived.

Real Tennis came from a 12th Century game called Paume (meaning palm) where the ball was struck with the hand. This progressed into jeu de paume, where rackets were used.

Real Tennis

In Great Britain the game was called Real Tennis, in Australia it was Royal Tennis and Court Tennis in America. It was the continuation of jeu de paume and was a fore-runner of Lawn Tennis. Played on indoor courts with high walls and ceilings, the court was enclosed by walls on all four sides.

The balls were made of a core of cork covered with a hand-sewn layer of heavy woven woollen cloth and the rackets were made of wood and used very tight strings to cope with the heavy balls. The racket head was slightly bent to make it easier to hit balls close to the floor and in the corners.

The rules and scoring were similar to those of Lawn Tennis. In Real Tennis six games wins a set, even if the opponent has 5 games. The service was always made from the same end of the court (the service end) and a good service had to hit the wall above and to left of the server on the receiver's side before touching the floor.

There are some specialised courts where people can still play Real Tennis today, using the same type of rackets and balls.

Lawn Tennis

In 1873 Major General Wingfield was giving a party on a dreary day in Wales and he decided the game of Real Tennis was more fun outdoors, so he invented a game called sphairistike (Greek for playing ball) and it quickly spread across Europe.

It was played on hour-glass shaped courts on Manor House lawns by wealthy English people and the game soon became known as tennis (from the French word tenir meaning to hold).

In 1875 Henry Cavendish Jones persuaded the All England Croquet Club in Wimbledon to replace a croquet court with a tennis court and the Marylebone Cricket Club did the same thing, making significant changes.

They added the deuce and advantage points and introduced two serves. They also replaced the hourglass court with the rectangle court identical to today's measurements.

But Lawn Tennis never really took off until the elite All England Croquet Club, a private members' club, organised its first tournament at its first home, off Worple Road in Wimbledon.

In 1877 the club changed its name to the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club and held a Gentleman's Singles Championships with 22 entries. It was won by an old Harrovian racket player Spencer Gore and 200 spectators paid one shilling to watch the Final.

A new set of rules for the tournament was drawn up and administered by the Marylebone Cricket Club and today's rules are very similar.

The Ladies Singles was introduced in 1894, won by Maud Watson from an entry of 13 players, the same year the Gentlemans' Doubles was started.

Wilson introduced the first metal racket in 1967, before that everyone played with wooden rackets and in 1968 there was a revolutionary move which cemented tennis as we know it today. The Open era began when professional players could enter tournaments alongside the amateurs and anyone could compete in the same tournament irrespective of status.

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