Tennis is a game that requires immense stamina, consistent dedication and a desire to excel. Arguably the most intriguing racquet sport of all, Tennis has a rich history and tradition behind it. Surely we love to watch Roger Federer or Maria Sharapova play scintillating tennis on the court serve after serve, game after game, match after match, but have we ever wondered how did all start? Who should be credited for the popularity of Tennis? Let us scroll through the pages of history and find out the tracks that lead to the origin of this beautiful game.
There are contradictory views regarding the origin of tennis. Some say it originated in Egypt and northern Africa and later spread to the European countries while others believe that it was the European nations who gave birth to the game that later evolved into modern day Tennis. However, common belief traces Tennis to 12th century France, when the game was played with the palm of the hands. It was called “Jeu De Paume” (game of the palm) and was restricted to a certain section of the French society. It was only after the 16th century that racquets came into existence and the game starting gaining popularity in England and France. The game was played indoors in the courtyard and the ball could be hit off the walls of the room. Historians refer to this form of Tennis as the ‘Real Tennis’ and believe that the game evolved from this indoor form to the outdoor form we know today. King Henry VII of England and Francis I of France were big fans of the sport and they architected the sports growth and popularity across the other parts of Europe. The term Tennis is thought to be derived from French word, “tenez”, which means ‘take’. It is interesting to note that the reason why scoring in Tennis is done in multiples of 15 is because of the game evolved in France where everything followed the same pattern at that time.
It is evident that Tennis, in its early ages was restricted to aristocrats and Royal families and therefore when the French Revolution struck in the 17th-18th century, the progress of the game struck a roadblock with it. Eventually, Major Charles Wingfield revived the fate of Tennis when he patented the rules and the equipments of the game in 1874 in London. Soon after, The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club staged the first ever Wimbledon tournament in 1874 and kick-started a legendary journey that still continues. Later The U.S Open began its proceedings in 1881, and The French Open and Australian Open followed suit in 1891 and 1905 respectively. International Tennis Federation was formed in 1913 and that completed an overhaul of the sport, from rich people’s source of entertainment to a common man’s dream, Tennis soon became a sensation across the World of sports.
The four grand slams only allowed professionals to play after 1968 when the ‘Open Era’ of the tennis circuit started. Prior to the Open Era, players would win a couple of grand slams and then turn professionals to participate in exhibition matches and other events across the globe. ATP (Association of Tennis Players) and WTA (Womens’ Tennis Association) were formed in 1973 and 74 respectively. Except for the four grand slams, all other events are controlled and organized by these two associations. The Open Era has also brought with it a wider audience and more popularity. With money flowing into the sport through sponsors and advertisements, players started getting a huge reward for winning grand slam titles. Great players like Pet Sampras, Rod Laver, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf and the recent stars like Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Rafael Nadal and others have made significant contributions to the popularity and the wide reach of Tennis. With the tradition and history attached to it, it will be a splendid achievement if Tennis continues to grow and build on its audience. We as spectators can only wish this beautiful game never stops amusing us.