Most historians believe that tennis originated in France in the 12th century, but the ball was then struck with the palm of the hand. It was not until the 16th century that rackets came into use, and the game began to be called "tennis." It was popular in England and France, although the game was only played indoors where the ball could be hit off the wall. Henry VIII of England was a big fan of this game, which historians now refer to as real tennis.
Harry Gem and his friend Augurio Perera developed a game that combined elements of rackets and the Basque ball game pelota, which they played on Perera's croquet lawn in Birmingham, United Kingdom. In 1872, along with two local doctors, they founded the world's first tennis club in Leamington Spa.
In December 1873, Major Walter Clopton Wingfield designed and patented a similar game—which he called sphairistike (Greek: σφάίρίστική, from ancient Greek meaning "skill at playing at ball"), and was soon known simply as "sticky"—for the amusement of his guests at a garden party on his estate of Nantclwyd, in Llanelidan, Wales. He likely based his game on the evolving sport of outdoor tennis including real tennis. According to some tennis historians, modern tennis terminology also derives from this period, as Wingfield borrowed both the name and much of the French vocabulary of real tennis and applied them to his new game.
The first championships at Wimbledon in London were played in 1877. The first Championships culminated a significant debate on how to standardize the rules.
In America in 1874 Mary Ewing Outerbridge, a young socialite, returned from Bermuda where she met Major Wingfield. She laid out a tennis court at the Staten Island Cricket Club in New Brighton Staten Island, New York. The exact location of the club was under what is now the Staten Island Ferry terminal. The first American National tournament in 1880 was played there. An Englishman named O.E Woodhouse won the singles match. There was also a doubles match which was won by a local pair. There were different rules at each club. The ball in Boston was larger than the one normally used in NY. On May 21, 1881, the United States National Lawn Tennis Association (now the United States Tennis Association) was formed to standardize the rules and organize competitions. The U.S. National Men's Singles Championship, now the US Open, was first held in 1881 at Newport, Rhode Island. The U.S. National Women's Singles Championships were first held in 1887. Tennis was also popular in France, where the French Open dates to 1891. Thus, Wimbledon, the US Open, the French Open, and the Australian Open (dating to 1905) became and have remained the most prestigious events in tennis. Together these four events are called the Majors or Slams (a term borrowed from bridge rather than baseball).
The comprehensive rules promulgated in 1924 by the International Lawn Tennis Federation, now known as the International Tennis Federation, have remained remarkably stable in the ensuing eighty years, the one major change being the addition of the tie-break system designed by James Van Alen. That same year, tennis withdrew from the Olympics after the 1924 Games but returned 60 years later as a 21-and-under demonstration event in 1984. This reinstatement was credited by the efforts by the then ITF President Philippe Chatrier, ITF General Secretary David Gray and ITF Vice President Pablo Llorens, and support from IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch. The success of the event was overwhelming and the IOC decided to reintroduce tennis as a full medal sport at Seoul in 1988.
The Davis Cup, an annual competition between men's national teams, dates to 1900. The analogous competition for women's national teams, the Fed Cup, was founded as the Federation Cup in 1963 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the ITF also known as International Tennis Federation.
In 1926, promoter C.C. Pyle established the first professional tennis tour with a group of American and French tennis players playing exhibition matches to paying audiences. The most notable of these early professionals were the American Vinnie Richards and the Frenchwoman Suzanne Lenglen. Once a player turned pro he or she could not compete in the major (amateur) tournaments.
In 1968, commercial pressures and rumors of some amateurs taking money under the table led to the abandonment of this distinction, inaugurating the open era, in which all players could compete in all tournaments, and top players were able to make their living from tennis. With the beginning of the open era, the establishment of an international professional tennis circuit, and revenues from the sale of television rights, tennis's popularity has spread worldwide, and the sport has shed its upper/middle-class English-speaking image (although it is acknowledged that this stereotype still exists).
In The Second Shepherd's Play Scene VIII Sir Gawain, a knight of King Arthur's round table, plays tennis with a group of giants in The Turke and Gowin.
The Medieval form of tennis is termed as real tennis. Real tennis evolved over three centuries from an earlier ball game played around the 12th century in France. This had some similarities to palla, fives, pelota, and handball, involving hitting a ball with a bare hand and later with a glove. One theory is that this game was played by monks in monastery cloisters, based on the construction and appearance of early courts, some of which were grass fields. By the 16th century, the glove had become a racquet, the game had moved to an enclosed playing area, and the rules had stabilized. Real tennis spread in popularity throughout royalty in Europe, reaching its peak in the 16th century.
Francis I of France (1515–47) was an enthusiastic player and promoter of real tennis, building courts and encouraging play among the courtiers and commoners. His successor Henri II (1547–59) was also an excellent player and continued the royal French tradition. In 1555 an Italian priest, Antonio Scaino da Salothe, wrote the first known book about tennis, Trattato del Giuoco della Palla. Two French kings died from tennis related episodes—Louis X of a severe chill after playing and Charles VIII after hitting his head during a game. King Charles IX granted a constitution to the Corporation of Tennis Professionals in 1571, creating the first pro tennis 'tour', establishing three professional levels: apprentice, associate, and master. A professional named Forbet wrote and published the first codification of the rules in 1599. The current court size of 120 X 60 was derived from French nobles wanting a size that was too big for the general population to be able to fit at their residences.
Royal interest in England began with Henry V (1413–22.) Henry VIII (1509–47) made the biggest impact as a young monarch, playing the game with gusto at Hampton Court on a court he built in 1530. It is believed that his second wife Anne Boleyn was watching a game when she was arrested and that Henry was playing when news of her execution arrived. During the reign of James I (1603–25), London had 14 courts.
Real tennis racquets and balls. Cahusac at the Falkland Palace Royal Tennis Club.
Real tennis is mentioned in literature by William Shakespeare who mentions "tennis balles" in Henry V, when a basket of them is given to King Henry as a mockery of his youth and playfulness; the incident is also mentioned in some earlier chronicles and ballads. One of the most striking early references appears in a painting by Giambattista Tiepolo entitled The Death of Hyacinth (1752–1753) in which a strung racquet and three tennis balls are depicted. The painting's theme is the mythological story of Apollo and Hyacinth, written by Ovid. Giovanni Andrea dell'Anguillara translated it into Italian in 1561 and replaced the ancient game of discus, in the original text with pallacorda or tennis, which had achieved a high status at the courts in the middle of the 16th century. Tiepolo's painting, displayed at the Museo Thyssen Bornemisza in Madrid, was ordered in 1752 by German count Wilhelm Friedrich Schaumburg Lippe, who was an avid tennis player.
The game thrived among the 17th century nobility in France, Spain, Italy, and in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but suffered under English Puritanism. By the Age of Napoleon, the royal families of Europe were besieged and real tennis was largely abandoned. Real tennis played a minor role in the history of the French Revolution, through the Tennis Court Oath, a pledge signed by French deputies on a real tennis court, which formed a decisive early step in starting the revolution. In England, during the 18th century and early 19th century as real tennis died out, three other racquet sports emerged: racquets, squash racquets, and lawn tennis (the modern game).
Birth of lawn tennis
The modern sport is tied to two separate inventions.
Between 1859 and 1865, in Birmingham, England, Major Harry Gem, a solicitor, and his friend Augurio Perera, a Spanish merchant, combined elements of the game of rackets and the Spanish ball game Pelota and played it on a croquet lawn in Edgbaston. In 1872, both men moved to Leamington Spa and in 1874, with two doctors from the Warneford Hospital, founded the world's first tennis club.
In December 1873, Major Walter Clopton Wingfield devised a similar game for the amusement of his guests at a garden party on his estate of Nantclwyd in Llanelidan, Wales. He based the game on the older real tennis. At the suggestion of Arthur Balfour, Wingfield named it "lawn tennis," and patented the game in 1874 with an eight-page rule book titled "Sphairistike or Lawn Ten-nis", but he failed to succeed in enforcing his patent.
1896 Olympic tennis tournament match between Boland and Kasdaglis.
Wingfield borrowed both the name and much of the French vocabulary of real tennis:
Tennis comes from the French tenez, the imperative form of the verb tenir, to hold: This was a cry used by the player serving in royal tennis, meaning "I am about to serve!" (rather like the cry "Fore!" in golf).
Racquet comes from raquette, which derives from the Arabic rakhat, meaning the palm of the hand.
Deuce comes from à deux le jeu, meaning "to both is the game" (that is, the two players have equal scores).
Love is widely believed to come from "l'oeuf", the French word for "egg", representing the shape of a zero.
The convention of numbering scores "15", "30" and "40" comes from quinze, trente and quarante, which to French ears makes a euphonious sequence, or from the quarters of a clock (15, 30, 45) with 45 simplified to 40.
Tournaments and tours
The Four Majors
Tennis was first played in the U.S. at the home of Mary Ewing Outerbridge on Staten Island, New York in 1874. In 1881, the desire to play tennis competitively led to the establishment of tennis clubs, which eventually led to the four Majors or Grand Slam tournaments, the four biggest competitions on the tennis circuit. Wimbledon, the US Open, the French Open, and the Australian Open became and have remained the most prestigious events in tennis. Winning these four tournaments in the same year is called the Grand Slam (a term borrowed from bridge).
The Championships, Wimbledon, were founded by the All England Club in 1877 to raise money for the club. The first Championships were contested by 22 men and the winner received a silver gilt cup proclaiming the winner to be "The All England Lawn Tennis Club Single Handed Champion of the World". The following year it was recognized as the official British Championships, although it was open to international competitors. In 1884 the Ladies Singles and Gentlemans Doubles Championships were inaugurated, followed by the Ladies and Mixed Doubles in 1913.
1877: The Championships
1877: Worple Road, Wimbledon
1922: Church road, Wimbledon
1881: U.S. Open
The U.S. National Men's Singles Championship, now the U.S. Open, was first held in 1881 at Newport, Rhode Island. The U.S. National Women's Singles Championships were first held in 1887. On 21 May 1881, the United States National Lawn Tennis Association (now the United States Tennis Association) was formed to standardize the rules and organize competitions.
1881: U.S. National Championship
1968: U.S. Open
1975: Clay Har-Tru
1978: Hard DecoTurf
1915: Forest Hills
1924: Forest Hills
1978: Flushing Meadows
1891/1925: The French Open
Tennis was predominantly a sport of the English-speaking world, dominated by the United States and Britain. It was also popular in France, where the French Open dates to 1891 as the Championat de France International de Tennis. This tournament is not recognized as being a Major or Grand Slam tournament until it was opened to all nationalities in 1925.
1891: Championnat de France
1925: Championnats Internationaux de France
1928: Tournoi de Roland Garros
1928: Stade Roland Garros, Paris
1905: Australian Open
The Australian Open was first played in 1905 as The Australasian Championships. Because of its geographic remoteness, historically, the event did not gain attendance from the top tennis players. As late as the 1980s, the event lacked participation from top ranked tennis professionals. Since its move to Melbourne Park in 1988, the Australian Open has gained the popularity of the other three Grand Slams.
1905: Australasian Championships
1927: Australian Championships
1969: Australian Open
1988: Hard Rebound Ace
2008: Hard Plexicushion
1906 -: Christchurch and alternated in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth. In 1912 at Hastings
1988: Melbourne Park
In 1899, Dwight F. Davis of the Harvard University tennis team designed a tournament format with the idea of challenging the British to a tennis showdown. The first match, between the United States and Great Britain was held in Boston, Massachusetts in 1900. The American team, of which Dwight Davis was a part, surprised the British by winning the first three matches. By 1905 the tournament had expanded to include Belgium, Austria, France, and Australasia, a combined team from Australia and New Zealand that competed jointly until 1913.
The tournament was initially known as the International Lawn Tennis Challenge. It was renamed the Davis Cup following the death of Dwight Davis in 1945. The tournament has vastly expanded and, on its 100th anniversary in 1999, 129 nations competed.
International Tennis Federation
1913 also saw twelve national tennis associations agree at a Paris conference to form the International Lawn Tennis Federation, which was renamed in 1977 as the current International Tennis Federation (ITF). The rules the association promulgated in 1924 have remained remarkably stable in the ensuing eighty years, the one major change being the addition of the tie-break system designed by James Van Alen.
The Fed Cup
The idea of a Davis Cup-style tournament for national women's teams is surprisingly old—it was first proposed in 1919 by Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman. After she was turned down, she donated a trophy in 1923 that would be known as the Wightman Cup, awarded in an annual match between the two strongest women's tennis nations of the time, the United States and Great Britain.
Wightman's original idea for a worldwide women's team tournament would bear fruit more than 40 years later in 1962, when Nell Hopman persuaded the ITF to begin sponsoring such an event. The first Federation Cup was played in 1963 as part of the ITF's 50th anniversary celebrations; it involved 16 countries and was played over one week. By the 1990s, over 70 nations competed each year, and regional qualifiers were introduced in 1992. In 1995, the ITF introduced a new Davis Cup-style format for the competition and rechristened it the Fed Cup.
The main events of the professional circuit comprised head-to-head competition and by-invitation Pro Championships, which were the predecents for the Grand Slam tournaments before the Open Era began in 1968.
The leading professional players were under contract with a professional promoter before the Open Era. For example, popular players like Suzanne Lenglen and Vincent Richards toured North America under contract to Charles C. Pyle. Contract players were controlled by their promoters and could not always play the tournaments they wanted while amateur players followed national (and international) federations. For example, In 1939, Norman Brookes, president of the Australian Federation, decided not to send Australian players to Wimbledon because he wanted them to prepare for the Davis Cup. Therefore, great Aussie players as John Bromwich or Adrian Quist went to the USA instead of Wimbledon. During the first hundred years of tennis the players had absolutely no control over their destinies.
Most professionals played in separate professional events, mostly on tours in head-to-head competition referred as pro tours.
In 1926, promoter C.C. Pyle established the first professional tour with a group of American and French players playing exhibition matches to paying audiences. The most notable early professionals were American Vinnie Richards and Frenchwoman Suzanne Lenglen. Once a player turned pro he or she could not compete in the major (amateur) tournaments. In the years before the open era, male professionals often played more frequently on tours than in tournaments because head-to-head tours between two stars paid much better than tournaments and the number of professional tournaments was small. For example, Fred Perry earned U.S. $91,000 ($1,392,088 today) in a 1937 North American tour against Ellsworth Vines but won only U.S. $450 ($7,014) for his 1938 victory at the U.S. Pro Tennis Championships. Vines probably never entered a tournament between (winning) the London Indoor Professional Championship in October 1935, and (losing) the May 1939 edition. In 1937, Vines played 70 matches on two tours and no tournament matches. Even in the 1950s, some professionals continued to play tour matches. During his first five months as a professional (January through May 1957), Ken Rosewall played 76 matches on a tour against Pancho Gonzales but only 9 tournament matches. Joe McCauley determined that for 1952, only 7 professional tournaments were played by the top international players, and 2 other professional tournaments (the British Pro and the German Pro) were reserved for domestic players. Only during the 1960s did professional tournaments become more significant than tours.
Pro Championships (Pro Slams)
In addition to head-to-head events several annual professional tournaments were called championship tournaments. The most prestigious was the Wembley Professional Championship at Wembley in England, played between 1934 and 1990, that was general considered the world championship through 1967. The oldest was the United States Professional Championship, played between 1927 and 1999. Between 1955 and 1962, it was played indoors in Cleveland and was called the World Professional Championships. The third major tournament was the French Professional Championship, played between 1930 and 1968. The British and American championships continued into the Open era but devolved to the status of minor tournaments.
These three tournaments until 1967 are referred to as the professional Grand Slam tournaments by tennis historians such as Robert Geist and Raymond Lee.
The Open Era began in 1968, when the Grand Slam tournaments agreed to allow professional players to compete with amateurs. Since the beginning of this era, professionals have been able to compete alongside amateurs in all tournaments. This has allowed tennis players the opportunity to make a good living playing tennis. The first event to go "open" was held on April 28, 1968 at The West Hants Club in Bournemouth, England, while the first Grand Slam tournament to do so was the 1968 French Open (Roland Garros) starting May 27.
WCT & NTL
In 1967, a few professionals were independent including Lewis Hoad, Luis Ayala, and Owen Davidson but most of the best players were under contract.
George McCall operated the National Tennis League (NTL) and managed Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Ken Rosewall, Andres Gimeno, Pancho Gonzales and Fred Stolle
Dave Dixon (succeeded by Lamar Hunt) ran World Championship Tennis (WCT) and managed the
Handsome Eight: John Newcombe, Tony Roche, Nikola Pilić, Roger Taylor, Pierre Barthès, Earl "Butch" Buchholz, Cliff Drysdale and Dennis Ralston
In 1968, WCT players were not allowed to participate in the French Open. In 1970, NTL players did not play the Australian Open because their organization did not receive a guarantee. In 1970, neither WCT nor NTL players played in the French Open.
In the Open Era, the NTL and WCT promoters began to control the game. To outmaneuver them, Jack Kramer, the 1940s and 1950s best player (and a promoter), conceived the Grand Prix in 1969. He described it as: a series of tournaments with a money bonus pool that would be split up on the basis of a cumulative point system. This would encourage the best players to compete regularly in the series, so that they could share in the bonus at the end and qualify for a special championship tournament that would climax the year.
In 1970, only a few contract players showed up for the French Open. The International Lawn Tennis Federation (ILTF), alarmed by the control of the promoters, approved Kramer's Grand Prix. Twenty seven tournaments including the three Grand Slams, French Open, Wimbledon and US Open were played that year with Stockholm tournament ended on 1 November. The independent professionals along with a few contract players entered the Grand Prix circuit. The contract players could play the Grand Prix events if they were allowed and had time apart from their own circuit.
 Tour rivalries and the origin of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP)
The first WCT tournaments were held in February 1968 and the first NTL tournaments in March 1969. In spring 1970, the WCT absorbed the NTL.
At the end of 1970, a panel of journalists ranked the players, leading the WCT to send invitations to the 32 top men to play the 1971 WCT circuit: among the 32, Ilie Năstase, Stan Smith, Jan Kodeš, Željko Franulović and Clark Graebner stayed independent. In 1971, the WCT ran 20 tournaments and the year-ending WCT Finals. In 1971, the majority of the best players mainly played the WCT circuit.
The Australian Open was a WCT competition whereas Roland Garros, Wimbledon and Forest Hills were ILTF Grand Prix events. The conflict between the two groups was so strong that Rosewall, Gimeno, Laver, Emerson and other WCT players didn't play the latter. Bill Riordan (future manager of Jimmy Connors) complicated matters with a third professional tour, the U.S Indoor Circuit.
In 1972, the struggle between ILTF and WCT ended when ILTF banned the contract pro players from January to July. WCT contract pros were restricted to play the Grand Prix circuit of Roland Garros and Wimbledon. At the U.S. Open, all the players attended and agreed to form a player syndicate to protect themselves from the promoters and associations. Thus was born the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) in September 1972.
In 1973, there were four rival pro circuits: the WCT circuit, the Grand Prix circuit, the U.S. indoor circuit with Connors and Ilie Năstase and the European Spring Circuit with Nastase as their star.
In 1978 the Grand Prix and WCT circuits merged. In 1982, the WCT circuit broke away (and created a more complex WCT ranking, similar to the ATP ranking.) The WCT failed in the 1980s, leaving the Grand Prix circuit as the main circuit. The Grand Prix's governance was led by the Men's International Professional Tennis Council (MIPTC), later renamed to Men's Tennis Council (MTC).
The Open Era, the global professional circuit, and television helped tennis spread globally and shed its aristocratic, anglosphere image. In America, courts are a common feature of public recreational facilities. Accordingly, in the 1970s the U.S. Open moved from the posh West Side Tennis Club to a public park (the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Flushing Meadows Park) that is accessible to anyone who buys a ticket. At the same time, the ruling body's name changed from the United States Lawn Tennis Association to the United States Tennis Association.
In 1990, the Association of Tennis Professionals, led by Hamilton Jordan, replaced the MTC as the governing body of men's professional tennis, and the ATP Tour was born. The ATP Tour began in 1990, packaging the nine most prestigious events as Super Nine , abandoning the 'Grand Prix' label. Twelve of the more prestigious Grand Prix events later were labeled International Series Gold while the remaining (approximately 60) became known as the International Series. The format continued from the 1998 season to the present, although slightly reorganized in 2009. The Super Nine became the Masters Series, occupying the rank below the Grand Slams. In 2000, the Grand Slam tournaments and the Masters Series tournaments became the only mandatory professional events. Players were automatically entered and Masters and Slam events became the baseline for player rankings.
In 2009, the Masters events were renamed the ATP World Tour Masters 1000. The Monte Carlo Masters, although retaining its Masters status, uniquely dropped the mandatory commitment. International Series Gold became the ATP World Tour 500, and the remaining events became the ATP World Tour 250. The numbers indicate the winners' ranking points. The Davis Cup also began to award ATP ranking points.
Women's professional tennis
Women's professional tennis began in 1926 when world number one Suzanne Lenglen accepted $50,000 for a series of matches against three time US Champion Mary K. Browne. This ended in 1927 and women didn't again compete at the professional level until 1941 when Alice Marble headlined a tour against Mary Hardwick. World War 2 hindered most pro competitions and many players were involved with entertaining the troops. In 1947 women pros were again in action with a short-lived series of exhibition matches between Pauline Betz and Sarah Palfrey Cooke, both U.S. National Champions. In 1950–51, Bobby Riggs signed Betz and Gussie Moran to play a pro tour with Jack Kramer and Pancho Segura, (Betz dominated Moran.) Althea Gibson turned pro in 1958 and joined with Karol Fageros ("the Golden Goddess") as the opening act for the Harlem Globetrotters for one season. There was virtually no further women's professional tennis until 1967 when promoter George McCall signed Billie Jean King, Ann Jones, Françoise Durr, and Rosie Casals to join his tour of eight men for two years. The pro women then played as independents as the Open Era began.
In 1970, promoter for the Pacific Southwest Championships in Los Angelse Jack Kramer offered the women only $7,500 in prize money versus the men's total of $50,000. When Kramer refused to match the men's prize money, King and Casals urged a boycott. Gladys Heldman, American publisher of World Tennis magazine, responeded with a separate women's tour under the sponsorship of Virginia Slims cigarettes. In 1971–72 the WT Women's Pro Tour offered nearly ten times the prize money of other pro women's tennis events. The tour alienated the USLTA, which initially would not sanction the tour. Giving Virginia Slims the individual events and the USLTA the tour resolved the conflict. In 1973, the U.S. Open made history by offering equal prize money to men and women. Billie Jean King, the most visible advocate for the women's cause, earned over $100,000 in 1971 and 1972. In the famous Battle of the Sexes exhibition match against crafty Bobby Riggs in September 1973, King brought even more media attention to tennis, and to women professionals in all walks of life.
The Women's Tennis Association, formed in 1973, is the principal organizing body of women's professional tennis. It organizes the WTA Tour, the worldwide professional tennis tour. Sponsors included Virginia Slims (1971–78), Avon (1979–82), Virginia Slims again (1983–94), J.P. Morgan Chase (1996–2000), Sanex (2001) Home Depot (2002), and Sony Ericsson (2006).
From 1984–98, the finals matches of the championship event were best-of-five, uniquely among women's tournaments. In 1999, the finals reverted to best-of-three. The WTA Tour Championships are generally considered to be the women's fifth most prestigious event (after the four Grand Slam tournaments.)
Hall of Fame
In 1954, James Van Alen founded the International Tennis Hall of Fame, a non-profit museum in Newport, Rhode Island. The building contains a large collection of memorabilia as well as honoring prominent players and others. Each year, a grass-court tournament takes place on its grounds, as well as an induction ceremony honoring new members.