Tennis has a long, long history, but its establishment as
the sport we know today can be dated. In 1859 Major Thomas
Henry Gem, a solicitor, and his friend Batista Pereira, a
Spanish merchant, who both lived in Birmingham, England played
a game they named "pelota", after a Spanish ball
game. The game was played on a lawn in Edgbaston. In 1872
both men moved to Leamington Spa, and with two doctors from
the Warneford Hospital, played pelota on the lawn behind the
Manor House Hotel (now residential apartments). Pereira, joined
with Dr. Frederick Haynes and Dr. A. Wellesley Tomkins to
found the first lawn tennis club in the world and played the
game on nearby lawns'. In 1874 they formed the Leamington
Tennis Club, setting out the original rules of the game which
form the basis of the modern ones. The Courier of 23 July
1884 recorded one of the first tennis tournaments, held in
the grounds of Shrubland Hall (demolished 1948).
Also in December 1873, Major Walter Clopton Wingfield devised
a similar game for the amusement of his guests at a garden
party on his estate at Nantclwyd, Wales. He based the game
on the older sport of indoor tennis or real tennis ("royal
tennis"), which had been invented in 12th century France
and played by French aristocrats down to the time of the French
According to most tennis historians, modern tennis terminology also
derives from this period, as Wingfield borrowed both the name
and much of the French vocabulary of royal tennis and applied
them to his new game:
- Tennis comes from the French tenez, the imperative form
of the verb tenir, to hold: it thus means "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 itself 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
- Love may come from l'oeuf, the egg, a reference to the
egg-shaped zero symbol; however, the phrase "un oeuf"
is more commonly used and the etymology is in question.
* The convention of numbering scores "15," "30"
and "40" comes from quinze, trente and quarante,
which to French ears makes a euphonious sequence.
Seeing the commercial potential of the game, Wingfield patented
it in 1874, but never succeeded in enforcing his patent. Tennis
spread rapidly among the leisured classes in Britain and the
United States. It 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. The first championships at
Wimbledon, in London were played in 1877. In 1881 the United
States National Lawn Tennis Association (now the United States
Tennis Association) was formed to standardise the rules and
organise competitions. 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. The Davis Cup, an annual competition between
national teams, dates to 1900.
In 1926 a group of American tennis players established a
professional tennis circuit, playing exhibition matches to
paying audiences. For 40 years professional and amateur tennis
remained strictly separate. Once a player turned pro he or
she could not compete in the major (amateur) tournaments.
In 1968 however, commercial pressures led to the abandonment
of this distinction, inaugurating the Open era, in which all
players could compete in all tournaments, and top players
made their living from tennis.
Tennis was for many years predominantly a sport of the English-speaking
world, dominated by the United States, Britain and Australia.
It was also popular in France, where the French Open dates
to 1891. Thus Wimbledon, the U.S. 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 Grand Slam (a term borrowed from bridge).
Winning the Grand Slam, by capturing these four titles in
one calendar year, is the highest ambition of most tennis
In 1954 James Van Alen founded the International Tennis Hall
of Fame, a not-for-profit museum in Newport, Rhode Island.
The building contains a large collection of tennis memorabilia
as well as a hall of fame honoring prominent members and tennis
players from all over the world.
With the beginning of the Open era, the establishment of
an international professional tennis circuit, and revenues
from the sale of television rights, tennis has spread all
over the world and has lost its upper-class English-speaking
image. Since the 1970s great champions have emerged from Germany
the former Czechoslovakia (Ivan
Lendl and Martina
Navratilova), Sweden (Björn
Borg), Brazil (Gustavo
Kuerten), Russia (Yevgeni
Kafelnikov), and many other countries. Recently African
American players such as Venus
Williams have become a force in the game.
Among the greatest male players of the Open era are Rod
Sampras, and Roger
Federer. Among the women are Chris
Many great players played in the days before Open tennis.
Most of them are unknown by modern sports fans. Among them
are Bill Tilden,
Rosewall, and Lew
Hoad. For many years observers considered Tilden
to be the greatest player who ever lived. In the 1950s and
1960s, there was general agreement that Gonzales
had replaced Tilden
as the best ever. Any one of these eleven would be competitive
in today's game. Other fine players of the pre-Open era include
Bill" Johnston, the "Four Musketeers" (Jean
Cochet, and René
Seixas, and Tony
Who is the greatest male player of all time? It is impossible
to give a clear answer, as new techniques and improved equipment
have changed the game greatly in the last thirty years. Many
authorities feel that the 1920s Bill
Tilden, for instance, who was noted for his intelligence,
adaptability, and athleticism, would be able to change his
game and strokes to rival the modern players. Evidenced by
the frequent upsets of top seeds by lower-ranked players in
today's major tournements, there is relatively little difference
in the quality of play among the top hundred players. If one
believes that past stars would rank in the top hundred today,
they also might fare as well against today's top players.
A listing of the six greatest players of all time might include,
in chronological order, Bill
McEnroe, and Pete
Sampras. A study of their records against other players
could support an argument for any one of them as the best
player of all time. A similar case could perhaps be made for
himself, who became a top player in the early 1940s, believes
Vines was the greatest of all time ... and so it goes
-- an interesting topic for speculation.