When Was Tennis First Invented?
The vast majority of you who are familiar with our website, will quickly associate us with fun, yet cutting edge tennis racket and string reviews!
However, we’ve been delving into the history books a little lately as well!
Today we’re going to be looking into who invented tennis and when tennis was first invented.
It’s a fascinating topic, especially in a sport where tradition is so integral to the game.
So, let’s dive right in and find some answers!
Before you think into this title too much, and I’m sorry to disappoint, but I haven’t found any hot new research that suggests the ancient Egyptians were serving 120mph bombs against the pyramid walls in their preparation for tennis tournaments!
However, I think you’ll find it extremely interesting to learn that not only the ancient Egyptians, but also, the Romans and Greeks did in fact play some primitive version of tennis!
Ball sports have dominated our planet’s culture for some time and this even goes as far back as the Neolithic period.
However, the tennis that we love and cherish as we know it in today’s era began its evolution in France, amongst a group of monks.
In the Beginning…
Paume (meaning: palm after translation) was game that the French monks played, where they used their hands to strike a ball instead of a racquet, like we see today.
FUN FACT: Interestingly, many tennis coaches actually teach “hand tennis” as a warm up game for their younger students before beginning training. The game encourages control and aggressive footwork due to the slower movement of the ball. This is a wonderful illustration of the fact that there is real value in simplicity.
From this point, Paume began a gradual evolution, to the point where rackets were used. It was then renamed as, jeu de paume (meaning: “game of the palm”).
Transitions To The Modern Tennis Game
By the 15th century, there were almost 2000 indoors tennis courts and rackets were made from wood, paired with gut strings.
FUN FACT: Natural gut strings, in a more user-friendly form, of course, are still used to this day and are one of the most popular tennis strings on the market – used by Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, plus millions of others!
Despite this, the game, at this point was still very different than what we see on television today.
Although we see indoor tennis as a very modern thing, I find this incredibly ironic after conducting the research necessary for this article, as it was traditionally played exclusively indoors!
Even today, there are far fewer indoor courts than outdoor courts, due to the huge investments of capital required to run them.
Additionally, players struck the ball through an opening in a roof in a specific “tennis house”. The net height was much higher than we use today, standing at 5 feet tall.
I think only 6 foot 10 inch John Isner (plus the other almost 7 foot giants) in today’s game would be able to hit a serve in with any power over a net of that height!
At 5 feet 9 inches tall, I certainly wouldn’t fancy it!
Recently, we wrote an article on tennis scoring and why it is scored the way it is. You can check it out by clicking here! We went into some depth, after conducting some thorough research on the topic.
In summary, though, it’s believed that the scoring system, ie. 15-All, 15-30 etc was originally created to mimic a clock face, as it turns in quarters to completion upon the hour.
The one exception in each of the individual points, is the clock being at “45” instead of “40”, as is scored in tennis, at the ¾ mark.
However, critics believe that “45” was originally used and then shortened to “40” over time.
This is anyone’s guess – but I personally believe it is because of the same reason we already do it today!
As I wrote in the article on tennis scoring, tennis players at all levels frequently use truncated terminology during practice and matches, alike.
For instance, you’ll hear expressions such as, “thirties”, instead of “30-all”, “Van-In” or “Van-Out” instead of calling the Server’s full surname, and even, “2”, instead of declaring, “Let-First Serve”.
Therefore, it’s not a huge stretch to believe that in the early beginnings of the game, “forty-five” was shortened to “forty”.
White for Wimby
Tennis competition attire has also evolved over time.
If you’re someone who switches Wimbledon on once a year, you’ll notice players are always dressed impeccably in white, as it’s compulsory at this event and always has been from the beginning.
Since it is classed as the ultimate tennis event, the event organisers have always kept the dress code as purist as possible, to preserve the integrity of the game and the values they hold.
However, other Grand Slam tournaments are much more lenient, allowing players to wear almost anything.
Part of this has to do with sponsorship, I believe, as all white isn’t particularly good for advertising!
Players have “dressed up” for tennis from as early as the 1890s, where men wore suits and ties and the women wore clothing that included bustles and corsets.
By the end of the 1890s, only white clothing was allowed, however, and this continued well on into the 20th century and beyond, in the case of Wimbledon.
Initially tennis was played within the upper class, but eventually (and rightly so!) became more accessible to the working class, who couldn’t afford the upkeep of white clothes, before the washing machine was invented.
Eventually, fashion became a much more revered aspect on the tennis court and the evolution of clothing styles began.
Think vintage Andre Agassi or classy Federer in today’s game.
We’ve been using the same scoring systems since the beginning of the sport.
In today’s era of extremely intelligent technology, ATP and WTA events are still using line judges, even though the calls could and can be instantly overridden by Hawk Eye or the modern “Challenge” system at big events.
Why bother with line judges, then?
Why bother with ball boys, either?
Surely a machine could easily be built to dispense and collect balls more quickly and accurately?
The answer to all of these questions lies in the governing bodies and to some extent, the public, favouring tradition over change.
As the writer of this article and being British myself I can personally vouch for this obsession in our country. I’ve seen it many times over across many different disciplines.
When I competed in athletics at national level as a junior athlete, there were many sprint coaches (who I will not name out of respect) who still clung to the “Traditional British Sprinting Method” (as they put it).
At the time, there were far more effective and scientifically proven techniques that were currently being used to devastating effect in the USA and Jamaica, but many of these coaches were so set in their ways, they weren’t prepared to open their minds to a better alternative.
Why do the British love their traditions so much?
Sometimes, I think it’s because they are proud of their heritage. With others I think it’s a bit of ignorance, as in the case with the coaches I previously mentioned.
In the case of tennis, however, (and please don’t take down our website Wimbledon!) I think it can be that people are fearful of change.
To be honest, it’s partly understandable!
“What if the fans don’t like the new changes and stop buying tickets?”
“What if the players complain?”
“What if the technology stops working and matches are held up?”
All of these are questions I could clearly see being brought up in the Director’s Lounge and discussed with urgency!
Personally, I think the day will come when line judges disappear and technology starts to play a much bigger part than it already does.
We’re already moving that way – the Hawk Eye Challenge system bears testament to that and I do believe that this was a very good thing for tennis, as it ensures the fairest match possible, for both players.
It’s even entertaining!
The crowd love to cheer and clap as the camera slowly zooms in on that all-important decision. Stadiums literally erupt when the ball is called “In” on a big point! It makes for excellent television viewing too.
I’m confident that the ATP and WTA organisers would find a way to make any other implementations of technology equally entertaining.
Overall, this article might all be sounding a little “waffly” to some of you who just came here wanting a quick answer to “when was tennis first invented?”
However, I feel it’s also important to consider how little or how much the game has evolved over time in order to fully appreciate its origins and how and why they are integral to the game today.
You’ve made it to the end, though!
So, I hope you enjoyed our reflections on a very interesting topic in tennis. Now you know exactly when tennis was first invented, as you know it, and how it has been enhanced over time.
As you can see, the game of tennis was not invented in one instance. Instead it’s been re-invented constantly over hundreds or arguably thousands of years!
Oct 14, 2021 • Rules
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