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When Was Tennis Invented? Tennis Scoring & Attire History

Since the Neolithic era, several cultures have enjoyed playing games with a ball or racquet. Mesoamerican ruins point to a location that was particularly significant for ball sports in numerous cultures.

So, When was tennis invented? There is proof that tennis-like games were played by the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians. However, court tennis traces its origins to a game played by French monks that dates back to the 11th century. Court tennis is also known as “genuine tennis” and “royal tennis” in Great Britain and Australia.

When Was Tennis Invented?

When Was Tennis Invented
When Was Tennis Invented

Some individuals think that different variations of tennis were played by the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians. There haven’t been any drawings or descriptions of tennis-like games found. However, several Arabic terms from ancient Egypt are used as proof. According to one hypothesis, the word racquet developed from the Arabic word for the palm of the hand, Rahat, while the name tennis came from the Egyptian town of Tinnis near the Nile.

Apart from these two words, there is little evidence that tennis existed before the year 1000. Most historians attribute the game’s invention to French monks who started playing a crude version of handball against their monastic walls or over a rope strung across a courtyard in the eleventh or twelfth century.

The name jeu de paume, which translates to “game of the hand,” was given to the game. This medieval sport was originally played with bare hands and developed as the racket and unique scoring system (15, 30, 40, game) were created. Tennis also got its name from the French phrase “tenez!” (in the meaning of “here it comes!”), which you exclaimed to your opponent as you were about to serve. 

The monks taught the nobility the game, and by the thirteenth century, there may have been as many as 1,800 courts in France, according to some estimates. The game grew to be such a well-liked distraction that attempts to outlaw it by the pope and Louis IV was fruitless. It quickly spread to England, where Henry VII and Henry VIII, who both enjoyed playing, encouraged the construction of more courts.

Tennis in History 

Tennis in History
Tennis in History

By the year 1500, a cork-cored ball weighing about three ounces and a wooden frame racquet strung with sheep gut were standard equipment. The early tennis courts were very dissimilar from the typical current “grass tennis” court that we are all familiar with today. Early tennis evolved into what is now known as “true tennis,” and the 1625-built Hampton Court in England is still in use today.

There are now very few such courts. The players strive for numerous strategically important areas on the small, indoor court where the ball is played off walls that have a variety of apertures and awkwardly slanted surfaces. The net has a noticeable droop since it is five feet high on the ends and three feet in the middle.

In England, tennis swiftly surpassed croquet in terms of popularity. During the 1700s, the game’s popularity almost virtually vanished.  However, in 1850, Charles Goodyear created a method for vulcanizing rubbernd. And in the 1850s, players started experimenting with playing with the bouncy rubber balls outside on grass courts.

An outdoor game was obviously quite different from an indoor game played off walls. So, a number of additional sets of rules were developed. The inaugural Wimbledon tournament was held in 1877, just three years after Welsh Major Walter Clopton Wingfield’s A Portable Court of Playing Tennis, the book that codified lawn tennis, was published in 1874. 

The All England Club hosted the first Wimbledon tournament in 1877. The tournament committee developed a rectangular court and a set of regulations that effectively define the game as we know it today. The service boxes were 26 feet deep, and the net was still five feet high at the sides of the game’s indoor ancestor. However, by 1882, the dimensions had changed to take on their present shape. 

*** Read more: Tennis Court Dimensions In Feet & Some Measurement Tips

Tennis Scoring History

Tennis Scoring History
Tennis Scoring History

No one is sure where tennis scoring—love, 15, 30, 40, deuce—came from, but most sources agree it originated in France. One theory for the origin of the 60-point system is that it’s simply based on the number 60, which had positive connotations in medieval numerology. The 60 was then divided into four segments.

The more widely accepted theory is that the scoring was created to correspond with the score given in quarter-hours: 15, 30, 45, on the face of a clock. It is shortened to the French for 40 quarante, rather than the longer quarante cinq for 45. It wasn’t required to utilize 60 since, unless it was tied at “deuce,” the game ended once the hour had passed.

That phrase may have come from the French word Deux, which means “two,” denoting that going forward. Two points would be needed to win the game. According to some, the word “love” is derived from the French word “l’oeuf,” which means “egg,” a symbol for “nothing” akin to a goose egg.

Tennis Attire History

Tennis has changed significantly throughout the years, but perhaps none more obviously than how players dress. Male players donned hats and ties at the turn of the 20th century. Meanwhile, pioneering women wore a form of street attire that really featured bustles and corsets. The 1890s saw the adoption of a rigorous dress code mandating that tennis attire be only white in color. It even had to conform to stringent guidelines, with the exception of some accent trim. 

Tennis attire in 1980s
Tennis attire in 1980s

Tennis whites were customary far into the 20th century. Tennis was originally a game played only by the wealthy. Even while white clothing tends to be cooler, it requires a lot of washing. Thus it wasn’t really an option for the majority of working-class people.

The invention of contemporary technology, particularly the washing machine, increased middle-class accessibility to the game. As societal norms loosened in the swinging ’60s, particularly in the fashion world, more and more vibrant attire started to appear on tennis courts. There are still select venues, like Wimbledon, where wearing tennis whites is still obligatory.

*** Read more: Why Do Tennis Players Wear Wristbands? [5 Primary Reasons]

Conclusion

Tennis is a spectacular sport that is now practiced on a variety of surfaces by tens of millions of people for recreation or competition. And the invention of this great sport came from the continuous innovation and creation process to this day. 

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