When researching the history of some sports it can be hard to get hard facts as there are conflicting stories, so we’re going pure by research here. One thing we do know for sure is that tennis derived from a game called Real Tennis or Royal Tennis.
Most historians and opinions suggest that tennis originated in northern France in the 12th century (not England as many people presume), making it one of the oldest sports Back then the ball was then struck with the palm of the hand and it was not until the 16th century that rackets came into use, and the game began to be called tennis.
The rules and scoring are similar to tennis but the courts and equipment are very different. The balls are made from cork and the racquets are smaller and wooden, it was also played indoors on a different sized court.
According to Wikipedia there are only 48 active real tennis courts in the world, located in United Kingdom, Australia, the United States and France.
England, during the 18th and early 19th centuries as real tennis declined, 2 other racket sports emerged: the great games of squash and lawn tennis.
The History of Lawn Tennis
There are various stories about who started tennis but what we do know is that is was in the period between 1865-1873 where they essentially brought real tennis outdoors and played it on croquet laws, the sport proved massively popular and spread like wild fire through England and the America.
The world’s oldest tennis tournament took place at Leamington Lawn Tennis Club in Birmingham in 1874. Just three years later the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club would hold its first championships at Wimbledon, in 1877.
The Start of Tennis in America
The first American National tournament was played in 1880 at the Staten Island Cricket and Baseball Club in New York, only a year later, the US 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 in Philadelphia.
Tennis was predominantly a sport played by the English speaking world, and most popular in Great Britain and the United States, but as Real Tennis started in France, it didn’t take long for lawn tennis to take hold. The French Open dates back to 1891 and was recognised as a Major or Grand Slam tournament when it was opened to all nationalities in 1925.
The Australian Open was first played in 1905 as The Australasian (Australia and New Zealand) Championships. Because of its geographic remoteness and travel technology, the event did not gain attendance from the top players. The Aus Open only really became popular in the 80’s and then moved to Melbourne Park in 1988, where it became as popular as the other three majors.
The Profession Circuit and Open Era
1913 saw the set up of the International Lawn Tennis Federation – ILTF. (it would be renamed the International Tennis Federation (ITF) in 1977)
In 1926 the first profession tour was set up where American and French players would play for paying audiences. Once a player turned pro he or she could not compete in amateur tournaments.
The Open Era began in 1968 when Grand Slam tournaments agreed to allow professional players to compete with amateurs. In the year that follow there were many different tours such as the Grand Prix circuit, National Tennis League (NTL) and World Championship Tennis (WCT). A lot of infighting took place in these years and tournaments got boycotted by players belonging to some of the different organisations.
The pro tour became such a mess that at the 1972 US Open, all the players attended and agreed to form a player syndicate to protect themselves from the promoters and associations, resulting in the creation of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP).
The ATP Tour
1996 saw the set up of the Super 9, these were the biggest tournaments outside the Grand Slams where points would be rewarded for wins (half the points of a Grand Slam win) This continued until 2000 when it would be renamed the Masters.
The WTA Tour
The Women’s Tennis Association, formed in 1973 to replace the WT Women’s Pro Tour. Also in 1973, the U.S. Open made history by offering equal prize money to men and women. Interestingly from 1984–98, the finals matches of the championship event were best-of-five, in 1999, the finals reverted to best-of-three.
For the first 100 years of tennis, rackets were made of wood and of standard size, and strings were of animal gut. Advances in laminating technology resulted in the first tennis racket made of laminated wood in 1947, this dramatically increased the performance an durability of rackets.
The first steel racket was made by Wilson in 1968 and by 1980 wooden rackets became obsolete. Instead, brands like Dunlop and Prince switched over to graphite frames. The evolution of tennis rackets has come a long way and most modern rackets are made from a complex mix of different carbon and alloys.
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