Tennis: A Brief History By Paul L. Palandjian

April 18, 2012

Our modern game of tennis traces back to a medieval game called real tennis, which evolved from an early French version of handball. Over time, players began using gloves and eventually adopted racquets. By the 16th century, real tennis had set rules and regulation courts. The game became popular in the French court, largely due to the passion of Francis I for the sport. His successors carried on his fervor. In fact, two French kings died from complications related to playing tennis. An Italian priest authored the first book about tennis in 1555 and King Charles IX created the first tennis league in 1571, when he granted a constitution to the Corporation of Tennis Professionals. Forbet codified the rules of tennis in 1599. The game was also popular in Italy during the 16th century, evidenced by depictions in paintings. By the 17th century, athletes played the game throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Spain, Italy, and France. During this period, it fell from popularity in England, because of Puritanism. In subsequent centuries, the English adopted several new games that developed from real tennis, such as racquets, squash, and lawn tennis.

What has become the contemporary version of tennis, lawn tennis developed from a game created by the Englishman Major Harry Gem and his Spanish friend Augurio Perera. They combined elements of racquets with Pelota, a traditional Spanish game, and played the new invention on croquet lawns. The pair founded the first tennis club in 1874. The previous year, Major Clopton Wingfield of Wales engineered a strikingly similar game, pulling elements of real tennis. He named the sport lawn tennis.


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