Tennis: History

Early Tennis

Many people credit the origins of tennis to about 12th century French monks, who played a handball against their monastery walls or over a rope strung across a courtyard. The game took on the name jeu de paume, which means game of the hand. Players began using a glove with webbing between the fingers to protect their bare hands. Then the webbing was attached to a handle, thus creating a racquet. The ball was made of a wad of hair, wool, or cork wrapped in string and cloth or leather, according to The History Channel encyclopedia.

Modern Beginnings

Walter C. Wingfield, an Englishman, adapted an ancient ball sport into what we now know as tennis, according to The New York Times. He used his game to entertain guests in his lawn and called the game Sphairistike or Lawn Tennis. The first game was played in December 1873 at a garden party in Whales.

In the U.S.

Tennis was first brought to the United States by Mary Ewing Outerbridge, a Staten Island resident in 1874, according to The New York Times. While visiting relatives in Bermuda, Outerbridge saw British Amy Officers playing the game. She brought back net, balls, rackets and court measurements when she returned to the states. Customs agents confiscated the gear because it was so unusual. However, Outerbridge's brother was in the shipping business and pulled some strings to get the equipment returned to his sister. He was also an officer of the Staten Island Cricket and Baseball Club, so she was able to create a tennis court there. A national tournament was played on September 1, 1880 in Staten Island. Then the overhand serve was not yet invented and the game looked very much like badminton, according to The New York Times. In May of 1881 the U.S. National Lawn Tennis Association, which is now the U.S. Tennis Association, was formed to standardize the rules and organize competitions. Before the tennis balls were all different sizes, depending on where you played and there were different rules at each tennis club. The association is still the governing body for amateur tennis in the U.S.

Image Source: Library of Congress