History of Tennis – The Game of Kings
There is really no telling the exact date of when the game of tennis began. In fact, there are a lot of different adaptations about the history of tennis. One of them dates back to the time of kings and pharaohs of ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome who were said to have played different versions of this game. Although drawings and descriptions of “tennis-resembling” games have not been discovered, Arabic words dating back from ancient Egyptians are quoted as evidence. The theory says that the name tennis is derived from the Egyptian town of Tinnis which is on the banks of the river Nile, and the word racquet evolved from the word rahat, meaning palm of hand.
No more than this theory of the words Tinnis and Rahat from ancient Egyptians, confirmation for any form of tennis prior to those years is lacking. In the history of tennis books, most historians tribute the first origin of the game to 11th and 12th century French monks, who began playing crude handball against their monastery walls or over a rope that strung across a courtyard. It was then called jeu de paume which means game of the hand because it was a court game where the ball was struck by the hand, others on the other hand disputed that the name tennis came from the French tenez which meant something like “take this” as one player would serve to the other.
As the game became more popular, playing areas began to be modified from courtyard into indoor courts, where the ball was still played off walls, but since bare hands were found to be too painful, players began using a glove, either a glove with webbing between fingers or a solid paddle, this was followed by using webbing attached to a handle, basically a racquet. The ball was a wad of hair, wool, or cork wrapped in string and cloth or leather. Later in the years, it was hand stitched in felt that looked something like the modern baseball. The game of tennis was passed on from the French monks to the nobility who learned the game from them and soon gained popularity. It’s been stated that as many as 1800 courts were built for this game in France during the 13th century. The game became such a popular diversion that both Pope and Louis IV attempted to ban it but failed. It soon spread to England where both Henry VII and Henry VIII were devoted players who encouraged it by building more courts.
The history of tennis indicates that the game’s popularity decreased during the 1700’s, but in the 1850’s when vulcanization of rubber was introduced by Charles Goodyear, players began experimenting using bouncy rubber balls outdoors on grass courts. Since playing tennis outdoors was very different from playing it indoors where it was only played off wall, several new sets of rules were put together.
Some people would credit the history of tennis to Major Walter Clopton Wingfield, a British army officer who devised the game in 1873. Wingfield in search for a more dynamic game than croquet, which was highly popular at that time, thought of an activity that was a mixture of badminton and “court tennis”. In 1874 in London, he patented the equipment and rules for the game very similar to our modern day tennis.
At present, tennis has become a very popular sport and has produced many great athletes who have become legends of the game, including Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Rod Laver, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe among men, and Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, and Martina Hingis among women. Wherever or however the history of tennis is stated, one fact remains to be true; that the history of tennis has led it to become one of the world’s top sport games.