The History of Tennis
The exact origins of tennis are slightly murky, with some historians suggesting the game dates back to the Ancient Greeks!
That’s a bit of a contentious point, but if you fast forward more than a thousand years to King Louis X of France in the 12th century, there is more agreement that the King’s enjoyment of jeu de paume or “game of the palm” was pivotal in the creation of both tennis and real tennis – yes, those are different things!
Don’t get too caught up in that though, we’re only here to talk about ‘tennis’.
“Game of the palm” was, not surprisingly, played by hitting a ball with the palm of your hand. From there, around the 16th century, rackets were introduced, and we moved towards something closer to what we know of as the game of tennis today.
As fate would have it, the patenting of the lawn mower in 1830 appears to have accelerated the development of tennis, with its development sparking a host of lawn sports, including lawn tennis!
In 1872, the world’s first tennis club was founded by Englishman Harry Gem, his friend Augurio Perera, and some associates in Leamington Spa. This came about after Gem and Perera had spent more than a decade developing a game which combined the use of rackets and the Basque ball game ’pelota.’
Despite this, it’s British military man Major Walter Clopton Wingfield who is generally credited as the founder of modern tennis thanks to a similar game known as sphairistikè. Wingfield gets most of the credit due to the fact that he came up with a set of rules for the game and used his influence to send out thousands of sets of the game.
A young socialite, Mary Outerbridge, brought the game to North America courtesy of one of Winglfield’s sets. Tennis soon found its way to Australia, having already found popularity in France.
The early embrace of tennis in these areas is reflected in what would become the four grand slams:
- the Australian Open
- the French Open
- the US Open
Just three years after Wingfield released his creation on the world, tennis’ oldest tournament, the Wimbledon Championships, took place. The court size used at the first Championships, along with the scoring system of 0, 15, 30, 40, game, and allowing the server one fault remain part of the modern rule book.
The early years of competitive tennis saw a battle between amateurs and professionals. Once a player turned professional they could no longer compete in the grand slams, and so players were faced with the choice of making money from their toils or enjoying the greatness that came with being a grand slam champion.
In 1968, this distinction was thankfully abandoned, with the amateur era no longer sustainable and with pressure from promoters to include professionals at grand slams. This new dawn was called the ’Open Era,’ and it was from here that tennis exploded into a professional sport.
Participation levels and spectator numbers boomed from the late 60s, and while many aspects of the sport stayed the same, fashion and equipment did not. Once restricted to white flannels, color was now added to the tennis wardrobe, and wooden rackets were replaced by metal frames.
Today, roughly 18 million people play tennis in the United States alone.
Tennis in the Professional Era
Tennis is booming in the era of professionalism, with three tiers of competition in men’s and women’s tennis. This is great not just for the game, but also for betting on tennis; you’ll never be short of options!
There is also an international element to tennis in the form of the Davis Cup, Fed Cup, and Olympic competition.
However, it’s the four grand slams that are really the crown jewels of tennis; a player’s greatness is determined by how they perform at the grand slams:
- the Australian Open
- the French Open
- the US Open
The Grand Slams
The Australian Open is the first grand slam of the year, with the world’s best descending on Melbourne for two weeks of action in mid-January. Played on the hard courts of Melbourne Park, the Australian Open is known for its searing heat and big crowds.
after players were out on the court in temperatures that reached 111.0 °F!
The heat never seems to bother the crowds though; 728,763 people turned out at the 2017 edition, the most at a single event in tennis history.
The Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup (women) and the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup (men) are the trophies on offer in Australia, and it’s Serena Williams (seven titles) and Novak Djokovic (six titles) who have dominated the event in recent years.
Equal prize money is awarded to men and women, with the 2017 champions walking away with AUD$3,700,000 (approximately USD$2,800,000) for their troubles.
The French Open is the second event on the grand slam calendar, with the clay courts of Roland Garros playing host to the event which kicks off in late May.
The clay surface makes the French Open a unique challenge, with some legends of the game (we’re looking at you, Pete Sampras) finding it an insurmountable challenge.
Rafael Nadal has had no such problems, and the Spaniard has the well-deserved nickname of the ’King of Clay.’ Nadal won a record tenth French Open title in 2017, the first player to win 10 editions of any grand slam.
American Chris Evert has the most successful record at the event among women in the Open Era, having lifted the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen seven times.
The French Open offers the least prize money of all the grand slams, but we’re pretty sure nobody is complaining about the €2,100,000 (USD$2,500,000) first prize!
Wimbledon could be considered a special event if for no other reason than that it is the oldest tournament in tennis history, but there is so much more that makes this grand slam truly special; the grass courts, the prim and proper traditions, the birthplace of so many tennis customs – it’s hard not to love Wimbledon!
The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in London has hosted Wimbledon since its inception in 1877, and each July, the attention of the tennis world turns to the historic venue to see who will claim the Venus Rosewater Dish and the Gentlemen’s Singles Trophy.
Yes, at Wimbledon the respective events are not referred to as the men’s and women’s events, but rather the gentlemen’s and ladies’ events – we told you this was an old-school tournament! You won’t see any colored clothing either, but you might see a member of the royal family watching from the Royal Box at Centre Court.
There is nothing old-fashioned about the prize money though, with the 2017 winners taking home £2,200,000 (USD$2,890,000). Roger Federer holds the record for the most gentlemen’s singles titles with seven, while Martina Navratilova bagged nine ladies’ singles titles.
The US Open takes place at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York from late August to early September. It’s the second grand slam of the year to be played on hard court, following on from the Australian Open, but the two events make use of slightly different types of hard court.
Bigger is often better, and that is the case at Flushing Meadows, where the 22,547-seater Arthur Ashe Stadium stands as the world’s largest tennis venue.
It’s not only the stadiums of the US Open that are big either – the pay checks are of record size too!
A trio of legends tops the winner’s standings on the men’s side of the draw at the US Open, with Americans Jimmy Connors and Pete Sampras joined by Roger Federer with a record five titles in the Open Era. Among the women, it is all stars and stripes with Chris Evert and Serena Williams both having won the event six times.
The top-tier men’s tour is the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) World Tour which has three tiers of tournaments: 1000 events, 500 events, and 250 events. The number refers to the ranking points on offer, with the winner of a Masters 1000 tournament bagging 1000 ranking points. From there you can see the scale of importance of the three tiers.
The Masters 1000 events are the biggest events outside of the grand slams. There are nine Masters 100 tournaments every year, and they’re held at Indian Wells in California, Miami, Monte Carlo, Madrid, Rome, Montreal or Toronto, Cincinnati, Shanghai and Paris.
The events in Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid, and Shanghai are held concurrently with the WTA Tour, the premier tour for women.
Masters 500 and Masters 250 events are slightly less glamorous, but form an important part of the ATP Tour, and the money on offer is not to be scoffed at – roughly USD$400,000 is the lowest winner’s purse on offer.
At the end of each year, the top eight players in singles and doubles take part in the prestigious season-ending ATP World Tour Finals in London.
The second tier of men’s tennis is known as the ATP Challengers Tour, and it is here that the players battling stay or break into the top 100 in the world play. Prize money on offer at Challenger Tour events ranges from USD$40,000 to USD$220,000.
One rung further down the professional ladder is the Futures Tour which is populated by players still trying to make their breakthrough on the professional circuit. Unlike the ATP Tour and ATP Challengers Tour, the Futures Tour is overseen by the International Tennis Federation rather than the ATP.
On the Futures Tour, prize money is comparatively paltry with amounts of USD$15,000 or USD$25,000 up for grabs.
The women’s professional circuit is structured much like the men’s tour, but the names are slightly different. The top tier of events on the women’s tour are the ‘Premier’ events, and the Premier category is split into three levels which denote the differing amounts of prize money and ranking points available.
‘Premier Mandatory’ events are the big-money tournaments which are held in conjunction with the ATP Tour. Next in the hierarchy is the ‘Premier 5’ events which are tournaments held in Doha or Dubai, Rome, Montreal or Toronto, Cincinnati, and Wuhan, with each event boasting a handy USD$2,000,000 in prize money.
The WTA Tour Championships is the season-ending event on the WTA Tour, with the top eight women in singles and doubles fighting it out in Singapore for USD$7,000,000.
Sitting just below the Premier tournaments are 32 ‘international’ tournaments, the majority of which have USD$250,000 prize money on offer. These events are still part of the main WTA Tour, but have their own end-of-year event in the form of the WTA Elite Trophy.
The players who take part in the WTA Elite Trophy are those ranked from 9-19 in the world.
The second tier of women’s tennis is known as the WTA 125k Tour. No points for guessing the prize money to be won at these tournaments is 125k! By taking part in these tournaments, players earn enough ranking points to take part in the events on the main WTA Tour.
The third tier of women’s tennis is the International Tennis Federation-organized ITF Women’s Circuit. This tour is for players who are trying to earn enough ranking points to play on the main WTA Tour. Prize money on the ITF Women’s Circuit ranges from USD$10,000 to USD$100,000.
There is also a place for team tennis on the annual men’s calendar thanks to the Davis Cup. In this event, players represent their respective countries in what can be considered the World Cup of tennis.
Each Davis Cup tie consists of four singles matches and a doubles contest, with the first country to win three matches becoming the victor.
which consists of the top 16 countries.
Those countries then face off over the course of the year with a place in the final on the line; the eight winners from the first round progress to the quarter-finals, then the semi-finals, and at the end of it, two teams remain in a shoot out for glory.
The United States is the most successful team in Davis Cup history having won the event 32 times and finished as runners-up on 29 occasions.
As is the case with men’s tennis, there is also a women’s team tennis tournament – the Fed Cup. Sixteen teams battle it out each year for Fed Cup glory, with four rounds of action culminating in the winner-takes-all final.
Like the Davis Cup, each tie consists of four singles matches and a doubles match, but whereas in the Davis Cup the doubles match splits the singles match, in the Fed Cup doubles is played last.
The United States is the most successful country in Fed Cup history, having won the title 18 times and finished as beaten finalists on 12 occasions.
Tennis at the Olympics
Tennis was first played at the Summer Olympics from 1896 to 1924 before it was dropped from the schedule. It returned to the event list in 1988 and has been featured at every Summer Olympics since then.
There are five tennis events at the Olympics:
- Men’s Singles
- Men’s Doubles
- Women’s Singles
- Women’s Doubles
- Mixed Doubles
The surface that is played on varies and is determined by the host nation.
If a player wins gold at the Olympics in addition to all four grand slams in the same year, they are said to have won the Golden Grand Slam.