The history of tennis

Here at Sportch we’ve pulled together a bunch of interesting insights on the history of tennis. We hope you find it as interesting as we did!

Origins of tennis

Tennis is believed to have originated in the monastic cloisters in northern France in the 12th century. Interestingly, the ball was then struck with palm of the hand. At that time it was named “jeu de paume” (game of the palm). Rackets came into use during the 16th century.

The word “Tennis” comes from the Anglo-Norman term “Tenez”.

The Royal Tennis Court is the oldest court known in the history of tennis. It is located at Hampton Court Palace, London and is still in use! The court was built between 1526 and 1529, and we know it was Henry VIII’s preferred venue to indulge his love of tennis. Legend has it that he was given the news of Anne Boleyn’s execution while he was playing on the court. The game played back then was slightly different – it was played indoors and is now called ‘real tennis’.

Lawn tennis was originally played on an hour-glass shaped court with a net that was 4ft 8in high. A modern day net measures 3.5ft at the posts and 3ft in the middle. Rectangular courts were introduced in 1875 at Wimbledon.

Scoring in tennis

The origins of the tennis scoring system are thought to be based on the quarter marks of the clock face i.e. 15, 30, 45. However legend has it that 45 took too long to say, so the third point was shortened to 40.

The term “Love” is said to have originated from the French word for “egg,” l’oeuf, because the zero on a scoreboard resembles an egg. However, these claims are unsubstantiated and other claim it came from the Dutch expression “iets voor lof doen,” which closely translates to “there’s no stake in the game.”

The tiebreaker, or tiebreak, was invented by James Van Alen in 1965.

Originally, two types of tiebreakers were introduced in the game by Van Alen. One ended after a maximum of 9 points and was called the “sudden-death tiebreaker”. The other one, with 12 points, was called the “lingering death” tiebreak. The 12-points tiebreak continues until one player or team wins by a margin of at least two points and with a minimum of 7 points.

The Davis Cup first adopted the tiebreaker in all sets except the final set in 1989, and made amendments in their rules to adopt the tiebreakers for all five sets in 2016.

In 1971 the tiebreak was introduced in Wimbledon.

The French Open is the only major tournament to not use a tiebreak in the final set for singles.

Tournament history

Wimbledon, or the Wimbledon Championships, was founded in 1877 and is the oldest tennis tournament in the worldThe inaugural Wimbledon Championship started on 9 July 1877 and Gentlemen’s Singles was the only event held. It was won by Spencer Gore, an old Harrovian rackets player, from a field of 22. About 200 spectators paid one shilling each to watch the final. Talking of money, would you believe the prize money for Wimbledon winners only became equal for men and women in 2007.

The US Open was founded in 1881, the French in 1891, and the Australian in 1905. Together with Wimbledon, these four major tournaments have been designated as “Grand Slam” tournaments.

The Olympics introduced tennis in 1896 and removed the game in 1924. However, tennis was reintroduced at the 1988 Olympics and continues to be a part of the games to this day.

The Davis Cup dates to 1900. It is an annual competition between national teams.

The Fed Cup, which is an analogous competition for women’s national teams, was founded in 1963 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the International Tennis Federation (ITF).

The French Open, in 1968, was the first “Grand Slam” event to go open and marked the beginning of the open era in professional tennis.

Equipment for tennis

Did you know the overall permissible length of a tennis racket is 29 inches.

Yellow tennis balls were introduced by Mike Davies in 1972 because they are more visible on (colour) television. Before then, tennis balls used were usually white in colour. In 1986, yellow balls were first introduced at Wimbledon.

tennis racket and ball placed on court


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