From ‘Jeu de paume’ to Grand Slams: The History and Evolution of Tennis

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Tennis has undoubtedly evolved, from the days European Monks played it for entertainment during special occasions, to Worldwide competitions, a lot has happened in the past few centuries. 

The game, as we currently know it, wasn’t always classy, and neither was it a public affair. We’ve come to love the Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer rivalry and cannot imagine any tournament without the Williams sisters.

Even supermarket chains like Publix are involved in the game. In 2017 for example, Publix donated $1 million to the city of Lakeland for the refurbishment of tennis courts and the park on Edgewood drive.

So now you know that when you browse through the Publix ad this week for your snacks whilst watching Wimbledon 2021, it’s not all about food, they have your favorite sport at heart too.

Where Did Tennis Start?

There is evidence of a version of the game that was played in ancient Greece.

In the 12th Century, a handball game called ‘paume’ was played by striking the ball to an opponent with the hand. It became ‘jeu de paume’ (game of the palm) as time went on.

What is known as tennis today began in the 16th century; Major Walter Wingfield officially codified tennis. He invented a version that could be played outdoors on a lawn. Previously, some had played indoors.

Wingfield called the game Sphairistike (playing ball in Greek) and first introduced it in Wales. This didn’t last long. The name was difficult to say, so he settled for lawn tennis. Wingfield brought about the idea of a net. This version was played using Indian rubber balls and had specific instructions about how the court should be laid out and how the game should be played.

From Hands to Rackets

Participants went from hitting the ball with their hands to using a leather glove then creating the first version of a racket using an adaptive handle. The name tennis is derived from the French word “tenez!”, which players had to say to opponents as they were about to serve.

The first proper racket came about in 1583 and was made out of wood. Only centuries later would the ash wood rackets be replaced with laminated wood.

From then on, racket makers started to experiment with different materials, sizes and shapes. One of the most quintessential changes was the development of metal frames and oversized heads in 1976, which Wilson pioneered.

Using new materials and designs meant that rackets were lightweight and more powerful. In that same year, Wimbledon held a demonstration event and announced that all amateurs and professionals could participate in the 1968 Championships. This was a sign that tennis was going “open”. By 1980 rackets were being manufactured out of titanium, graphite, steel, carbon and other materials.

Tennis balls also went through a series of changes. The first ball was made out of wood like the first rackets. Later, it was then filled with cellulose to make it more bouncy.

In 1884, 7 years after the Wimbledon Championships started, it was opened to women. Three years later, the US Championships opened up to women as well. Only ten years later would the French Championships open up to women in 1987.

The Golden Grand Slam and Olympic Games

The phrase “Grand Slam” was coined by American journalist John Kieran in 1933, to describe player Jack Crawford’s attempt to win all four major tennis titles in the same year.

Jieran compared the win to “a countered and vulnerable grand slam in bridge.” The Australian, French, US, and Wimbledon tennis titles were considered the most important in tennis because they were the key international championships hosted in the only four countries that had won the Davis Cup at the time.

Achieving a golden Grand Slam has become associated with a particularly coveted accomplishment among top-tier players.

Presently, a player must win all four Grand Slams as well as an Olympic Gold medal throughout their career to earn a golden Grand Slam.

Tennis was first included in the Summer Olympic Games program in 1896.

However, it was eliminated after the 1924 Summer Olympics due to disagreements between the International Lawn Tennis Federation and the International Olympic Committee. It was only reinstated as an official sport in 1988, and it’s been part of the Olympics since then.

Tennis is still popular worldwide; it is known as real tennis in the United Kingdom, royal tennis in Australia, and court tennis in the United States. Go on and enjoy Wimbledon.