Link #106: Tennis Was First Played Without Racquets!



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Link #106: Tennis Was First Played Without Racquets!

Drawing of a game of jeu de paume by an unknown author, PD image.

Mankind has always appreciated competition. The earliest of civilisations like the Greek, Aztec, Mayan, and even the Chinese had games and sports of various types. What’s more, the champions of these games were celebrated and revered by those ancient societies. For example, as we showed in our last article, even the women of ancient Greece competed in athletics.

In fact, many of the sports we play today have been thought up by our distant ancestors, and are renditions of these old formats. Take tennis, for example. Did you know that tennis began as a sport that didn’t involve racquets? No? Let us explain.

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Was Early Tennis Played Without Racquets?

Late 18th-century illustration of a game of doubles jeu de paume. Image credit: SMcCandlish, PD image.

Tennis began as Jeu de Paume which translates to game of the palm. The game originated in France in the 12th century and didn’t involve racquets. The main proponent of Jeu de Paume in those days was Louis X. He is also the first tennis player to be recorded in human history because he died right after a tennis game when he drank a lot of wine.

Louis X was the individual who introduced the concept of playing tennis indoors. He didn’t like playing the game outdoors, so he decided to have indoor courts built in Paris. Soon enough, the indoor court concept became so famous that it spread all over Europe.

When Did Racquets Enter the Picture?

Tennis Racket by regan76, (CC BY 2.0)

It took almost four centuries for the game to morph from a palm based game to a racquet based game. This was also the time when the name of the game changed from Jeu de Paume to something similar to today’s tennis. The new name of the game in the 16th century was tenez.

Tenez has three meanings in old French which are to take, to hold and to receive. This is the term that players, at this time, would call out to their opponents before letting loose their serves.

Soon after, the game morphed again to incorporate the hitting of the wall at the right location. This new version of the game is still played in the world and known as Real Tennis.

How Did Lawn Tennis Come to Be?

Contemporary engraving of the first Wimbledon Championship at Worple Road, London, in July 1877. By an unknown author, PD image.

The term lawn tennis and the game itself didn’t show up until the late 19th century. It was created, patented and marketed by Walter Clopton Wingfield. Initially, his objective was to devise a game that his guests could be entertained with.
However, he soon created a box set of equipment needed for tennis. The box contained a net, balls, racquets and even poles. The rules were made by him as well. Wingfield sent these boxes to different people on the continent to promote the game.

After this modern version of the game was developed, everyone started calling it sticky. Wingfield developed sticky or tennis in 1873 and within four years, the first Wimbledon Championships were held. When the Wimbledon Championships succeeded, the game became popular, and people started trying to find a way to standardise rules.

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