penn tennis ballCredit: Penn

Tennis is a popular sport these days played by men, women and children alike. It is played on a court by either two or four people with one side playing against the other. The object of the game is to score points by hitting the ball to the other player or team at an angle or speed that makes it difficult or impossible for them to return it well.  There is quite a bit of a mental game to it as well.  

The Origins of Tennis: 12th century through 1859

The earliest modern games of tennis were played in the late 19th century and called "lawn tennis" in order to differentiate them from another game which was at the time considered "real" tennis. "Real tennis" is still played by some enthusiasts but most people have not heard of it. Real tennis is thought to have originated between the 12th and 16th centuries in France where it may have been adapted from handball and other similar games. By the 16th century the rules had been hammered out and racquets were being used.  The evolution of various games into real tennis is thought to be owed in part to Louis X of France who had the first indoor courts built around the end of the 13th century. Castles across Europe built tennis courts and it was known as the sport of kings. Henry VIII of England was also fan of real tennis. 

The Origins of Modern Tennis: 1859-1872

The word "tennis" is thought to derive from the Old French word tenez which means something along the line of "take heed." It was a warning from the server to the receiver about the ball that would be coming their way. Some other possible translations of "tenez" include:

  • Take
  • Hold
  • Receive

Modern or lawn tennis is a cross between the Basque game of pelota and real tennis and was first played by Harry Gem and Augurio Perera on a croquet lawn in the U.K. Major Walter Clopton Wingfield created a similar game and patented it in 1873. It became known as "sticky" thanks to his attempt to name it in Greek. His marketing skills were largely responsible for the spread of tennis across the world.

The Spread of Lawn Tennis: 1872-1924

The first lawn tennis club opened in 1872 and it quickly became very popular. Wimbledon, the oldest tennis competition in the world held their first match just five years later in 1877. However, at the time the rules were not quite standardized and the end of the match brought about a large effort to rectify this.

Tennis spread around the world extremely quickly. The four major tennis competitions that occur today were all established by 1905. The U.S. Open had its first match in 1881 and the French championships started just ten years later. The Austalian Open was the last to be established just after the turn of the century.

The Establishment of Modern Tennis: 1924-Today

The modern rules of tennis were established in 1924 by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and have remained largely the same since. A manner of dealing with ties is the one major change introduced after this time. Interestingly, tennis also withdrew from the Olympic games the same year and did not return as a full sport until the Seoul games in 1988.


Tennis US OpenCredit: wikimedia foundation


Tennis is currently a hugely popular sport both recreationally and professionally. The four Majors draw large crowds and tennis is a reasonably popular spectator sport as well. It is one of the few sports where men and women play at the professional level together in the form of mixed doubles.