Skip to content

Tennis History: Taking a Walk Down Memory Lane

    tennis history

    While discussing the history of tennis, it is commonly believed that French monks started playing the game in the 11-12th Century. But, some historians still argue about tennis history and the origins of the sport. These select historians believe that it is ancient Egyptians who invented tennis.

    In fact, according to this group of historians, the word “racket” is a derivative of the Arab word “rakhat.” Arabic for “palm”. Interestingly, another group of historians involved in research about the sport, have a different view.

    Read also: The Best Tennis Racquet

    The researchers claim to have come across evidence of the sport in ancient Greek culture. All these different claims from historians raise crucial questions. These questions listed below will lead us to understand the history of tennis better.

    Which claim should we support as the ideal tennis background?

    • When was tennis invented?
    • Who invented tennis?
    • What can we learn from the history of tennis scoring?

     Tennis History: The Background of Its Invention

    There are different factions, each with their own beliefs on tennis history. Some historians believe tennis was first played by ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians. Yet, there haven’t been any discoveries of paintings or drawings depicting the game.

    There are Arabic words that date from ancient Egypt, which allude to evidence of tennis. This theory suggests that the name of the game, tennis, is from Tinnis, an Egyptian town. The theory also alludes to the Arabic word for palm, ‘Rahat’, being the original name for a racquet.

    There is no more evidence of the game before the year 1000. Most historians believe that tennis originated from French monks who played the game in 11-12th Century. They called the game ‘jeu de paume’, which means ‘game of the hand’.

    As the game evolved and become trendy, spaces set aside in courtyards for play gave way to indoor courts. Players eventually started using gloves in place with their bare hands. These gloves had webbing sewn between the fingers or had solid wooden paddles.

    Gloves soon paved the way for webbing attached to a handle: early signs of the modern-day racquet. There are accounts of almost 1,800 courts designed for nobility in France. King Louis IV and the pope tried to ban the game unsuccessfully, and it soon spread like wildfire to England.

    By 1500, a racquet resembling a wooden frame was commonly used. One of the oldest tennis courts in England, England’s’ Hampton Court, stands today. This court, built-in 1625, is still in use, and there aren’t courts like it remaining today.

    Further Reading: The Best Asics Tennis Shoes

    Who Invented Tennis?

    By the early 1700’s the popularity of tennis had tapered off. But, this changed in 1850 with the sudden introduction of vulcanized rubber. Hard rubber balls changed the game, and tennis was transformed into an outdoor sport.

    Major Walter Wingfield, a Londoner, invented a game known as Sphairistike. This game caused a lot of excitement in Europe, China, the United States, Russia, Canada, and even India. It eventually evolved into the game that we call tennis today.

    During this period, croquet was very fashionable, and the courts used to play the game proved very suitable for tennis. Players enjoyed the game on rectangular manicured courts. According to tennis history, Major Wingfield’s rules faced a lot of critiques. After amending them in 1875, he left the responsibility of developing the game further to other people.

    The first game of tennis was played in 1877 at the former All England Croquet Club. The rules adopted at this tournament became the basis for current tennis rules as we know them today. One of the most significant variations between regulations then and now is that women weren’t allowed to compete until 1884.

    The committee organizing the first tournament decided to adopt a rectangular court, which was unlike Major Wingfield’s hourglass-shaped court. Just like modern nets, the nets at that time were five feet high on both sides. The service boxes were, however, 26 feet deep. In 1882, the requirements were upgraded to what we know them to be today.

    In answering the question, when was tennis invented, we cannot put a date to it. Even though Major Wingfield made significant contributions to his tennis background, he cannot be credited entirely as the person who single-handedly invented tennis. History clearly shows how the game has evolved since the 11-12th Century.

    We also cannot refute the contributions he has made towards the game as it is today. He, however, deserves recognition for his efforts in promoting the game and coming up with instructions on how to play it.

    The History of Tennis Scoring 

    All sports have jargon that they use to communicate to participants about the rules of the game and how it should be played. Additionally, most sports have a relatively straightforward method of counting scores. This is not the case for tennis.

    One of the most popular theories concerning tennis scoring history alludes to the 16th-century clock face. The face of a clock was used to keep scores. Every time someone scored, the hands would move from 15 to 30, then 45. This was in quarters of 15 minutes for each score.

    It is said that 45 gave way to 40 to allow deuce to be set at 50. Once the game was won, then the hand would eventually move to the top mark. Historians had ousted this explanation citing that the game came before the invention of clocks that had minute hands.

    Experts in tennis scoring history rely on a different theory. They believe that the reason tennis scoring is so odd is due to the earliest version of the game. The version played by the French monks.

    Players of this game started at the back of the nets. Every player had 45 feet on their side of the net and was required to move forward for every score. The first player to score moved forward 15 feet.

    Another score would require him to move another 15 feet to bring the score to 30. The third score could only allow him to move 10 feet because he would be too close to the net if he moved 15. Hence 15, 30, 40. Interestingly, this theory is also said to be a myth.


    Even though tennis history does not give clear explanations on how scoring came to be, one thing is certain. The numbers are puzzling.

    Also worth a read:

    Balling: 25 Best Tennis balls




    Image credit: Unsplash