This blog was originally posted on Jonathan Nadler’s website here.
While there is some debate as to the origins of tennis, historians generally concur that the crude origins of tennis took place in northern France during the 12th century. Back then, the ball was struck with the palm of the hand and called, “jeu de paume,” meaning, “game of the palm.” Louis X of France was extremely fond of this game, and he is considered to be the first individual to have a version of today’s modern tennis courts created indoors. This indoor court design caught on and spread throughout Europe, and Louis X is widely considered to be the first tennis player in history to be known by name. However, others debate that King Charles V of France was the first known player.
The development of tennis took some time, as it was not until sometime during the 16th century that the use of racquets became commonplace and they began to refer to the game by the name of tennis. This name stems from a French term, “tenez,” which, when translated, means “hold,” “receive,” or “take,” which was a commonly used term between players. The game was extremely popular throughout England and France, but was primarily played indoors and the ball was hit off of the walls. Despite the sport’s developments into the game we know today, the aforementioned version is known as, “real tennis.”
The game began to develop differently in various areas throughout Europe, and allegedly the game was begun in the U.S by socialites who, while on vacation, had witnessed British army officers play the game. These socialites set up a tennis court at the Staten Island Cricket Club, which was ultimately the location of the first ever American National Championship of tennis, played in 1880. Originally, different racquet clubs had different rules/standards for the game. For example, in Boston, the ball used was larger than the tennis balls used in New York. On May 21, 1881 the United States National Lawn Tennis Association, which has since become the United States Tennis Association, was created in order to lay out the standardized rules and regulations for the game. The first U.S. National Men’s Singles Championship was held in 1881 in Newport, Rhode Island.
Tennis has come a long way since then, and is still an incredible, energetic game that is played all over the world.