History of Tennis

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This history of tennis page gives interesting insight about how tennis evolved into the game that we love to play. The sport of tennis has been played for hundreds of years, but the game as it is known today is about 130 years old. By the 1850's different versions of the game appeared. The immediate ancestor of the game was called "Sphairistike" invented by Major Walter Clopton Wingfield and first played by him on a grass court in Wales. It was called "Sticky" at first and in books about history of tennis and in popular usage came to be known as "lawn tennis". Eventually the game was played by many people all over England. It will go down in tennis history as simply tennis.

History of Tennis - The First Wimbledon Championships

In 1877 the All England Croquet Club formally changed its name to the All England Croquet Lawn Tennis Club and held the first tennis championships in July 1877. The referee was Henry Jones who devised the rules for the tournament with the help of a two-man committee. No scoring rules were in place so what they devised was indeed revolutionary at that time.

Players were required to change ends after each set, matches were the best of five sets, and advantage sets were played only in the final. If a game reached 5-5 in earlier rounds, the outcome of the next game decided the set - like present-day tiebreakers. The shape of the court also changed from hourglass to the modern rectangular with similar measurements. With adjustments that were inevitable during the evolution of the game, tennis owes a lot to Henry Jones. The history of tennis buffs should remember his name.

Players were not seeded - opponents were chosen by draw - and twenty-two men entered that first championship. The first lawn tennis champion was Spencer Gore, who employed the tactic of an intimidating net attack against his opponents. At that time the net was 5 ft high at the posts and only 3ft 3in at the center. It was lowered to its present height of 3ft 6in at the posts in 1882. It would be later before serve and volley would be utilized by the players.

The British Ernest and William Renshaw dominated the 1880s at Wimbledon.

With excellent strokes, they set higher standards of tournament play with subsequent public interest in the game. William Renshaw used the smash as a weapon as well as the "rising ball" style of play.

Two other brothers - Henry and Wilfred Baddeley won the doubles title four times in the 1890s. After them, the Doherty brothers, Richard and Laurie, dominated the decade between 1897 and 1906. They won the singles championship a combined total of nine times and winning the doubles eight times. In the history of tennis annals, outstanding performances by brothers.

History of Tennis - Early United States Championships

In 1881 the United States Lawn Tennis Association was founded and held its first championship at Newport, Rhode Island. The first winner was R.D. Sears, a young Harvard graduate, who successfully defended his title six consecutive times. Sears also teamed up with USLTA founder, Dr James Dwight, to win the national doubles title five times. Another Harvard athlete, Robert Wren, won the singles title six times during the 1890s. William Larned won the title seven times and earned a ranking in the top ten for 19 years (1892-1911). History of tennis buffs will never forget his name

An Old Tennis Court - this history of tennis pic is something to reminisce about

William Renshaw

History of Tennis - International contests

By 1900 tennis had spread worldwide. In 1912, the International Lawn Tennis Federation was created in Paris. In August 1900 the first Davis Cup match was held between Britain and the United States at the Longwood Cricket Club, Boston, in order to promote international competition. The first match was inaugurated by U.S. team member Dwight Davis, who donated the cup and, with M. Whitman and Halcombe Ward, defeated the British team. The format is best of five matches: one doubles and four singles contests, with each team limited to four players.

Great Britain, Australia, France and the United States were the only countries in the Davis Cup for many years with the United States and Australia dominating for many years. By the 1970's, professional players were allowed into the cup which made the Davis Cup competition truly international involving more than 50 countries.

History of Tennis - How Women's Tennis Evolved

In 1884 a women's singles events was played at Wimbledon for the first time, and 13 women competed. Two sisters played for the finals trophy, Maud Watson and her sister Lilian, which Maud won. The list of champion until 1900 included Blanche Bingley and Lottie Dod. The doubles championship started in 1899.

It wasn't until the early 1900s that the women's tournament enjoyed greater popularity. Mrs Lambert Chambers became the greatest women's champion prior to the World War I with seven singles title.

The U.S. Tennis Association inaugurated women's championships in 1887. The tournament was held in Philadelphia until the move in 1921 to Forest Hills. The champions from 1887 to 1933 include Juliet Atkinson, Bessie Moore, Hazel Hotchkiss, Molla Bjurstedt Mallory, and Helen Wills Moody who played between 1923 and 1933, winning seven titles and finishing as runner-up twice.

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History of Tennis - American and French domination

Every history of tennis book calls the 1920s as the golden age of tennis.There was such a glut of first class tennis players the most famous of them being the American Bill Tilden. Tilden won Wimbledon in 1920 and 1921. From 1920 through 1925 he did not lose a single match of singles in six Davis Cup challenge rounds and six U.S. Championship finals. Even in defeat, Tilden was remarkable: his loss to Rene Lacoste in the finals of the 1927 U.S. Championship and Henri Cochet in the semifinals at Wimbledon of the same year are regarded among the classic matches in all tennis history.

The French dominated the six years between 1924 and 1929. Those were the years when the "Four Musketeers" were at the height of their powers; they were Jean Borotra, Henri Cochet, Rene Lacoste and Toto Brugnon. The French History of Tennis Records undoubtedly highlight the Four Musketeers achievements as something that is unique and unlikely to duplicate.

Among the women, Suzanne Lenglen of France and Helen Wills Moody of the United States dominated the 1920s and 1930s. The other great players include Elizabeth Ryan, Kitty McKane Godfree, Molla Mallory, Lili de Alvarez, Helen Jacobs, Dorothy Round and Alice Marble.

In 1930 Bill Tilden broke the French Musketeers' domination by winning Wimbledon. In the 1930s other great players emerged: Ellsworth Vines and Don Budge of the United States; Fred Perry of Great Britain; Jack Crawford of Australia and Gottfried von Cramm of Germany.

In 1938 Don Budge went down in tennis history by becoming the first tennis player to win the Grand Slam by winning the Australian, French, Wimbledon and US championships in the same year. Despite opposition, the first professional tennis tournament was staged in 1926 at Madison Square Garden, and players such as Tilden, Suzanne Lenglen, Perry and Budge were among the first to set the trend of turning professional.

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Rene Lacoste

Fred Perry

History of Tennis - Modern times

Britain cancelled Wimbledon tennis tournament competition during World War II but the U.S. allowed tennis tournaments to continue. After the war, Australian and American players continued their domination worldwide and set ever-higher standards of play.

Two-hand forehands became more common, matches became longer, and in 1970 the then controversial tiebreaker method was introduced for the first time. Leading players of the post-war period included the Australians Lew Hoad, Fred Stolle, Frank Sedgman, John Newcombe, Ken Rosewall and Rod Laver, who dominated tennis from the late 1950's. Other great players included Jaroslav Drobny of Czechoslovakia, and the American Pancho Gonzales, who, in 1969, at the age of 41, played and defeated Charles Pasarell in a remarkable 112-game match lasting 5 hours 12 minutes.

The great women champions emerged in the 1950s, including Doris Hart, Louise Brough, Maureen Connolly, the first black woman to to achieve worldwide renown - Althea Gibson, and Maria Bueno. In the 1960s, a new breed of women champions emerged - Billie Jean King, Evonne Goolagong, Virginia Wade, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.

Chris Evert
Chris Evert

IN 1968, professional tennis play started at Wimbledon thereby removing once and for all the category of amateur-professional players. This step enabled the women's tour to continue holding tournaments (when before tournaments were difficult to hold due to financial difficulties). National and major tennis tournaments were given a shot in the arm by attracting the best tennis players and given coverage by the media which resulted in drawing huge crowds.

Rod Laver who won his first Grand Slam in 1962, won another Grand Slam in 1969. This feat has never been duplicated in the history of tennis.

Shortly thereafter saw the rise of dominant American players including the first great black American Arthur Ashe (It shall be noted that the American greats who followed later on like John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, and Pete Sampras lacked the French championships to their credentials. Andre Agassi won all four although not in the same year. The great Swede Bjorn Borg never won the U.S. Open Ivan Lendl came close but didn't win the Wimbledon). Nevertheless, their names will grace the pages of all tennis history books. Truly, the history of tennis, through the ages, had been full of achievements by names such as these who pushed their bodies to accomplish stellar feats.

Pete SamprasPete Sampras        Jimmy ConnorsJimmy Connors        Andre AgassiAndre Agassi

Rod Laver - a history of tennis great

Billie Jean King

Jimmy Connors

History of Tennis - The 70's

This history of tennis continues with the 1970s. John Newcombe, Arthur Ashe, and Stan Smith continued their success, joined by such players as Ilie Nastase of Romania and Guillermo Vilas of Argentina. The United States led by Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe moved to the forefront of men's tennis. Early during the decade, another American, Stan Smith was the world's number one player by winning the U.S. Open and Wimbledon. However, the great Swede Bjorn Borg dominated the 1970s by winning the Wimbledon five consecutive times (1976-1980), and the French Open six times between 1974-1981. Borg's rivalry with American player John McEnroe during this period ranks as one of the best in the history of tennis.

Jimmy Connors won the U.S. Open five times (1974, 1976, 1978, 1982, 1983). John McEnroe, won it four times, winning it three consecutive times from 1979-1981, the first player to do so since Bill Tilden won it five consecutive times in the 1920s. Five years later, the only other player to duplicate the feat was Ivan Lendl who won the U.S. Open in 1985-1987.

Bjorn Borg, due to his incredible success during the 1970s, spawned a string of great European tennis players like Martina Navratilova, Hana Mandlikova, Ivan Lendl, Tomas Smid, Yannick Noah and Henri Leconte.

Among female players, Court, Wade, and King continued their success, joined by Australian Evonne Goolagong, American Chris Evert, who would win seven French Opens (1974, 1975, 1979, 1980, 1983, 1985, 1986) and six U.S. Opens (1975-1978, 1980, 1982)and the great Martina Navratilova who, along with Evert would be recognized as one of the greatest players to play the game. In sixteen years, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova met on the tennis court eighty times — sixty times in finals in the '70's and '80's. Their tennis matches were memorable, heightened by contrasting styles of play - Chris who played baseline and Martina, who would attack on the net. Below is a book that details their extraordinarily intense but friendly rivalry, providing a glimpse of a colorful page in the history of tennis.

History of Tennis - The 80's and beyond

Connors, Borg, and McEnroe continued their success in the 1980s. Other leading male players of this decade included Czech-born Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg of Sweden, and Boris Becker of Germany, who in 1985 at age 17 became the youngest player ever to win Wimbledon. One of the most successful female players ever was Czech-born Martina Navratilova, whose career spanned from the early 1970s to the mid-1990s. (Martina tried to make a comeback in singles matches in 2004 at the French Open but was soundly beaten in the first round by Gisela Dulko). During her career, Navratilova won 167 singles titles, including nine Wimbledon titles (1978, 1979, 1982-1987, 1990). The rivalry between Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert was one of the most intense and long lasting in tennis history. Steffi Graf of Germany dominated women’s tennis beginning in the late 1980s, eventually winning 22 major singles titles. Other leading female players of the history of tennis of the 1980s included American Tracy Austin and Czech Hana Mandlikova.

In the early 1990s, Lendl, Edberg, and Becker continued their success, joined by outstanding American players such as Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, and Michael Chang.

Michael Chang
Michael Chang

Graf developed a rivalry with Yugoslavia-born Monica Seles, who emerged as a dominant player, winning the U.S., French, and Australian opens in both 1991 and 1992. Navratilovaremained one of the highest-ranked players until her retirement from singles competition in 1995. (Note: Martina Navratilova, at age 46, teaming up with Leander Paes, comfortably won a record-equaling 20th Wimbledon title by claiming the mixed doubles title in Wimbledon in 2003. The 46-year-old joins American Billie Jean King as the only two players to win 20 titles at the All England Club.)

Arantxa Sanchez Vicario of Spain, Jennifer Capriati of the United States, and Gabriela Sabatini of Argentina also found success.

Sampras was the dominant men’s player in the mid- and late 1990s, with multiple championships at Wimbledon (1993-1995, 1997-2000), the U.S. Open (1993, 1995, 1996), and the Australian Open (1994, 1997). In the history of tennis annals, Sampras' record will probably stand for a very long time.

His tally of Grand Slams is 14, breaking Roy Emerson's record and establishing Sampras as one of the truly great figures of the game.

Agassi became just the fifth men’s player to win all four grand slam events at least once, taking the Australian Openthree times (1995, 2000, 2001), the U.S. Open twice (1994, 1999), the French Open (1999), and Wimbledon (1992). Other male stars included Sergi Bruguera and Carlos Moya of Spain, Goran Ivanisevic of Croatia, Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia, Richard Krajicek of The Netherlands, Thomas Muster of Austria, and Patrick Rafter of Australia.

Patrick Rafter
Patrick Rafter

Martina HingisMartina Hingis

Monica Seles
Monica Seles

In women’s tennis, Martina Hingis of Switzerland emerged as the successor to Graf and Seles, winning Wimbledon and the Australian and U.S. opens in 1997. Other prominent female players were Jana Novotna of the Czech Republic; Mary Pierce of France; and Lindsay Davenport and sisters Venus Williams and Serena Williams of the United States. Venus Williams won the 2000 Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles and the gold medal in singles at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. Serena Williams won the 1999 U.S. Open singles title and teamed with her sister to win the doubles gold medal at the 2000 Olympics.

Bjorn Borg - in the History of Tennis, the Modern Era, his record of 5 consecutive Wimbledon championships from 1976-1980 was equaled by Roger Federer in a run of singles titles from 2003-2007.

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