THE EVOLUTION OF THE GAME OF TENNIS
THE ROOTS AND HISTORY OF TENNIS
Another important factor was the ease and simplicity of Lawn Tennis. All that was needed was a flat grass surface and Lawn Tennis courts became commonplace in the rolling estates of the wealthy.
Real Tennis had always been the domain of royalty and nobility but in Victorian England the sport was soon embraced by the upper classes.
The term Lawn Tennis was coined by Arthur Balfour, a British Statesman and it didn’t take long before lawn surfaces were replaced with various turf derivatives and eventually clay and concrete. Within a very short time Lawn Tennis began to replace croquet as the summer sport. The biggest boost for tennis however came in 1875. The All England Croquet Club, formed in 1869 had failed to attract enough visitors and in 1875 they decided to offer Lawn Tennis as an added attraction.
The new game was an instant success, so much so that in 1877 the name of the club was changed to the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club. Rising rents at their four-acre site in the London suburb of Wimbledon however, meant that the club had to raise additional funds. Later that year the first ever Lawn Tennis tournament was organized. A committee was established to draw up a set of rules the first tournament went ahead with 22 players, watched by some 200 spectators. The Wimbledon Championship was born.
The professional National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs, which is still extant, was established in 1875 after the National Association proved ineffective.
The emphasis was now on “clubs” rather than “players”. Clubs now had the ability to enforce player contracts, preventing players from jumping to higher-paying clubs. Clubs in turn were required to play their full schedule of games, rather than forfeiting games scheduled once out of the running for the league championship, as happened frequently under the National Association. A concerted effort was made to reduce the amount of gambling on games which was leaving the validity of results in doubt.
The Wimbledon Championship was one of the most significant developments in the history of tennis. The game captured the imagination of the public and it didn’t take long before the first champions emerged. The first of these was William Renshaw who won the championship title 8 times between 1881 and 1889 (he was runner-up in 1887) – a record that remains unbeaten today.
Over the next few years the sport gained tremendous popularity, not just in England but all over the world and in 1905 May Sutton from the USA became the first international player. In this year the tournament attracted 71 players. A few years later in 1909 the now titled All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club adopted the purple and green colors still used today.
The growth of tennis continued and the 1927 Championship saw the first ever radio broadcast of a tennis event. This increased it’s popularity further and in the 1930s the game became highly fashionable, led by British stars such as Fred Perry and Don Budge and International Champions such as Henri Lacoste. You’ll notice from the photographs that tennis fashions were somewhat different in those days! Long trousers were the order of the day for men, and for women it was long dresses and stockings.
Fashion trends became a development in their own right and Bunny Austin from the USA shocked the crowds in 1933 when he became the first player to step out on to centre court wearing shorts! The 1930’s became Wimbledon’s boom time and in 1937, the championship was broadcast on the radio for the first time. This was a significant event, truly introducing tennis to the world.
All this came to a sudden end in 1939 when the second world war closed the championships until 1946. (Incidentally this was the last year at Wimbledon when a player wore long trousers on court!) The post war generation went on to transform the sport, adding technical improvements which turned it into a sophisticated pastime for the middle classes. The 1960s were dominated by Australian Players Rod Laver and Roy Emerson and with the spread of television introducing the game to a much wider audience, tennis became a big-money, international sport. The first color television broadcast from Wimbledon came in 1967.
Though out the 1970s and 1980s the game became dominated by the new legion of international players and crowds became captivated by the likes of Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, and John McEnroe. In the ladies game stars such as Sue Barker, Chris Evert Lloyd and Martina Navratilova filled the courts with fans. Britain’s foremost ladies player was Virginia Wade, the last Brit to win the Championships in 1977. The prize money went up, as did the hemlines of players clothing! In 1986 the Championships adopted yellow tennis balls for the first time – partly to make the speeding balls more visible for television cameras
Into the 1990s the championships became more popular than ever – particularly as Great Britain’s hopes for a champion became rekindled with the likes of Greg Rusedski and Tim Henman. Despite being a truly international event, Wimbledon has become the British sporting event of the year.
Today, tennis is a world-class competitive sport captivating millions of players and fans all round the world. A constant programme of tournaments and events takes place throughout the year and top players have become sporting icons for a new generation. Something that was once the pastime of Kings has become a sport for all.
Read the first part of this article. Ball sports like tennis can be traced back a long way and the earliest representations can be found in carvings dating from 1500BC.