The Complete History of Tennis: Part 2

We finished the first post on the history of tennis in the year 1874. What a fine year it was. The first rule book was just being argued about – well, until they rules are there, you must find something to debate, and the courts were still very womanly in that… I mean they were hourglass shaped, narrow at the net and wide where it counts the most.

It was Henry Cavendish James who we have to thank for creating the rectangular court that are so familiar with today. In 1875 he petitioned the board – at least he did in my mind – of the All England Croquet Club to allow him to transform one of their prized croquet courts into a newly fashioned tennis court. Luckily Alice had taken care of the Queen of Hearts some ten years earlier, which I am sure made Mr. James’s petition a lot smoother. 

Tennis ball on the ground

Humble Beginnings in London Town

Not long after, in 1875 the Marylebone Croquet Club followed in the All England’s footsteps and created a tennis court of their very own. It was this club that made the biggest changes in the sport, and turned the game into the sport that we recognize today. They implemented the concept of deuce, a second serve and most importantly moved away from the hourglass shape and introducing the rectangular surface we still know and use today.

For the next two years the tennis world remained largely unchanged, with the comforting status quo nicely settled. Then in 1877 the game changer came along. The very first World Tennis Championships were held at Wimbledon. The Worpel Road ground is the very true home of tennis. It was a roaring success with a whopping 22 competitors. Sponsored by the local Croquet Club. There were no outbursts or colourful characters ready to steal the show. In fact, the eventual winner a Mr Spencer Gore was the first man to renounce the sport and publicly claim that tennis would never catch on. It was too boring according to him. 

The Renshaw Brothers Reign Supreme

Three years later the first superpowers of tennis rose through the ranks to claim court based supremacy. Much as is the case today, siblings were the game changers. The Renshaw Brothers burst onto the scene and one can only assume that they did this in somewhat controversial fashion when they introduced a dominating new stroke into the game. The overhead smash was born, and thanks to it – in my mind at least – they dominated the world of tennis for over ten years. Their dominance was ground breaking and record breaking in so far as for the next ten years they won the championships eight times. Missing out only in 1880 and 1887. Being the true champions they were, the two unlucky fellows were most likely carrying injuries before the tournament began, or possibly came down with a nasty stomach bug on the eve of their big game.

During the Renshaw era, the game of tennis saw many changes. In 1881 the American’s got in on the action, and by founding the United States National Lawn Tennis Association (USNSLTA) not only marking the start of the game, but officially beating Beverley Hills Cop to the belt for the creation of long acronym based names for their associations. The U.S Championships were held the same year, marking the start of the history for the second of what would eventually be four major championships. 

Tennis Player black and white

Lottie Dod and the French Affair

The rest of the nineteenth century saw a flurry of activity and enhancements in the game, as not only were the relatively new Wimbledon championships opened up to women for the first time, in 1884 and three years later tennis based equality was introduced in the United States. Just one year before the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) was founded in 1888, the first female superstar rose to supremacy in the sport. Lottie Dod won her first of five Wimbledon Championships. At only 15 years of age, her record still stands today, and will be the thing that the Williams’ Sisters will not claim.

The 1890’s were dominated by the French, but not necessarily for the right reasons. Years before they found reason to ban our beef from crossing their border, they did so to the tennis player. Founding the French Tennis Championships in 1891, they bit their thumbs at us by only allowing French players to compete. Six years later, slower than the other existing tournaments, the French Open was extended to include female tennis players.

Lottie Dod

England has the Last Laugh of the Century

However, as should always be the case, the British had the last laugh of the century, for in 1899 the All England Croquet Club officially changed their name to match recognize the growing popularity of tennis. The All England Tennis and Croquet Club was born, and as the Twentieth century dawned the tennis world was just waking up and realizing that the changes were only just beginning.

Tennis Ball and Water Spray
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