From ‘tenez’ to ‘tennis’

Colonel Walter Clopton Wingfield invented the rules of modern tennis at the end of the 19th century. (Wikipedia)

The history of tennis goes back almost a thousand years, although the first rackets did not appear until the 16th century

Modern tennis, with its rules, equipment and courts that are used today, did not appear until the late 19th century. But the game´s real origins go back way longer.

Passing a ball or another light object over a rope or a raised stop is indeed a very old game that could have been invented anywhere in the world.

In Europe it became a very popular game from the 12th-13th century, although at that time it was played without a racket: the players passed the ball directly with their hands and sometimes they wore a leather glove to avoid getting hurt.

This first version of tennis was very much liked by kings and nobles, but also by the rest of the population. In France everyone played ‘jeu de paume’ (palm game) and, in fact, it was on one of those courts where the French Revolution began, which ended the monarchy in 1789.

When the players passed the ball they would say “Tenez”, from the French verb tenir, which means “take it” or “there it goes”. This F0rench expression evolved to its current name: tenis or tennis.

“Jeu de paume” was played indoors and, at its beginnings, players used their bare hands to pass each other the ball. (Wikipedia)

The English rules

Despite his political disagreements with France, the English King Henry VIII (1491-1547) discovered jeu de paume and imported it to his country. He even had a tennis court built next to his palace to play with the rest of his nobles.

During that time the first wooden rackets were built, so that the aristocrats’ delicate hands wouldn´t get hurt.

First tennis rackets were slimmer than the ones today and were made only of wood. (Wikipedia)

Almost three centuries later, in 1873, the English army colonel Walter Clopton Wingfield invented the rules to tennis known today: the measurements of the court, the use of rackets and even the system for counting points and games.

That is why modern tennis is considered to have been invented in England. At the end of the 19th century, the first clubs and tennis associations appeared, almost always reserved for members of high society.

The Wimbledon Championship, created in 1877, is the oldest one of the four Grand Slams.

Since then, the materials rackets are made of, balls or equipment for tennis players have evolved a great deal. But the rules of the game have stayed practically the same.

Translated by Chaplin’s Languages | Find out more in Junior Report

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