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A History of Tennis - How it All Began

From the looks of tennis today, one might think that the game is relatively modern and was created in the mid 1900s. It's fast-paced, it's sleek and stylish, and it actually has more pop appeal than sports like baseball and hockey, even though their overall revenue is lower in tennis. However, tennis is actually one of the oldest sports on the planet, dating back to the mid 1800s. In fact, to trace the roots of tennis back to the very beginning, it's actually the oldest sport around, in terms of the major American sports.

The Start of Tennis

It might beggar belief on some levels, but tennis was actually started in northern France around the 12th century. That's the 1100s! Although its earliest incarnations were a far cry from today's tennis, the game still has its roots as far back as 900 years. It started with people hitting a ball with the palm of their hands over a net. Louis X of France was famed for playing the "game of the palm," also known as jeu de paume, which would later become modern tennis. In the 16th century, some 400 years later, tennis racquets would be introduced to the game, and it would take off all across France and even spread elsewhere throughout Europe.

This incarnation of tennis was popular in France and England and was played indoors against a wall (which today is racquet ball), and the rules were as simple as holding, receiving, or taking. Even Henry VIII was a big fan of the game, which would later be known as "real tennis." Oddly enough, the game we know today as modern tennis didn't actually begin to be played outside until 1830. And what was the catalyst for this sweeping change from indoors to outdoors? It was actually the advent of the lawnmower which spurred the innovation in tennis. Now that grass could be cut very low, very even, and very easily, people realized that playing outdoors had much more of an appeal vs. indoor play.

Throughout the rest of the 1800s, tennis took off like a virus, sweeping across France and England and becoming mainstays at popular clubs. This is where the big tournaments like the French Open and Wimbledon were born.

The Open Era of Tennis

Today's tennis is known as the "open era" of tennis, which is played via multiple professional tournaments around the globe. These tournaments pit ranked players against one another in an elimination round of play, not so different from when it first started. In 1968, the "open era" began officially in the south coast of England with the first real Grand Slam tournament. A year later, more "open" tournaments had sprung up, including tournaments as far as Australia. Today's popular tournaments include Wimbledon, the US Open, the French Open and several others.

By 1970, tennis had made its way to every corner of the globe, and America would be the big innovator in terms of modern tennis rules. The tie break was introduced at the US Open Grand Slam in 1970, and in 1972 the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) was formed. The rest, of course, is history, and tennis today has dozens of popular tournaments and four major Grand Slam events.