The word itself comes from the word tenez from the Ango-Norman (circa 1100) for ‘receive’ , which was what one would shout to one’s opponent before serving the ball. Despite this antiquity, it wasn’t until sometime in the 1500s that the game started taking on its more modern, more recognisable form. For example, in the early days one didn’t have a racquet but instead used a bare hand, or sometimes a gloved hand to hit the ball, back and forth
The game was extremely popular in France and Italy and it’s in the late 1500s that one can find numerous books being written about the sport that explain the rules of the game and the games’ supporters and patrons. In 1571 in England however, a charter was given by King Charles VIII to the Corporation of Tennis Professionals, forming, in effect, the first ever professional tennis association. In Henry V by Shakespeare tennis balls (‘tennis balles’) are mentioned in the play and symbolise youth and playfulness—albeit in a somewhat unflattering manner. All over Europe the game thrived, except perhaps under English Puritanism where sport and almost any type of leisure pursuit was considered frivolous and to be avoided as it was deemed unworthy of one’s time and was a sign of lack of piety. It was however, a sport for the aristocracy, almost exclusively, and during the Napoleonic times it was on its deathbed. This early form of tennis, known as ‘real tennis’, did in fact die out, but it begot three different racquet sports: racquets, squash racquets and lawn tennis, which is the game as we know it today.
In 1874 in Leamington Spa, England the Leamington Tennis Club was formed. Major Harry Gem, a solicitor, and Augurio Perera, a Spanish merchant as well as two doctors are considered the founders of the modern game. It was played on a croquet lawn and combined elements of both the Pelota game, common in and native to Spain, and the game rackets.
The year earlier Major Walter Clopton Wingfield had designed and patented a similar game called Sphairistikè (from ancient Greek meaning “skill at playing at ball”), and was soon known simply as “sticky”. He likely based his game on the evolving sport of outdoor tennis including real tennis. Much of modern tennis terminology also derives from this period. He patented the game in 1874 with an eight-page rule book titled “Sphairistike or Lawn Tennis”, but he failed to succeed in enforcing his patent.
Mary Ewing Outerbridge played the game in Bermuda at “Clermont”, a house with a large lawn in Paget parish. In 1874 Mary returned from Bermuda and introduced lawn tennis to the United States. She set up the first tennis court in the United States on the grounds of the Staten Island Cricket and Baseball Club, which was near where the Staten Island Ferry Terminal is today. She played the first tennis game in the US against her sister Laura in Staten Island, New York, on an hourglass-shaped court.