The Dawn of Tennis
Tennis has been around since the 1500’s but it was the exclusive domain of the rich and the Royals of Europe and at that time it was known as ‘Real Tennis’, possibly an attempt to differentiate it from ‘Lawn Tennis’ that was slowly growing in stature in Europe, particularly the UK.
Although there are slight differences as to the apparel, apparatus & court design of the two fledgling racquet games, they are predominantly very similar and both forms of the game are still played with great gusto throughout the world.
The word ‘tennis’ finds its roots in France where ‘tenez’, French for ‘take heed’, was yelled across the net to the opposition as a warning of an impending serve, and it stuck!
‘Killer King’, Henry VIII, Ardent Tennis Fan
What is remarkable, though, is the fact it was wholly embraced by the upper crust of society, particularly the Sovereigns of Europe and there are many interesting tales relating to royalty and the infant racquet pursuit. The brutal Tudor Monarch of England, Henry VIII, was a firm fan of the sport and had courts set out at most of his palaces, including Hampton Court.
Nero may have fiddled while Rome burnt, but Henry VIII was allegedly playing tennis when he heard the news of his wife, Anne Boleyn’s gruesome execution…. and he never missed a shot! Boleyn herself was admiring the tennis prowess of one of the courtiers when she was dragged off, kicking and screaming, to the Tower!
There have been regal casualties to the game and they were the French Monarchs Louis X and Charles VIII the former died from a chill picked up while playing the game, whilst the latter was hit on the head with a tennis ball and promptly died! There are conflicting tales as to the death of Charles the Affable but all historians agree it was an accidental blow to the head!
The Tennis Court Oath
A pledge, signed on a tennis court, kick started one of the bloodiest revolutions in the history of man – the French Revolution – and has gone down in the annals of history as the ‘Tennis Court Oath’ but possibly the most surprising anecdote of all is the story of the very first professional tennis tour.
As far back as 1571 the French King, Charles IX, granted a constitution to the ‘Corporation of Tennis Professionals’ that effectively created three tiers of professional tennis players – the apprentice, the associate and the Master!