One of the most treasured British traditions is the game of tennis. It has been a part of the history of Britain for many centuries, and is a game that is traditionally associated with the country of tea and fish and chips. The essence of the game originated in France back in the 12th Century, when a basic version of the game saw players hitting a ball over a net using the palms of their hands. The game has come a long way since then, with players in peak condition hitting a ball at incredible speeds and with impressive force across the courts of Wimbledon.
In the 16th Century, the racket was introduced in Italy, and replaced the palm of the hand for hitting the ball over the net. This naturally took the game to a new level. The modern game of tennis as we know it today was first played in 1873 by wealthy classes of English people on courts in the shape of an hour glass. In 1875 the England Croquet Club replaced one of their croquet courts with a lawn tennis court. The popularity of the game increased, and the Marylebone Cricket Club played a significant role in the development of the game into what we see today on the Wimbledon courts.
Additions to the game by the Marylebone Cricket Club included “Advantage”, “Deuce” and allowing two chances for each serve. 1875 was also the year in which the shape and size of the tennis court were adjusted to exactly the shape and size we have today. In 1880, Wimbledon saw the beginning of the reign of the Renshaw brothers, who introduced the “overhead smash” to the game. The Renshaw brothers went on to win every championship at Wimbledon from 1881 to 1890 between them, except for the 1887 championship.
In 1887, a 15 year old girl became the youngest player to win the singles event in the history of Wimbledon. England’s Lottie Dod won five of these events between 1887 and 1893. In 1905 the Ladies’ Singles was won for the first time by an international player, May Sutton. In the same year, brothers, Reggie and Laurie Doherty (both born in Wimbledon) enjoyed their eighth win of the Wimbledon Men’s Doubles – a record at that time.
In 1908, 37 year old Charlotte Sterry became the oldest winner of the Wimbledon Ladies’ Singles championship; and the following year saw 41 year old Arthur Gore become the oldest winner of the Men’s Singles championship. In 1922, the new location of Wimbledon opened on Church Street and provided seating for a whopping 14,000 spectators. The opening of the new venue was attended by the Prince of Wales and Prince Albert.
The tradition and popularity of British tennis has continued to gather momentum over the decades since its introduction to the general public; and today it is one of the world’s most popular sports, attracting attention and fans from countries all over the globe.