The origins of tennis are rather muddled as the game could go back much earlier than first considered.
The problem being is that the early or ancient forms of some game with a paddle and a ball might not be the early forms of tennis, they might just be some other early game.
While evidence is thin on the ground, the game of tennis is believed to hark back thousands of years, with several indicators suggesting the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans played precursors to tennis.
Over the next few centuries, some game was fashioned out of these early racket / bat and ball games and early tennis was formed. This early form grew in popularity, with it’s reach spreading from the monastery walls to become adopted by the nobility throughout Europe.
It soon spread to England , with both Henry VII and Henry VIII being avid fans, who commissioned the building of many courts across the country.
The more popular the game became, the more it evolved. Courtyard playing areas began to be modified into indoor courts, and the balls, which were initially wooden, gave way to bouncier, leather balls filled with cellulose material.
By 1500, a wooden frame racket laced with sheep gut was in common use, together with a cork ball weighing approximately three ounces.
The game’s popularity dwindled during the 1700’s, but experienced another revolution in 1850: Charles Goodyear invented a process for rubber called vulcanisation, which made the material used to make tennis balls significantly bouncier. As a result, tennis now could be played outdoors on grass. The foundation for modern tennis had been paved.
Tennis and Croquet
The popularity of croquet at the time meant that there was a ready supply of smooth outdoor courts, which were adapted for playing tennis. In fact the marriage between croquet and tennis was formalised when the All England Club Croquet decided to hold the first Wimbledon tennis tournament in 1877.
The committee decided to drop the existing oval shaped court, opting for a rectangular one instead, and introduced a set of rules that are basically the same as the ones used now.
Since the first Wimbledon tournament, tennis has not undergone a huge amount of change since this first tournament. The rules have remained virtually the same, with the only major change being the introduction of the tiebreak rule in 1971.
In 1926 Charles Pyle recognised the commercial possibilities of tennis and introduced the first professional tour. It is now one of the most lucrative games on the planet.
There are many theories regarding the history of scoring in tennis but one quite plausible one is that the system of the 15, 30, 40 scoring came about because they were based on a clock face at one end of the court. It was originally 15, 30, 45 but was shortened to 40, as 45 took too long to say.
In summary the history and origins of tennis are rather cloudy but that is because it’s origins are possibly in ancient history, one thing is for certain the game has never been so popular as it is today.