The fierce athletes chasing down meteoric tennis balls in the U.S. Open are playing a game that bears little resemblance to tennis at its inception. A millennium ago, French monks strung a rope across the stones of the monastery courtyard and played a simple game they christened Jeu de Paume, “game of the hand.”
It is theorized that the word “tennis” originated with these monks who shouted, “Tenez!” (roughly the French equivalent for “Take this!” or “Take heed!”) whenever they served the ball.
Tennis, once played in a closed courtyard with wooden balls, has become a high-speed, high-stakes enterprise played by millions of people around the world.
Facts and Figures
1000 A.D. - Jeu de Paume was born in a monastery in France.
1500s - Tennis became more unified as it is adopted by European nobility.
1625 -The oldest surviving tennis court was built at Hampton Court Palace in England.
1850 - Charles Goodyear invented a new product called “rubber.” The first tennis balls were made of wood and, later, of leather. Rubber tennis balls made it possible to play the game on grass.
1874 - The first tennis courts appeared in the United States.
1877 - The first tennis championships were played at Wimbledon, England. Wimbledon’s first champion, Spencer Gore, did not think so highly of tennis and preferred cricket. Gore reported, “Lawn tennis is a bit boring. It will never catch on.”
1881 - The predecessor to the U.S. Open, a men’s only tournament, began in Newport, Rhode Island. It was a high society occasion known as the U.S. National Singles Championship.
1887 - Women first played at the U.S. Women's National Singles Championship.
1930 - Brame Hillyard first wore shorts on the court at Wimbledon in a dramatic break from the long, white trousers of the time. At one point, the game required hats and ties, and shoes with heels.