Tennis is a perfect combination of violent action taking place in an atmosphere of total tranquility…. Billie Jean King.
Those of us belonging to the Boomer generation are no longer likely to break any world records unless, perhaps, they are age adjusted. The glory days are a memory. Our skills are beginning to diminish or long ago deserted us and injuries may limit our abilities. We are lucky to keep the younger ones in sight. This does not, however, mean we have to stop participating or competing. We may choose to change our sports interests to accommodate our aging bodies and, likely, our emerging lifestyle. For me, tennis has materialized as my current sport of choice.
Tennis is described as “a sport for a lifetime”. The US Tennis Association may be a little biased but it depicts tennis as the best sport for overall physical and psychological health. It describes 34 reasons why a person should consider playing tennis regularly. Physically it lists aerobic and anaerobic fitness, agility, increased bone density, flexibility, strength, eye-hand coördination, and several more. Psychologically it noted: developing work ethic and discipline, managing diversity, solving problems, sportsmanship, teamwork, social skills, fun, and many others. They neglected to mention a cure for cancer (kidding).
This is all very impressive but I think most people would not consciously choose tennis for these reasons. For most people we just want to look and feel fit, and work up a sweat while doing it in a social environment. The treadmill….too boring! Lifting weights…perhaps, but not for everyone. Golf…riding around in a cart may not achieve that fitness you are looking for. Running….. your body may limit participation indefinitely and it’s also not for everyone. What other sport will give your body and mind a workout while letting you enjoy the excitement of head-to-head competition, all in the time that it takes to watch the first half of a hockey game? It is said tennis is where fun and fitness meet. It is a family sport for all ages that can be learned and played throughout your life.
The Tennis Newby:
I was first exposed to tennis in high school gym class, probably very similar to most Canadians of my vintage. My instructor was an avid tennis player and had us abusing balls on the two school courts, thus giving us some inkling of tennis. His classes gave me enough understanding of the game to be capable of keeping score, but not much else. Thereafter, I played very little until I spent a summer on Vancouver Island between years at university. We had an abundance of leisure time with free recreational facilities provided by our employer. This resulted in a co-worker and I borrowing tennis racquets and spending our breaks and weekends on the courts. As I look back, we knew so little about the game, and had so few skills, that I am not sure our actions would be regarded as tennis. Regardless, that summer gave me an appreciation for the sport and a desire to, one day, learn the game and develop a few skills. It would not be until my work and family lives had run their course that I would actually return to tennis with any regularity. Therefore, some 40 years later, I embarked on a pursuit of this most challenging sport.
My latter-day passion for tennis was somewhat inspired by my first day of playing with actual tennis players. I lived near a little tennis club and eight beautiful courts. I passed this facility many times and observed people playing, but never had the time or inclination to set foot on a court. Newly retired and with fewer responsibilities, I discovered time on my hands. I also, coincidentally, noticed a brochure inviting people to join this group of wonderful people in a healthy, friendly and outdoor environment. I thought, “why not,” I have the time and used to be pretty good (so I thought). I paid my $50.00 and came out to my first tennis social in the ‘Open Era’. Little did I know that serious tennis players don’t really want to play with beginners, and I was truly a beginner. Veteran tennis players are quite adamant about this and tend to avoid others of less ability, gravitating to those of similar capability.
Having no idea of tennis dynamics, I gathered with about 50 others clad in white, to witness a deceptive welcome to my first tennis social. An outsider might have thought we were actors in a Mr. Clean commercial or an anti-black occult. I was partnered with three other men, of apparent decades old tennis experience, to a court with three shiny new balls. I foolishly believed I would be competitive considering my tennis history, even though it was a third of a century old, and my athleticism from other sports…..and I knew the rules from my high school gym class.
All progressed as planned for about two rallies when I smashed one of the unblemished balls over the fence and into an enclosure that harbored a ravenous canine. One of our balls was an unfortunate memory, a fact that did not endear me to my compatriots. Blindly unaware of tennis social dynamics, I foolishly exclaimed, “Oh well, we still have two balls.” Nobody concurred. We continued to rally with the remaining two balls when I dashed for an errant shot and found myself grinding across the court on knees, hands and face. All activity ceased on eight courts to ogle the poor unfortunate one. I skulked away to lick my wounds, playing no more that day.
That little incident, amazingly, did not deter me. Living so close to the courts, I believed I could gain immeasurable skill by hitting balls against a tennis backboard. I would show those ungracious tennis players. After all, I had heard the number one tennis player in the world around 1900, Bill Tilden, began his illustrious career by utilizing just such a backboard.
For about a year I would sneak down to the courts when no real tennis players were present where I could be seen smashing balls against the backboard. After two summers of this friendless activity I felt I could overcome any backboard in the land. Unfortunately backboards do not vary to any extent, there are no rules or lines, and the skills or creativity of an opposition is not considered….and, furthermore, it doesn’t share a cold beer with you after a match.
Although having some understanding of backboard limitations, I set out to conquer the tennis élite of my neighborhood. I attended my second tennis social. The same group of lily-white warriors were present and I was again sent out on court with glittering yellow balls in hand and three, apparent, experts. Although my 1000 hours of backboard competition did not quite qualify me as an outlier, I believed my athletic skills, and newly acquired backboard ability, would prove my metal.
I did manage to hold my own and didn’t fall or send a ball sailing out of the court. We lost but I survived my first match. As we were leaving one of my fellow players took me aside and told me what a “nice little game” I had. I was unsure if he was inflicting praise or criticism. Was this to mean another year of pounding the backboard before I could return with a “big” game? Off I set, in search of a “bigger” game.
Eventually, I returned to the courts and began playing with a group of men closer to my age and calibre. We formed a morning group and I developed some actual tennis skills with many of these men improving at a similar pace. I have, since, enjoyed a least five summers with our group growing to over 30 participants and a waiting list to play on sunny Okanagan mornings.
I have found tennis to be a nice balance from the more strenuous pursuit of running with fewer injuries, the satisfaction of skill development, head-to-head competition, and an enjoyable sociability. It is fairly inexpensive and courts can be found everywhere. The only problem is, at times, finding opponents of my current calibre…..oops! Is that some tennis arrogance emerging? Although there were some initial growing pains, I think tennis is a sport well worth pursuing. It is also a sport that can be performed to a fairly old age and all are welcome….sort of!
The game of tennis is believed to date back thousands of years, with historic evidence suggesting the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans played precursors to tennis. More substantial evidence emerges from around 1000 AD, when French monks began playing a crude courtyard ball game. This sport, played against their monastery walls or over a rope hung across a courtyard, took on the name, ‘je de paume’ meaning ‘game of the hand.’ Perhaps I should have used a monastery wall as my backboard. I might have acquired a bigger game.
Over the next few centuries, the game grew in popularity exponentially, spreading beyond the monastery walls to become adopted by the nobility throughout Europe. Some accounts claim that by the 13th century there were as many as 1,800 indoor courts. The game became so popular that several members of the Church, including the Pope, as well as King Louis IV, tried to ban the game, to no avail.
Francis I of France (1515–47) was an enthusiastic player and promoter of real tennis, as it was called, building courts and encouraging play among the courtiers and commoners. His successor Henry II (1547–59) was also an excellent player and continued the royal French tradition. Two French kings died from tennis related episodes: Louis X of a severe chill after playing and Charles VIII after hitting his head during a game.
Interest in tennis by English royalty began with Henry V (1413–22). Henry VIII (1509–47) made the biggest impact as a young monarch. It is believed that his second wife, Anne Boleyn, was watching a game of tennis when she was arrested and that Henry was playing when news of her execution arrived. (I wonder if he lost his serve when he got the news?)
By the 16th century, the glove had become a racquet, the game had moved to an enclosed playing area, and the rules had stabilized. “Court” or “Real” tennis spread in popularity throughout the royalty in Europe, reaching its peak in the 16th century.
Tennis developed as an outdoor game on a lawn in England during the mid-19th century. An early promoter was Major W.C. Wingfield who devised a set of rules and a court in the shape of an hourglass, with a net 1.5 meters high. Wingfield conducted the first game at a garden party in Wales in 1873. In the next few years, the game was improved as the court was made rectangular and the server was moved to the baseline. When the first Wimbledon championship was held in 1887, the game was in a very similar form to that played today.
Tennis began to develop and spread in Canada soon after its popularization in England. J.F. Helmuth formed a club in Toronto that is believed to be the forerunner of the Toronto Lawn Tennis Club (founded 1875). The first Canadian tournament was held at the Montreal Cricket Club in 1878 and the first indoor tournament took place in Ottawa in 1881. The 1880s saw clubs formed in most major cities across Canada. In 1890 the Canadian Lawn Tennis Association was formed and the first Canadian Championships were held in Toronto. Today tennis in Canada has reached international prominence with several players vying for top ten placements and, potentially, world dominance in all categories. How this occurred is described very well in a Globe and Mail article by Grant Robertson entitled: How Canada Turned Itself into a Tennis Contender. The article can be viewed at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/more-sports/how-canada-turned-itself-into-a-tennis-contender/article19476578/
In 1926, promoter C.C. Pyle created the first modern day professional tennis tour with a group of American and French tennis players providing exhibition matches to paying audiences. Once a player turned pro he or she could not compete in the major (amateur) tournaments. In 1968, commercial pressures and rumors of some amateurs taking money under the table led to the abandonment of this distinction. This inaugurated the Open Era, in which all players could compete in all tournaments, and top players were able to make their living from tennis. With the beginning of the Open Era, the establishment of an international professional tennis circuit and revenues from the sale of television rights caused tennis’ popularity to spread worldwide.
According to one theory, the word ‘tennis’ was coined by monks, who would shout the word ‘tenez’, the French for ‘to take’, while they served the ball. The unusual scoring came from the medieval use of 60 as a base number (as we use 100 today). The exact origins of the 15, 30, 40 scoring system supposedly 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. The term “love” for zero is believed to come from the French l’oeuf (“egg,” implying “zero”) or from English usage, in which love is the equal of nothing (“love or money”). “Deuce” is a corruption of the French à deux, indicating that one player had to win two consecutive points for the game. The use of the word “service” is almost certainly derived from the fact that the ball was set in motion by a servant, initially, with no intention of winning the point but just a way of starting a rally.
The more popular tennis 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 a cellulose material. In its infancy it was played using the hand, but over time people began wearing a glove, either with webbing between the fingers or a solid paddle, and eventually webbing attached to a handle, a forerunner of the racket. By 1500, a wooden framed racquet laced with sheep gut was in common use, together with a cork ball weighing approximately three ounces.
Despite all this innovation, the early game of tennis was incredibly different from the global sport we now know as tennis. Games took place in narrow, indoor courts, where the ball was played off walls with roofed galleries and a number of openings. Players won points by hitting the ball into netted windows beneath the roofs, with the net being five feet high on the ends and three feet in the middle, which created a pronounced droop.
The game’s popularity dwindled during the 1700s, but experienced a resurgence in the mid-1800s when Charles Goodyear invented a process for rubber called vulcanization. This made the material used to make tennis balls significantly bouncier. They were light and colored grey or red with no covering. Later these rubber balls were covered with stout flannel. As a result, tennis could be played outdoors on grass initiating a foundation for modern tennis.
A major innovation in the development of tennis was the evolution of the tennis racquet. Throughout the history of tennis, racquets were made of laminated wood, with heads of around 65 square inches. In the late 1960s, Wilson produced steel tennis rackets which featured a wire wound around the frame to make string loops.
The next jump in tennis racquet technology came in 1975 with the introduction of aluminum. This material was lighter than steel and allowed the construction of oversized tennis racquets. Players could hit with more spin or slice on the ball thanks to their 100 plus square inch head sizes.
The 1980’s saw the introduction of the first graphite tennis racquets. Graphite proved to be lighter and stiffer and allowed players to hit through the ball harder. Today’s tennis racquets are also made from graphite although of a different grade than was used in the 80’s. Graphite racquets are often mixed with other materials such as tungsten and titanium
The racquet makers have, to some extent, suffered from their own success. Unlike wood racquets, which warped, cracked, and dried out with age, graphite racquets can last for many years without a noticeable loss of performance. The racquet companies have met this problem with a stream of innovations, some of which are: the oversized head, wider frame, and lighter weight. Other innovations have been less universal, such as extreme head-heavy balance and extra length.
What’s next? How about an electronic racquet? One company has come out with a racquet that uses piezoelectric technology. Piezoelectric materials convert vibration or motion to and from electrical energy. This new racquet takes the vibration resulting from impact with the ball and converts it to electrical energy, which serves to dampen the vibration. A circuit board in the racquet’s handle then amplifies that electrical energy and sends it back to the piezoelectric ceramic composites in the frame, causing those materials to stiffen.
In the early 1870s lawn tennis was developed in Britain from using Victorian lawns laid out for croquet. The popularity of croquet at the time meant there was a ready supply of smooth outdoor courts, which proved easily adaptable for tennis. The marriage between croquet and tennis was cemented when the All England Club Croquet decided to hold the first Wimbledon tennis tournament in 1877. The organizing committee discarded the odd-shaped court, opting for a rectangular one and introduced a set of rules that are essentially those used in the game of today.
The first Wimbledon tournament was initially held to raise money to fix a broken roller at the private club but eventually evolved into the most prestigious tennis event in the world. The club eventually changed its name to the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club.
The first year of Wimbledon Championships consisted of only a men’s singles event. Women were not allowed to play until 1884. Players were clad in hats and ties and were reproached if they wore shoes without heels. Serves were underarm and tennis balls were hand-sewn.
Today there are four Majors or Grand Slam tournaments. There are countless tournaments at all levels around the world but the four biggest are Wimbledon, the US Open, the French Open, and the Australian Open. Since the mid-1920s these four tournaments have become the most prestigious events in tennis. Winning these four tournaments in the same year is called the Grand Slam (a term borrowed from bridge). Other major tournaments include the Davis Cup that is a series of tournaments pitting countries against each other, and the Federation Cup, which is a tournament similar to the Davis Cup but for women. Canada has the Rogers Cup in Montreal and Toronto. Prize money is in the millions of dollars and many players can make a very good living in the pursuit of this sport.
Did You Know?
- Women who played in the first Wimbledon tournaments had to wear full-length dresses.
- In 1930, Brame Hillyard changed the rules of tennis fashion by playing in shorts at Wimbledon. Bunny Austin was the first to do so on Centre Court three years later.
- The first winner at Wimbledon was Spencer Gore. He didn’t think the game would catch on.
- Yellow balls were introduced at Wimbledon in 1986. They replaced white as they were deemed more visible to TV cameras.
- The longest match in the history of tennis was played between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon in 2010. It lasted for about 11 hours.
- 24 tons of strawberries are ordered each year for the Championship at Wimbledon.
- The only major tennis tournament still being played on grass is at Wimbledon. The U.S. Open and the Australian Open play on hard courts, and the French Open is played on red clay courts.
- Tennis experienced a dark moment in 1993 when Monica Seles was stabbed by a spectator as she left her chair during a match in Hamburg. The wound was not fatal, but left Seles psychologically scarred.
- A tennis match takes approximately 2.5 hours. The ball is only in play for approximately 20 minutes of the 2.5 hours.
- Arthur Ashe was the first African American to win the U.S. Open.
- Tennis was first played in the Olympics in 1896, and then removed in 1924. In 1988 it was re-added to the Olympics as a real event.
- Tennis has been part of the Paralympic Games since 1992
- The French Open happens to be named after the stadium where it takes place. The stadium is named after Roland Garros who was a World War 1 pilot.
- A 2014 national research study on the health of tennis in Canada shows that in the previous 12 months, more than 6.5 million Canadians played tennis at least once. This is a 32% increase over 2012 when the last participation numbers were tracked.
- Popularity of the sport is also on the rise with 51% of Canadians saying they are either somewhat or very interested in the sport, up from 38% in 2012.