Here we excerpt some passages from “Origins of Tennis” by James Masters.
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The origin of Tennis, like so many Sports and Games is something of a mystery with various theories having been espoused. One version would have us believe that Stone Age man once hit rocks backwards and forwards with clubs, perhaps. A more substantial beginning is that Tennis derived from Handball, a version of which was played in the ancient world including the civilisations of Rome, Greece and Egypt. There is an Egyptian town on the Nile called Tinnis (in Arabic) and some speculate that this is the origin of the name ‘Tennis’. Another string to this theory’s bow is that the term ‘racquet’ is thought to derive from the Arabic word ‘rahat’ which means ‘the palm of the hand’.
The first game which was definitely like Tennis was played in France and the alternative philological theory is that ‘Tennis’ comes from the French ‘Tenez’ (‘Take it’ or ‘Play’). Legend has it that the game was given to the French Royal Court in the 10th century by a wandering minstrel but, regardless, by the 11th century early Tennis was being played in French monasteries for sure. The monks usually stretched a rope across the cloistered central quadrangles in the monastery or sometimes played immediately adjacent to a castle and the court of the game of Royal Tennis is clearly synonymous with these beginnings. Hands were used to hit the ball to begin with (jeu de paume); gloves were used later on and eventually players started to use short bats. Louis IV and the Church both attempted to ban the game in France over the following years but this was clearly to no avail – there were supposedly around 1800 courts in France during the 13th century.
By the 14th century, Tennis had found its way to England where both Henry VII and Henry VIII apparently became keen players and instigated the building of courts up and down the country. Supposedly, Henry VIII himself invented the ‘service’ – his servants used to throw the ball up in the air for him because he was too fat to do it himself.
And what of the sources of the words “love” and “deuce”. The latter is derived from the French “a deux du jeu” – two points away from game, or de unx , the English having shortened it first to “a deus” (“deus” being deux in old French) and thence thoroughly incorrectly to “deuce”. The similar proposal, that “love” comes from the French for egg – “l’oeuf”, is doubtful, despite the assumed linkage with the cricketing phrase “out for a duck’s egg (duck for short)”. The most likely explanation is that it comes from the Dutch/Flemish “lof” which means honour. Around the time that the expression came to be used, England received a wealth of immigrants from the low countries due to the trauma caused there from incoming Protestantism. Bearing in mind that most games were played for money, if a player scored no points, the phrase “omme lof spelen” would have been applicable – he “played for the honour”…
In 1874, a US traveller brought the game to the Americas and the US Lawn Tennis Association was formed in 1881. International competition soon followed, with the International Lawn Tennis Challenge Trophy (later the Davis Cup) first contested in 1900 and the Wightman Cup, for competition between British and American women’s teams, in 1923. Men’s singles and doubles play was included on the program for the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.