History of Tennis: Who Invented The Sport?

Tennis is a huge sport across the world and is enjoyed by millions annually who either play or watch it. The rules of tennis are simple enough to follow that it can easily be played and enjoyed. 

Whilst tennis is enjoyed globally, it has very specific roots. 

Origins of Tennis

Tennis’ concept has been documented for centuries. It’s rumoured to have first been introduced in ancient Egypt, which is as far back as 1000BC.

However, one of the first instances of tennis being played in a more modernized way was in 12th century France. This is much more widely documented and is likely where rules and techniques began forming around tennis. This version of the game was played by using the palms of the hand to bat the ball and was known as “Paume” which translates directly to palm. 

As the balls were originally made from wood, the game of Paume continued to evolve until players began wearing leather gloves, and then, eventually, the first iteration of tennis rackets were created. This version of tennis was mostly played indoors and is referred to as “real tennis” when compared to the modernised, outdoor version of the sport which is known as “lawn tennis”.

Why is it Called Tennis?

The word “tennis” began to originate in the 16th century, when French players would begin a match using the phrase “Tenez” which translates to hold, take or receive. These phrases are still shouted frequently in the modernised version of tennis which we still play to this day, meaning it’s likely that with the French origins of the game, the translations have assisted when naming the sport.

History of Tennis- A Timeline 

Who invented Tennis?

1874 was a big year for tennis as it was the year the first tennis court was patented  – by British man Walter Wingfield. Whilst the sport of tennis wasn’t his creation, Wingfield assisted in shaping Lawn Tennis into the game that we still play today. Wingfield began experimenting with different materials for balls, different courts, rackets and nets. His goal was to take the indoor game of Paume, also known as real tennis, and create an outdoor version of the same game. Wimbledon made its first debut in 1877, shortly after lawn tennis had begun making its global presence known.

Whilst Walter Wingfield was who brought tennis to Britain, Dr. James White is credited with bringing lawn tennis to the United States. The first US Open championship occurred in 1881, and was won by Richard Sears.

The 1920s

The 1920s saw lawn tennis reach further popularity when US tennis player “Big Bill” Tilden was the first American to win Wimbledon. He went undefeated until 1926 but his presence in the sport brought awareness to it with multiple books which are still highly regarded to this day. Two of his most acclaimed books are “The Art of Lawn Tennis” and “Match Play and Spin of the Ball”. His work involving the sport helped other potential players learn how to play lawn tennis through the words of a professional.

The 1940s

The growth of lawn tennis saw a significant decrease due to the outbreak of war, however the concept of a “grand slam” is incorporated into the sport by Don Budge – who won all four major tournaments.

The 1950s

The 1950s brought a more unified world and a more unified way of playing tennis. A professional circuit team was created due to the growing number of elite players. Stars from this era include Pancho Gonzales and Maureen Connelly. These two players dominated the sport for years, with Gonzales remaining at number one for eight years in the 1950s.

The 1960s 

The serve-and-volley technique is refined by players in this era, and continues to be used to this day. “Rocket” Rod Laver became the first, and only, man to win two Calendar Grand Slams when he won four majors in two years.

The Open Era (Late 1960s)

The late 1960s brought the concept of Opens to the game of tennis. The Opens allow professional players to compete with amateurs of the sport, and is an addition to the sport which continues to persist to this day.

The 1970s 

More changes to the game of lawn tennis are introduced, with the first tiebreak being included in the US Open. Computer rankings are also inducted into the sport, which assists in ranking and keeping track of individual professional players. The 1970s also came with one of the biggest changes to the sport since its inception – metal rackets. Metal rackets continue to be used to this day, as they’re lighter, easier to swing and more comfortable for the players. Sporting equipment is constantly evolving, and continues to be tweaked to this day. 

It was reported that the 1970s had the record number of US citizens playing tennis regularly, which was 30 million.

The 1980s 

The 1980s continued to see more changes to the sport of tennis, and most courts were changing to hard flooring. Three of the four Grand Slams were being played on hard flooring, so courts began to transition.

The 1990s

The 1990s produced Pete Sampras – who a lot of people consider to be one of the greatest tennis players in modern history. He amassed 14 Grand Slam Singles titles, and ranked at number one for 6 years straight. Steffi Graf dominated the women’s side, with 22 Grand Slam Singles titles, a Calendar and a Golden slam.

The 21st Century

Tennis only continues to grow in popularity as new players are discovered and new techniques for handling the ball are introduced. Tennis is the second most popular sport globally, only falling short of soccer. The diversity and unity that are present in tennis makes it a sport that is easy to follow, enjoyable to watch and fun to play. 

The International Tennis Federation has 198 national member associations from every continent.

When Did Women First Play Tennis?

Women had been playing tennis for years before they were officially allowed to play professional tennis in 1926. In fact, there were women competing at Wimbledon as far back as 1884.

However, the induction of women’s professional tennis in 1926 brought some truly great players to the forefront of the sport. One such example from the time was Suzanne Lenglen from France. She dominated the women’s professional circuit in the 1920s, and routinely played against Mary K Browne, who was a three time American Champion at the time. 

The crowds drawn by these matches proved that women’s tennis is equally enjoyable as men’s.

History of Professional Tennis Tournaments

The Davis Cup

The Davis Cup was the first international tennis tournament, debuting in the 1900s. The Davis Cup is formally known as the International Lawn Tennis Challenge Trophy, and is held in the US. In its first year, the only competitors were British. The Davis Cup was named after Dwight Davis, who had won the US Doubles Championship in 1900. He had donated the trophy himself and played in the team in the first tournament against Britain, which he helped win.


Wimbledon stadium was established in 1868 and was originally a private club that provided a space to play croquet. It was only when Walter Wingfield’s version of ‘lawn’ tennis became well known that Wimbledon began switching its focus to tennis. It was known at the time as ‘The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club” and began hosting tournaments in 1877.
Up until 1968, Wimbledon only allowed for top-ranked amateur players, but the induction of the Opens allowed for professionals to compete too. 

Wimbledon also set specific rules and regulations for its tournaments, which are now standard for tennis.