Tennis. It’s arguably one of the most popular sports of all time. And one of the sports with quite a colorful history too. 

Tennis, history tells us, originated in France around the 12th century, and it wasn’t played with racquets as we know it today. So how did this world-famous sport start? 

Let’s walk down memory lane and find out, shall we?

The History of Tennis – In a Nutshell

The earliest form of tennis was played with bare hands and was called “Paume”, the French word for hand. In essence, the ball was struck back and forth by the players using the palms of their hands. 

Paume then evolved into “Jeu de Paume”, or “Game of the Palm”, which introduced the use of a leather glove to give the hands some padding for greater hitting power. 

After the glove, an adaptive paddle with a handle was introduced in the 16th century to provide players with a more effective way of serving and returning the ball. That was the birth of the tennis racquet.

Jeu de Paume was a complex indoor racket-and-ball game and later became known as real tennis when variations of the sport started being introduced. This complicated ancient game called real tennis is still being played in Britain (where it is still relatively popular) and some other parts of the world. 

The American version of real tennis is called court tennis while in Australia it is called royal tennis, due to the fact that it was mostly for royalty and the upper class in its heydays. 

The History of Tennis Scoring

If there is a sport that has a strange scoring system that can be confusing to beginners, tennis is it. 

The seemingly complicated scoring system has been around since the Victorian era though, attesting to its efficacy and reliability in keeping the game fair and interesting.

For those not familiar with the game of tennis and its scoring system, tennis starts with both players at zero, which is called love (probably derived from the French word for egg, l’oeuf). 

Scores are said with the server’s score first, then the receiver. “Love-all”, then, is the starting score. If the server scores first, the score is 15 – love. 

Scores then increase by 15 points from 15 to 30, then by 10 to 40. The next point after 40 wins. 

If both players are tied on 40 it is called deuce. 

The origin of deuce is also another mystery, but it is thought to be derived from a corruption of the French phrase “à deux de jeu” which means two points away from the end – possibly the end of the game. 

From deuce, the first person to score gets an advantage, and if he/she scores again, they win the game. If, after the deuce, the other player scores, the game goes back to deuce. 

Six of these games make a set, and to win the set, you have to win by two games, otherwise, it goes into a tie-breaking game. 

To win the whole match requires that you either win the best of 5 sets or the best of 3 sets, depending on the competition you are playing.

Although the real origins of the scoring system are shrouded in mystery, there are references made throughout history in the form of poems and conversations in plays written in the late 15th century. 

For example, Charles d’Orléans (Duke of Orleans, France, and a poet) composed a ballad around 1439 while imprisoned in an English castle after the battle of Agincourt. In the ballad, he compared life with a game of tennis and used the French word for 45, playing on the number as both his age and the score in a tennis match.

The Game of Tennis Today

Today, the game of tennis is played and watched world over, with an estimated 24.1 million stream requests recorded by the BBC alone for the 2017 Wimbledon Championships. 

No small wonder as this is the highlight of every tennis season, pitting the best tennis players of the season.

Some are so good their games seem to go on with no hope of a clear winner emerging. 

Take for example the longest tennis game in history between American John Isner and Frenchman Nicolas Mahut during the 2010 Wimbledon game which lasted 11 hours, five minutes, 183 games, 216 aces, 980 points and a fifth set spread over three days.

The game of tennis has evolved a lot over the years, not only in gameplay but in remuneration as well. Take for example the very first Wimbledon prize money of 20 guineas. 

Today, for a Wimbledon win, a player can get as much as 1.8 Million pounds. Now, that is a great reward for being the best tennis player. 

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